Let’s not beat around the bush. It’s been a confusing and painful gen for Xbox fans. I’m not saying that we haven’t seen some stellar announcements and witnessed some new innovations, but it’s hardly been clear-cut. DRM confusion, studios closing, project cancellations, ceased production of the “vital” Kinect, backwards compatibility is impossible to implement – but then suddenly possible, I could go on and on, but I wont. The one constant throughout this gen, however, or at least as far as the Xbox brand is concerned, is the lack of exclusivity.
Microsoft made a huge announcement earlier in the year that they’re planning to do E3 2018 in a way that’s different to any previous E3 event. Instead of showcasing their content and lineups at the Los Angeles Convention Centre, Microsoft will be hosting their show at the LA Live theater, as well as providing gameplay demos for all E3 attendees. This change mainly comes from the feedback that Microsoft has received throughout the course of their previous briefings. In fact, Microsoft went on to say that:
“Not only does the Microsoft Theater allow us to centralize our Xbox presence at E3, but its size enables us to include even more fans and partners in the Xbox E3 2018 Briefing than ever before”
Safe to say that it seems as though Microsoft plans to pull a few ace cards from their proverbial sleeve, but is it too little too late? Not entirely. I dare say that if there was ever a time for the Xbox brand to bounce back on its feet, it’s this year. If there’s one thing that can be taken away from Microsoft’s E3 announcement so far, it’s that it’s certainly got people talking. They have our attention and they clearly have the floor space to deliver a surprising roundup. Though with that being said, too often do we hear Microsoft dishing out empty promises.
They’re ignorantly aware of this, made apparent by their recent decision to stop talking about/promoting games until they’re much further on in development – Crackdown 3, there’s your honorable mention. Enough of that bollocks. The fact of the matter is that Microsoft needs to come back, quickly and robustly, and 2018 may just be the year they achieve that. Head of Xbox Phil Spencer took to Twitter earlier this week to address some fan questions, revealing some interesting information in the process.
When asked if Xbox will work with Japanese developers on an exclusive game again, Spencer replied with a straightforward “yes”, further clarifying via another question that we’ll get to see some JRPGs at E3 2018. Spencer also went on to reiterate that he acknowledged early on in his role that Xbox were missing a lot of third party games, and that support from Japanese publishers has been a focus for the company giant. He also pointed out that SEGA has a lot of great franchises that would be “cool” to see come over, which is an interesting statement to make.
Taking all of the above into account, it paints a very promising picture. Phil Spencer has made some pretty drastic changes to the Xbox brand since taking on the role a number of years back, and I have complete faith that if anyone is fit for the job, it’s Phil. Though, with that to the side, sprinkling out goodies such as Xbox Game Pass and merely “talking” about what “Xbox needs” is not enough to overshadow the frankly alarming sized gap between Xbox and both Sony and Nintendo as far as intriguing exclusive titles are concerned. Super Lucky’s Tale, ReCore and even Quantum Break have hardly gained enough traction or attention to justify any form of meaningful comparison.
The same can be said about the Halo and Gears franchise. Xbox, and more importantly its fans, needs a catalog of titles that proves to be unique and diverse. Microsoft quite simply needs to spend less time trying to tap into the Japanese market, and spend more time and effort focusing on delivering Japanese developed games to the West. Sony and Nintendo dominate Japan. Microsoft wont ever come close to the relationship that its competitors enjoy with the Japanese market. The sooner Microsoft realizes this, the better. The popularity of Japanese games has risen tremendously this gen, arguably more so than ever before.
Xbox needs to tap into that wherever they can and bring these fun and engaging experiences to the West, sooner than later. Spencer’s understanding that Xbox lacks Japanese titles as well as a chunk of third party games is promising, but if we don’t see this in practice at E3 2018, I fear for the outcome in the long run. Don’t get me wrong, Sea of Thieves is a solid game that will alleviate its criticisms regarding lack of content in due course, and State of Decay 2 undoubtedly looks pretty decent, but this isn’t enough, not by a long-shot. Especially when the competitor consoles are consistently releasing exclusive title after exclusive title.
This year’s E3 should be a vital turning point for Xbox and Microsoft. The ball has been dropped far too many times already for yet another year to go by without much to show for it. Reverting back to my titular question, will Microsoft deliver at E3 2018? Only time will tell, though, the motivations and statements from Phil Spencer and his staff certainly seems to be pointing in the correct direction. We’ll never see Microsoft (this gen) rise to the same stature as Sony or Nintendo, but that aforementioned turning point needs to happen soon if the Xbox brand wants to avoid becoming the joke of this gen.
It’s all fair and well saying that Xbox now houses the power, so to speak, but that means jack shit when we have very little to show for it outside of better looking multi-plat games. The important thing to take away from all of this is that Phil Spencer is a very open man and clearly understands where Xbox needs to improve. The kicker, on the other hand, is that support is a two way street. Convincing Japanese developers and publishers to support a brand that is basically non-existent in the native region is going to be tough, let alone getting heavy hitting Japanese AAA titles to the West, with exclusivity.
Now, there’s a lot more to this than Japanese titles, I completely understand that. Single-player games, despite reports that they’re “dead” in the water, play a vital role too. Take God of War or Horizon: Zero Dawn, for example, both but a few of the Sony exclusive titles that are single-player focused and have attracted more attention than Microsoft’s lineup could dream of. This is yet another area that Xbox needs to improve upon, which is once again something that Spencer understands. I’ll reserve my skeptical nature for the time being, fingers crossed we see some huge changes at E3 2018.
In summary, I look back to when Phil Spencer took on the role of head of Xbox, promising “games, games, games”. This promise needs to be fulfilled at last. Xbox needs more Japanese support, a much stronger lineup of interesting exclusive games, a slew of single-player games, and some truly exciting new IP. Xbox has the power and a very clear cut consumer-focused plan, but if Spencer steps onto the stage at E3 2018 with little else other than Gears, Forza, Halo and the usual formula (following years of “acknowledgement” and “understanding” where Xbox needs to improve) I’ll enjoy the deserved reception. Still, when all is said and done, we’ll just have to sit tight and see whether or not Spencer’s recent statements have any weight. I really hope they do.