Over the past few days, rumors began to swirl that Microsoft is, once again, exploring bringing first-party Xbox games to competing platforms. For anyone keeping score, it wouldn't be without precedent.
With the Activision-Blizzard deal in the bag, Microsoft is effectively becoming one of the biggest "third-party" publishers on PlayStation and Steam already, with games like Call of Duty, Minecraft, Diablo, etc., distributed wholly under the Microsoft umbrella. This latest rumor mill doesn't pertain to that, though.
Historically, console sales have revolved around the arbitrary gatekeeping of exclusive content. There's no reason why God of War or Super Mario Bros Wonder couldn't run on Xbox, PC, or whatever else — but publishers don't bring it to other systems because they want you in their ecosystem. Even Apple has started exploring exclusive games with traditional console publishers in an attempt to grow its Apple Arcade brand. Times are changing, though, and changing quite rapidly.
So, let's dig into the latest rumors, examine the likelihood of them being true, and see if we can't grab a crystal ball and try to figure out what the future may look like for Xbox's upcoming games line up.
A few days ago, Nate the Hate suggested on his podcast that an "acclaimed, game of the year-worthy" Xbox exclusive will become imminently available on a competing console platform. Nate has a good track record for accuracy in the past, which created a groundswell of speculation over what game it could possibly be.
These sorts of rumors started landing in my lap ever since Xbox CFO Tim Stuart mentioned during a Wells Fargo investors meeting that Xbox will be bringing more of its games to competing platforms, in addition to Xbox Game Pass itself. Xbox CEO Phil Spencer later denied that Xbox Game Pass is slated for other platforms. I also confirmed with some sources separately over the holiday period that games like Hellblade 2, Avowed, and The Elder Scrolls VI are still slated to be Xbox console exclusive, after the initial rumor mill around moving towards platform agnosticity swirled. Now I'm wondering if those rumors began due to the game Nate the Hate is potentially talking about above — a game that I hadn't really considered or chased up.
Forum user lolilolailo also backed up the claims recently. In a reply to a commenter saying "Hi-Fi Rush available on [Nintendo Switch], I'll bet," lolilolailo replied "And you'll win." The poster in question also has a strong track record for accurate information, particularly pertaining to Microsoft's collaboration with ATLUS on Persona and Xbox Game Pass.
Update (January 8, 2024): The same user has now clarified that they believe Hi-Fi Rush may be coming to PlayStation, and not Nintendo Switch, as was previously rumored.
Su mensaje: pic.twitter.com/hJSEhKPBHDJanuary 8, 2024
They say there's no smoke without fire. I will say that it has been suggested to me from very trusted, proven sources that Microsoft has been exploring bringing some of its back catalog to other platforms, although some of the details remain vague and unconfirmed. We've reached out to Microsoft to comment and clarify its position on this stuff.
There's some substance here
Given the track record of lolilolailo, Nate, and my own sourcing on this, I think the rumors will probably pan out into reality — but until things are fully confirmed, remember to take this kind of stuff with a grain of salt.
What is clear is that Microsoft is actively thinking about this stuff, and we know this from public conversations from the likes of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Xbox CFO Tim Stuart, and Xbox CEO Phil Spencer.
Speaking during the FTC hearings over the Activision-Blizzard acquisition, Nadella emphasized that the only reason Microsoft produces exclusive Xbox games today is because competitors do so. Spencer also said as much during a WSJ interview back in 2022, "One of the reasons people pick different consoles is looking at the exclusive games that are available. If you think about Nintendo, a platform I love, people think of Zelda, Mario — these are iconic franchises that are available on those platforms. For us, we have Halo, and Forza and things that people love. Sony has their own set of exclusive franchises. So, as we're shipping things, we'll definitely have new exclusive franchises coming to Xbox, there's no doubt."
There's no reason to think that this mentality has changed in recent times either. I know from speaking to sources that Microsoft is still building a large range of Xbox exclusives, announced and unannounced. And indeed, the game in question, Hi-Fi Rush, has been exclusive to Xbox for a year. However, Xbox fans have been voicing their discontent on social media across the weekend. I understand the frustration with Microsoft's potential inconsistencies here, and find it frustrating myself — but it's fair to consider the position Microsoft finds itself in in 2024, stuck in third-place in a shrinking console market.
Inconsistency and discontent vs. business realities
Microsoft has shipped its first-party games onto other platforms previously. Ori and the Blind Forest famously came to Nintendo Switch in yesteryear, which prompted Spencer to remark at the time, that he "doesn't love this idea that for every one of our games, there becomes a rumor of whether or not it'll end up on Switch or not, we should set a better expectation with our fans than that" yet here we are again in 2024 with a similar rumor about Hi-Fi Rush. As Dusk Falls, a solid narrative adventure game Xbox funded, is also rated for PlayStation in the future too. And I want to reiterate, to be fair to Phil Spencer, these are still unconfirmed rumors for now, but given what I've heard, the track record of the leakers, and the comments from Xbox CFO Tim Stuart, it's understandable why this particular one has picked up speed.
