Bugger it, let’s just be direct, enough with the metaphors.
Hello, this is an overall review of how Microsoft and their console, the Xbox One, performed in 2018. Here, we’ll be talking about how they attempted to dominate the market with their first-party exclusives, the sales figures of the console in this particular year, the communication that the company has with their consumers, and the future of said console.
Real quick though, if there’s any console in the past decade or so that’s had a fantastic “glow-up”, it’s definitely the Xbox One. In the space of five years, they’ve gone from being the butt of jokes to at least turning heads with their decisions and presence in the market. It’s a respectable turn-around that’s impressive to say the least, but… let’s just get into it.
Test #1 – First-Party Support
Microsoft’s whole gimmick at the moment is this “Play Anywhere” schtick. Similar to how cross-purchasing works between the PlayStation 4 and PS Vita, if you buy certain games on the Xbox One store, then they’re also playable on your PC, provided you have an Xbox Live account and Windows 10. It’s a service that tied to all of their first-party releases this year, including Sea of Thieves, State of Decay 2, and Forza Horizon 4, but also included Game Pass titles like Ruiner and Riptide GP: Renegade.
The optimists will look at this decision and think “Well, that’s fantastic! Not only are they bringing back necessary exclusives, but they’re also flexible in terms of what Microsoft-owned products you can play them on!”. In truth, this feature is nice, but renders the Xbox One useless in the presence of a much more powerful and better option, and while some might say that’s admitting their losses this generation, it’s still a shame to see them shy away so easily.
I’ve spoken about this before, and there’s nothing here I will echo repeatedly, but at the end of the day, this just makes the Xbox One more redundant than what it already is. What’s the point in settling for second place, when first is right in front of you, easily achievable? It’s a feature that I hope only gets sectioned to titles that are already multi-platform, like how it is with games like Hello Neighbor, Snake Pass, and Enter The Gungeon on the Windows 10 store. Save the exclusives for the console, for Christ’s sake.
As for the quality of these games? Well, you can’t say that Sea of Thieves didn’t try… State of Decay 2 didn’t however. Forza Horizon 4 was a relatively safe bet for utter racing perfection, and finally there was the timed console exclusive release of PUBG, which might as well have been a cup full of spit when compared to everything else. Christ, at least State of Decay 2 performs well, and hasn’t been released on PS4 mere months after Xbox boasted about its presence.
Score: 5/10. These “exclusives” did sell well, and at the end of the day, one half of the heart was in the right place, but the other half has other ideas.
Test #2 – Market Presence
One thing that surprised me about Xbox’s presence in adverts, was how it had practically multiplied infinitely when compared to previous years. You couldn’t go five minutes without seeing adverts for Sea of Thieves and Forza Horizon 4, along with other AAA titles that supposedly performed best on the Xbox One X. It was a breath of fresh air, as if there’s one thing that Xbox has learned how to do, it’s appealing to customers with exceptionally flashy adverts, even if they mostly tell you nothing about the product you’re buying. The infamous Fallout 76 advert comes into mind as an example.
Has it worked out in their favor? In truth, I don’t know. One thing that strikes me as off when it comes to finding out how well the Xbox One performs market-wise, is that Microsoft has stopped releasing their sales figures under the guise of using another “key metric for success”. The most natural reason for this is that they’re aware of how dominative PlayStation is in the market right now, but this could change soon.
With the acquisition of multiple studios with critically acclaimed titles under their belt, including the likes of Obsidian, Ninja Theory, and inXile, and a focus on independent development with the ID@Xbox program. Microsoft are finally cutting the bullshit and focusing on one thing: Games for their console. This will drive customers to their product (Especially the Obsidian acquisition), and given how developers have responded to the ID@Xbox program, things have clearly only been going up.
Even though we have no concrete information on how many Xbox One consoles have sold in the past few years, one thing that’s quite obvious is that Xbox, as a brand and an option for gamers, is more apparent than ever. It may not be enough to come back from their poor performance this generation, but it’s enough to see them gain an upper-hand in the next iteration of the Console War. Only time will tell.
Score: 8/10. Developers are coming to the Xbox One, and in turn, Xbox One have been showing off their games, driving purchases up. Good stuff.
Test #3 – Consumer Relations
Another surprising thing about Xbox is how friendly they are, not only to customers, but anyone who approaches their humble abode. Going back to the ID@Xbox program, developers have spoken positively about the driving force behind it, and Chris Charla, the director of ID@Xbox, is part of why developers speak so highly about it.
