Microsoft will host its Xbox & Bethesda games showcase on Sunday, and there’s a lot riding on the event.
It’d be fair to say that Xbox is possibly in one of the best positions its been in for the last decade; cloud streaming is bringing the brand to more users every day, Game Pass continues to add great games, and the Xbox Series S|X are the best consoles the company has ever made.
And yet, it feels like storm clouds are gathering ahead of the Xbox & Bethesda showcase this weekend. From the outside, it appears the company is doing almost everything “right” for customers. Xbox dominates the backward compatibility conversation and is working to acquire Activision Blizzard in order to bolster its slate of studios. But is that enough?
It’s the hope that kills you
The oldest meme that Xbox fans will have heard for months is “Xbox has no games”, and while the Xbox One generation offered a paltry number of first-party hits in comparison to both Sony and Nintendo, this generation has been better — although it was a low bar to clear.
Whatever your thoughts on Halo Infinite’s multiplayer, its campaign is great (I said so in my review), while Forza Horizon 5 is still sitting pretty with a Metacritic score of 92. While both of those are available on prior hardware, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially given console shortages. Xbox ended 2021 with a flurry (those titles both launched at the tail end), and 2022 was set to be even bigger.
That was thanks to Starfield, Bethesda’s first new RPG franchise in years, which promised the scale and detail of Skyrim in the stars. Except, well, it was delayed until 2023. That’s fine, though, right? We have Redfall from Arkane coming! Oh, that was delayed too?
I’ll be the first person to say if you thought Redfall was truly launching this Summer, you mustn’t have been paying attention. For a start, we’ve still not seen gameplay outside of leaks, and for another, it was dated for “Summer 2022” right up until it was delayed on the cusp of that very season.
Even outside of Bethesda, though, Microsoft’s approach has been scattershot. Smaller teams have launched the likes of Grounded and Battletoads, sure, but other than Forza Horizon 5 and Halo Infinite, it’s starting to feel like the company’s eyes were too big for its stomach, to borrow a phrase from my grandmother. So many acquisitions, and so little to show for it.
No CGI at the Xbox & Bethesda showcase, please
Perhaps the trouble is in showing games too early, either through a lack of understanding about what players want to see, or by feeling as though they need to get players in the door. Take Fable, as an example, which was revealed to be in development back in July 2020. Since then all we really know is that Playground Games was still hiring staff back in 2021 for the project.
Rare’s Everwild is another example, with no real idea as to what the game will offer outside of a gorgeous reveal trailer also shown in 2020. State of Decay 3 is more of a known quantity since it’s a sequel, but still, when can we expect to play it? Will it even be shown at the Xbox & Bethesda showcase?
Even without factoring in the studios Microsoft would acquire if the Activision Blizzard deal goes through, there are twenty first-party studios across Xbox and Bethesda alone. That means Microsoft’s showcase this weekend could, theoretically, showcase well over a dozen projects that are in development. And yet, it feels like without some release dates and gameplay, it’ll only serve to disappoint those that are waiting for that next big drop.
Is there a world where Microsoft saw the Activision Blizzard opportunity sooner and didn’t hoover up so many incredible studios in the interim? Maybe, but now it just feels as though the first-party lineup is a group of people all trying to fit through the same doors.
“Go where the games are”
Microsoft has done a fantastic job of gaining new customers, even without forcing them to buy a console. I have friends who pay an Xbox Game Pass subscription to play games on their phone via streaming, and others that are happy to just play Game Pass games on PC.
It’s weird to call a trillion-dollar company an underdog, but with the consumer-first decisions Microsoft made (or perhaps, was forced to make) during the underwhelming Xbox One generation, I’ve seen people cheering for Xbox boss Phil Spencer like he’s David vs Sony’s Goliath. But those cheers are getting fainter, because people just want to play new games.
Sony started putting its games on PC, and it’s been a stroke of financial genius for them (even if some fans bizarrely want the company to gatekeep its franchises). No Game Pass membership, just people paying money for very good games like Horizon Zero Dawn and God of War — even if they’re years old.
People will always go where the games are, and as much as Microsoft has disrupted the industry’s distribution methods with Game Pass, that’ll only get you so far. The Xbox & Bethesda showcase is a chance to show Xbox has games, and they’re coming soon.
Phil, it’s time to go big or go home.