Microsoft is back in the news again, with their confirmation of the cancellation of Scalebound, which was going to be an Xbox One exclusive action-JRPG produced by Platinum Games. What makes this more interesting, this is just yet another AAA cancellation of a Microsoft exclusive game, following Fable Legends and Phantom Dust prior. While it could be easy to chalk it up to many developmental issues striking the development studios, perhaps there is more to it than meets the eye. Perhaps on a grander scale, Microsoft is done with console gaming, and this is all part of their plan to slowly transition out of the market.
After entering the console market in 2001 with the original Xbox, Microsoft has quickly risen to being one of the three pillars of home media gaming along with Sony and Nintendo. While the landscape of gaming has changed in myriad ways, the constant has always been the split between PC gaming and console. In recent years, this has been further complicated by the rise of mobile and smartphone gaming. What puts Microsoft in a particularly interesting spot, is that the very concept of the Xbox means they are competing with themselves in a way. With 95.8% of Steam users running Windows, and breaking a new concurrent user record of 14,370,167 simultaneous users only earlier this week, it would seem Microsoft already has the most successful gaming platform around, no?
Even back around the launch of the Xbox over 15 years ago, Microsoft knew they needed to capitalize on the success of PC gaming. This is why Halo 1 and 2 launched on Xbox and PC, and their decision to implement Games for Windows Live (GFWL); a major fumble of its own. Initially charging PC gamers a fee of $49.99 to use the service at all. The DRM service was pesky, and unintuitive; by the time the first Dark Souls was coming to PC and revealed to use GFWL, an online petition garnered over 20,000 signature sin 5 days to have the service removed from the game.
While GFWL seemed to have been a failure, Microsoft is trying once again to create their own PC gaming service with the Windows 10 store. Exclusive Xbox titles such as Gears of War 4, ReCore, Quantum Break, and Dead Rising 4 are all available to buy, download, and play directly through Windows interface now. Notably absent is Halo– but wait, Halo is there! Halo: Spartan Assault and Halo: Spartan Strike, the mobile spin-offs, are available via Windows 10.
Hoping to turn Windows 10 into the all-in-one system, it also allows you to stream Xbox titles to your PC as well. So you CAN play Halo 5 on your PC!… but you still need to have an Xbox One to buy the game. And elsewhere on its site it says you can only play “as far as your Wi-Fi will allow you,” yet the trailer shows people playing at work and at the cafe? Microsoft’s implementation of Xbox and Windows 10 integration is clumsy and confusing. This haphazardness reeks of a slow transition. Microsoft seems to be backing themselves into a corner; they can’t make everything available on PC or else they invalidate their won product. To transition to Windows 10 Play is to eliminate any reason to buy an Xbox One. But again I ask, is that an accident?
It’s no secret that the Xbox One wasn’t the hit that it needed to be; with the PS4 taking the vast majority of the home console market share. The Xbox brand is in the midst of an identity crisis. The way I see it, either Microsoft is going to double down either on the casual, mass market appeal and truly aim their console as a home media kit that just happens to play games, or going all in on the possibilities of Windows 10 on PC.