It may not be the most important point to dwell on, but Charla’s enthusiasm and passion to provide options for independent developers to reach higher audiences is the strongest part of Xbox’s overall friendly demeanour to the customer. He, along with everyone else behind the driving force of Xbox (including the Big Boss Phil Spencer), simply want players to play games without any frills attached, and that’s great.
As for whether they listen to customers properly or not, they do have programs and initiatives in play, but only rarely have we seen the effects of such consumer interactions. It’s hard to explain, but the Xbox One interface comes to mind as something that gets changed without any input from the player whatsoever, which leads to a constantly shifting overlay that can either be decent to use, or a frustrating mess. The most recent update to the Xbox One dashboard is considered annoying to navigate and use, at least to anyone I’ve asked about it.
That being said, Microsoft have become the masters of the hype cycle in 2018, along with being loved in terms of their accessibility to the player. Thanks to the Xbox Game Pass subscription service, an absolutely mesmerizing Xbox One conference at E3, along with their console specific event XO-18 providing more insight and goodies for Xbox One users, some gamers are turning their head in envy to Xbox once more. Yet despite all of these evolutions and changes, one thing they still won’t change is their disciplinary actions.
I realize that this is mostly subjective, but for some reason, when you get banned on Xbox Live, they still won’t specifically tell what you got banned for, leading to a frustrating mess of an appeal system that rarely works. While it’s debatable as to whether or not trash talking is inherently a bad thing, especially when we’ve had the means to combat it the whole time via blocking the silly bastards, the fact that you aren’t told what you’ve been banned for is stupid. I’ve been banned for responding to hate mail before, and when I tried to appeal? No such luck.
Score: 7/10. This is a small blemish on an impeccable community that Xbox houses, and it can only get better and stronger from here.
The Future of Xbox / Overall Verdict
One thing that is odd to consider about Microsoft’s future plans for the Xbox One is that old habits die hard. With the reports of an Xbox One launching next year without a disc drive, along with their next-gen counterpart also supposedly going the same way, their dreams of pre-owned games disappearing forever may come true. Will it work? More than likely so. The age of digital for gaming is just getting closer and closer, and it’d make sense for Microsoft to collectively shrug their shoulders. I mean, what’s the point in releasing a console with a disc drive when you’ve got no exclusives for it?
See, the problem is that Microsoft has the studios, the talent, the force and the power to make an Xbox One purchase kind of worth it still, but they simply won’t. Look at all these studios they just acquired, look at them finally bringing back Crackdown from the wasteland it was left in. All Microsoft need to do now is continue to resurrect their dead franchises with the same love and care as you would for anything else, and boom!
Why not go through with a Perfect Dark sequel that isn’t a total betrayal? Why not make another sequel to Voodoo Vince, Phil Spencer’s favourite game? Another arcade blast of Amped, another joyous burst of Viva Piñata, and… Oh crap, those are the only titles they have left. Shit. Umm– Look, the point is that there’s still a few corpses left.
Better yet, get more competitive with those timed exclusives! Dance the old dance with Capcom for another Dead Rising made by people who actually know what they’re doing, muscle in on the 3.8 billion franchises and licenses THQ Nordic bought this year alone! Will Microsoft do any of this? No, more than likely not, and that’s where things get depressing.
If you asked anybody a year or so ago about the future of Xbox, you’d get either a collective shrug, or a checking of collars. For the past few years, Phil Spencer and Co. have been umm’ing and err’ing about what to do with the system, and after cutting their losses from the past few years, it seems they’re ready to strike once more. Does that mean they’re on track to be on top once more? The scales are tipped to say “no”.
As much as I’d like to say that Phil Spencer, Chris Charla, and Aaron Greenberg’s burning passion for simply bringing games to gamers with a community-driven angle behind it will give them an upper hand in the future, it isn’t looking likely. The problems have already been explained, and it feels like in some areas, the damage has been irreparably dealt. It doesn’t mean they’re out of the fight, it just means that first place is much rarer than before.
In the end, 2018 was the best year for an Xbox owner since the reveal of the original black beast, but that’s not saying much. What does 2019 bring? Crackdown 3, Gears of War 5, Tunic, and Ori and The Will of The Wisps; All of which will be playable on your Xbox One console… and PC, so long as it has Windows 10. Sigh.
For the future of Xbox in consideration, Xbox gets a 4/10. Overall, that leaves us with a 6/10. Goodnight.
Owner of the largest collection of indie games in the Western Hemisphere, and TimeSplitters’ biggest fanboy.