As an Xbox supporter from the beginning, I can’t help but have mixed feelings over the Xbox One X. While I applaud Microsoft’s forward-thinking, future-proofing ways to give this console generation more grunt, there’s the unshakeable feeling that Microsoft have lost sight of what’s most important – the games.
There’s been some worrying soundbites coming from the otherwise fantastic Phil Spencer of late. That single-player games have an uncertain future. That Microsoft sees more of a future in, shudder, “games-as-service” or as platforms themselves. Every time, there’s that feeling – Microsoft have lost their way, they’re a little out of touch with what gamers really want.
The success of “Games-a-service” has been a mixed-bag. Yes, Overwatch is a behemoth. So was Destiny (which is getting a soft-reboot with its sequel), and GTA V is still going from strength-to-strength. They should be celebrated, of course, but it would be remiss not to look at the list of failures too; Ubisoft have twice had their fingers burnt with The Division and For Honor, Gearboxes Battleborn was a massive flop, the recently released Lawbreakers has made little impact at launch. Not every one of these titles is going to be a Minecraft.
And it seems Microsoft is doubling down on these type of games, or at least games with multiplayer and their heart. Look at the line-up for the next 12 months – Crackdown 3, Forza 7, Sea of Thieves, State of Decay 2 and Cuphead are all multiplayer, non-narrative focused games. However Crackdown has recently received a push back to 2018, leaving pickings even slimmer heading towards the Xbox One X release date. Going further back, when was the last time Microsoft released a critically acclaimed single-player game? Recore was problematic and dumped to digital, and even the campaigns of the latest Halo and Gears of War games had lukewarm receptions.
Microsoft and Phil Spencer may point to an uncertain single-player future after low sales of their own Ryse and Sunset Overdrive (both of which this writer enjoyed immensely), but the quality of these games simply haven’t reached the heights of what their competition Sony, and now Nintendo with the Switch, have been achieving – these two companies have achieved critical and commercial success with the likes of Horizon: Zero Dawn, Uncharted 4 and Zelda: Breath of the Wind. All single-player, narrative focused games.
In fact,5 out of the top 10 selling games this year are single-player games (Horizon, Zelda, Mass Effect, MLB The Show, Resident Evil 7) with a further 3 having serious single-player campaigns (Call of Duty, NBA 2K17, GTA V). The sales data would suggest Microsoft are barking up the wrong tree.
I want the Xbox One X to be a success, and I will be getting one on day one as I’ve done with every iteration of the Xbox so far. But I’m worried for Microsoft’s future, and the warning signs have been there for a while. I’ve enjoyed many of the 1st and 2nd party games on the Xbox this generation but I can honestly say that Micrsoft themselves haven’t crafted something of the quality of an Horizon, a Zelda, an Uncharted or a Last of Us for quite some time.
Their dumping of Scalebound was worrisome too. As was the disbanding of Lionhead, leaving their much-beloved Fable series rudderless. And, as Sony have just proved with the AAA quality of Hellblade, digital-only shouldn’t be treated as a dumping ground for problematic or budget games like Recore; digital is a viable platform for top-quality games.
Competiton is healthy; Sony have a strong 2018 line-up with single-player focused games like God of War, Days Gone and Spider-man while the erstwhile Nintendo have new Mario and Metroid games to come. Microsoft are about to have the most power, but it’s severly lacking when it comes to creating their own content.
It’s surprising with a figurehead with a background in gaming like Phil Spencer. Let’s hope he and Microsoft have some tricks up their sleeves or the Xbox One X might have the uncertain future, as the proof is their that single-player’s future is just as strong as ever.