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Xbox and PlayStation disagree on the future of the forever game

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Now that the dust has settled on Xbox and PlayStation’s big summer showcases, it’s a good time to compare them and look for evidence of where each company is going – or thinking it is.

As has increasingly happened over the years, the two presentations were very different. Most observers feel that Xbox’s performance was better in terms of the number and range of titles shown and the promise of its future slate. But there’s only so much you can read into this — the most plausible conclusion is that post-pandemic production issues are hitting Sony’s family of studios a year or so later than Microsoft and Ubisoft are hitting it this year. Leave with the gap between. spider man 2 and distant possibilities like bungee marathon, Like its rival this summer, Sony will probably be able to make a comeback in a year’s time.

It’s more interesting to look at the substance of the games shown, and what they can tell us about the preferences of the two platform holders.

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There’s no doubt that’s what Sony is doing. PlayStation owners have been vocal about their desire to get into the live-service game business on a large scale, and how that prompted its acquisition destiny Manufacturer Bungie. Lo and behold, in the context of new revelations from first-party PlayStation Studios, the showcase gave us:

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A futuristic soldier carrying a gun walks through a bright colored geometric background

Image: Bungie

Very few people know about these games, but marathon Clearly established as a long term “survival” sport, and it doesn’t feel like a stretch fairgame$ And Adjustment In the same bucket. There is also a striking tonal and style similarity between these projects. Sony is keen to capitalize on Bungie’s legacy by working hard on the genres and styles that have proven to attract service game audiences on PlayStation – particularly sci-fi shooters. (Even more specifically: Sci-fi shooters that remind you destiny, fairgame$ leans more towards overwatchBut you get the idea.)

This isn’t to say that Sony is turning its back on its stock-in-trade of polished, cinematic, single-player action games: spider man 2‘s impressive demo tells that lie, and it’s the company that owns Insomniac, Naughty Dog, Guerrilla, and Santa Monica Studios. But there is a clear trend nonetheless.

In contrast, these were the new first-party games revealed at the Xbox Showcase:

  • south of midnightAn occult fiction game set in the American South
  • Microsoft Flight Simulator 2024Expansion of the famous sim with more game-like elements (plus a dune-themed expansion for the original)
  • Monkey Island-themed expansion for the Pirate Service game sea ​​of ​​thieves
  • clockwork revolutiontime-travel steampunk role-playing game

Microsoft also offered an update fable, Accepted, hellblade 2And star field – All single-player games, mostly adequate RPGs, but stylistically very different from each other.

A helicopter lifts cargo from a ship's platform

Microsoft Flight Simulator 2024,
Image: Asobo Studios / Xbox Game Studios

This shouldn’t be taken to mean that Microsoft doesn’t want to make multiplayer shooters – although it will probably take some time to lick its wounds over its horrifically mismanaged failure to turn Halo into a hit service game. Hello AnantNot to mention Arkane’s failed launch red fall, But if Sony’s first-party efforts fall roughly into two buckets — games that look like Naughty Dog, and games that look like Bungie made them — Microsoft’s is clearly much harder to categorize. A few generations ago, Sony’s first-party studios were creative risk-takers with diverse outputs, while Microsoft single-mindedly pursued halo audiences. Now the tide seems to have turned.

What happened? It is not likely to be just a matter of taste; These are businesses, and they go where the money is. Is it really possible for both of them to find money in so many different places?

The short answer is yes. PlayStation is a product business, and it is the biggest revenue generator for its parent company, Sony. It needs each of its games to make money. In the current economy, and the risk-averse environment in entertainment in general, that means placing bets – whether they be mass-market action games with high production values ​​demanding a massive $70 sticker price. Can, or the object of the service game is square. engaging PlayStation’s core audience (and monetized to suit).

Xbox is now a services business — specifically, a Game Pass business. A gaming subscription that extends beyond the console ecosystem to reach players on PC and phones has been at the heart of Xbox strategy for years. But, paradoxically, being a service the department’s main product makes it easier for Microsoft to release smaller, self-contained game-like products — and even to differentiate its own game-services. It also makes it easy to approach.

a zombie pirate captain goes arrrrrr

Sea of ​​Thieves: The Legend of Monkey Island,
Image: Rare/Xbox Game Studios

What is essential to the Game Pass business model is a high volume of new games; sufficient variety in content to attract new users, especially users who do not already own a console; And above all, a higher level of engagement with games overall, which means happier customers. But because each game isn’t (just) treated as its own revenue-generating entity and is instead judged largely in terms of happy players, Xbox can be more relaxed about each game’s design. And those games don’t need to be ‘min-maximize’ marketing or business models to the same degree.

sea ​​of ​​thieves And flight Simulator are much less aggressively monetized than other games in their relative places, and can be updated in new ways to suit them, whether through an in-game crossover event or an expansion-sequel hybrid, which Grouping all of this together with Game Pass would be a very risky bet without the comfortable umbrella. forza horizon 5 Seasons are there to keep players engaged, but the Battle Pass doesn’t need to be implemented to keep those seasonal players snatched up for cash; For Microsoft, hours played is enough. like a giant, casual, but insular sandbox star field Which can keep players entertained for hundreds of hours without a single download is, on paper, the opposite of a service game — yet within the Game Pass system, it becomes one of a kind.

In an interview with This Week, head of Xbox Phil Spencer laid it all out plainly. “The fact that I have a content subscription that is massive means I don’t have to think about every game monetizing every engagement,” Spencer said. “Because the success of Xbox Game Pass enables us to invest more in driving engagement than driving dollars. The dollars will come from people loving the sport they are playing. So it opens up opportunities for us not to increase on every piece of content in terms of the way we charge. As a guiding influence, he pointed to Long’s experience with the company minecraft, is an emerging, live game that doesn’t cost its massive audience. (It’s “a place we learn a lot,” he said.)

A giant, spectral bluesman plays a guitar in front of a young black woman

south of midnight,
Image: Compulsion Games / Xbox Game Studios

The key for Spencer is flexibility: “For a creator, you can say, ‘What am I trying to do? And is there a business model on this platform that allows me to do that?’ And we wish the answer was almost always yes. The logic applies to narrative-focused adventures as well. south of midnight, “When the design of a game doesn’t call for a business model within the game, all we can say is, ‘Go make your game.’ The Game Pass platform has a business model in which these great narrative single-player games will fit.

It all sounds pretty sweet to both the players and the developers. The question is whether it is sustainable. At one point, Spencer waved a comparison to the struggles of video streaming platforms like Netflix to make sense of their profligate spending on content, saying that players would rather “curate a great portfolio for them” than “curate a great portfolio for them”. Care less about quantity. But later, Spencer said that he and Xbox Game Studios head Matt Booty set a goal of four AAA releases per year, given Booty’s claim that the development cycle on such games is up to six years. , makes for an intimidating program. You can see why Microsoft has bought so many studios.

For now, there’s nothing to worry about, says Spencer; Since Xbox represents only 10% of Microsoft’s revenue, it can focus more on growth than profitability – unlike PlayStation. And Spencer sees an opportunity in the “millions” of PC owners who make up Game Pass’s potential audience beyond consoles. To what extent this untapped audience actually exists will determine whether Microsoft’s more relaxed approach to the business of making games is the future, or just a pleasant blip.

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