Is it Time to Hit the Panic Button at Xbox?

This year has been quite turbulent for the Xbox division so far. Still, some of the developments to come out of Seattle have been very positive. Microsoft’s console has received a steady stream of great third-party content so far this year. Furthermore, the Xbox One has been bolstered by updates that contain useful quality-of-life improvements in addition to announcing the very consumer-friendly Xbox Game Pass program. Most importantly, the specifications of the upcoming Project Scorpio console thoroughly impressed the staff at Digital Foundry.

In spite of all of this positive news, Xbox’s crucial flaw in 2017 is a hard one to overlook. That flaw has to do with games. I spoke on this issue earlier this year in a controversial piece bemoaning the lack of exclusive content to release on the console so far this year. The loss of Scalebound stung. As of this writing, the remainder of 2017 looks quite barren if you’re an Xbox gamer. Unfortunately, it seems as though Microsoft’s problems in the area of games are about to get worse.

It has been confirmed that Star Wars Battlefront II, Destiny 2, and Far Cry 5 will all feature PlayStation-centric marketing and/or timed-exclusive content. This is in addition to Call of Duty: World War II already having PlayStation-exclusive marketing and content. Marketing and especially content deals, while questionable in terms of ethics, are something that gamers and casual consumers pay attention to. Virtually every major release this fall will have PS4 branding attached to it. Consumers will notice that, and you can expect that Sony’s console will attract a lot of attention as a result.

The problems involving third-party developers don’t stop there. Developer Cliff Bleszinski announced that his next game, Lawbreakers, will not be coming to Xbox One for the time being. While it hasn’t been ruled out completely, for now you can add Lawbreakers to the list of third-party developed games such as Nioh and Nier: Automata that aren’t on Xbox One.

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Games like “Nier: Automata” would have been great to play on Xbox One

All of these signs indicate that Microsoft seems to have an image problem with the Xbox One. The console started life in 2013 having a negative image with gamers. This was due to Microsoft’s controversial DRM and always-on policies, among other issues. Since then, Phil Spencer and his team have worked feverishly to rehabilitate the Xbox brand. Thanks to their work, Xbox (as a console and as a service) is arguably a more consumer-friendly brand than PlayStation in its current state. Despite these efforts, however, that negative image has lingered. Unfortunately, it now appears to have spread to developers and publishers.

All of this sounds like a large amount of gloom-and-doom. Is the sky officially falling in Seattle? Is it officially time for Phil Spencer (and Xbox fans) to hit the panic button? Not yet.

For one, it’s not like the Xbox One is hurting for games. Major releases such as Resident Evil VII, Mass Effect Andromeda, and Prey have ensured that Xbox gamers still have a lot to play on their console. Overall, third-party support has been strong for the Xbox One in 2017. Every major third-party title planned for the fall will release on Xbox One, as well. The fact that third-party relations with Microsoft are still mostly strong is encouraging.

Second, Project Scorpio will release later this year. The point of the console’s increased power is to give developers more overhead and freedom to create richer gaming experiences. Spencer has said that he is confident that the best console versions of games will be on the Scorpio. While several outlets have attempted to downplay the Scorpio by citing a lack of games, the more robust hardware could attract more developers to Xbox.

Finally, there is reason to be optimistic about what games Microsoft will show at E3. Recently, Microsoft Studios underwent a subtle change in branding. They are now known as Microsoft Studios Global Publishing. This possibly indicates that Microsoft is making an effort to network with developers from around the world, including Japan, to bring games to the Xbox One. With this change coming so close to E3, it’s very possible that we could see some great new games from a variety of developers published under this new brand. This would be in addition to games like Sea of Thieves, Cuphead, State of Decay 2, and the inevitable Forza Motorsport 7, all of which are on the docket for 2017.

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The rebranding of Microsoft Studios could signify that more games are coming to Xbox One

When examining the Xbox division, it is true that there has been cause for concern. However, I would encourage Xbox gamers to remain optimistic. Microsoft has worked hard this generation to establish goodwill with gamers that may have felt burned back in 2013. With the potential of great new games and the promise of powerful new hardware, it’s likely that we won’t need to reach for that panic button for quite some time.

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