Hi-Fi Rush is a remarkable game, and personally, I would love to see it achieve some broader recognition. In our Hi-Fi Rush review, we remarked on the game's uniqueness, vibrancy, and humor. The strategic placement of Hi-Fi Rush on Nintendo Switch could raise the profile of the game and its characters, and potentially feed a Hi-Fi Rush 2 sequel, exclusive to Xbox, in the future. The downside is, of course, the lack of consistency with Xbox fan's expectations, and the discussions that will emerge as a result.
Phil Spencer, 2020: “I don't really love this idea that for every one of our games, there becomes this little rumor on it ‘is it going to end up on the Switch or not.’ I feel we should set a better expectation with our fans than that."Fans will judge Xbox on words & actions. https://t.co/WMU98Mnwp6January 6, 2024
Spencer himself remarked upon this, and if Hi-Fi Rush, wholly owned and developed internally at Microsoft subsidiary Tango Gameworks, ends up on a competing platform that would in no universe bring content to Xbox — why stop at Hi-Fi Rush? Why not bring Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Forza Motorsport, Halo Infinite itself to other platforms? If it's really about increasing visibility for exclusive games, or selling software, why are we stopping at Hi-Fi Rush specifically? What's the rationale there?
And let's remember, this isn't confirmed yet, we're just assuming that it eventually could be confirmed. Hi-Fi Rush and other games moving to other platforms seemingly arbitrarily creates a cloud of confusion over the long term identity for the Xbox brand.
It's true that probably >90% or more Xbox users don't know nor care about things like this, but Microsoft actively curates fandom via merchandising, the Xbox FanFest events, and other programs. Xbox fans who invest to make Xbox what it is, locked-in with digital content that cannot be resold or transferred, are probably right to be concerned about the health of the console footprint. We're told that exclusive games create visibility for your platform, games like Starfield, The Elder Scrolls VI, Halo, and so on — but we could be moving to a world where every single Xbox "exclusive" announced comes with questions of platform agnosticity. We've seen the same with Marvel's Blade from Microsoft subsidiary Arkane Games, who has yet to announced console platforms either.
I would love to live in a world where I can choose the ecosystem I prefer, and know that of my content will be available everywhere. We don't yet live in that world. We do, however, live in a world where mobile gaming, and PC gaming is becoming increasingly dominant. The total console footprint isn't growing — it's a world where console margins are shrinking, and porting games to other platforms is probably an absolutely easy win. PlayStation is by far the dominant console platform, but during the big Insomniac leak, we learned just how much Sony itself is struggling to extract growth in a tough economic climate, in a world where costs are spiralling, and consumers are squeezed. I appreciate the notion that Hi-Fi Rush ports could help bring Tango Gameworks up to profitability (assuming that's the play), but Microsoft should be more considerate for how the outwardly arbitrary decisions can impact fans' faith in Xbox, particularly among those who invest a lot in the platform.
I think Microsoft could solve some of the backlash with transparency for why certain games get ported but others won't, and then stick to it, perhaps even with some form of branding like "Xbox Original" for tentpole iconic permanent exclusives like Halo, Gears, or Forza — although that probably comes with some of its own problems. You don't see Amazon's The Boys moving over to Netflix, any more than you'd see Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom on PlayStation 5. Xbox fans deserve the same consistency, and I suspect most would be on board with the idea of Hi-Fi Rush or potentially other "smaller" titles like Grounded or Pentiment going to other platforms if Microsoft laid out a roadmap upfront for what games will and won't be exclusive — and offer the exact reasons why.
What do you think? Hit the comments, share your thoughts, let us know.
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Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!
I would agree there are rumors that a Xbox owned game will be released on competing platforms and I'm pretty sure that game is Elder Scrolls Oblivion Remastered.Reply
Thanks for reading. Personally I'm in two minds about this stuff, I like the idea of Hi-Fi Rush being sent out to more players, who might not have any intent of buying an Xbox or gaming PC otherwise. I can even reach towards this idea that it could raise the profile of the franchise should Microsoft explore a sequel which could be exclusive, and thus go on to sell systems.Reply
But I can understand why it would worry people about the direction of the platform and its long-term viability. Spencer and co. saved Xbox from obscurity with its huge investments, but the idea of losing thousands of digitally-locked games in an imaginary far-flung future where everything converges on PC and mobile is a tad annoying. Microsoft can't comment on its long term commitments because they don't have a crystal ball, they don't know where any of this is going ... but I dunno. What do you think?
Xbox games should only go to Switch once Nintendo drops some games on Xbox as well.Reply
How about sending some Xenoblade Chronicles to the Series X? Then nobody can complain about HiFi Rush on Switch. It's called give and take, not take take
I don't hate xbox sharing games on the switch but this is the wrong title to share. You see comments on Twitter from ps5 users saying things like "oh the first game from xbox I wish we had" and stuff like that and by giving them an opportunity to play the game outside the xbox system you're losing the chance to grow the ecosystem.Reply
It should be niche titles like pentiment or even flight sim OR be live service online games. My hottest take is that sea of thieves should also be on the switch if it can handle it but I'm not sure it can.
Is there any chance this is being done years in advance of a move to buy sega to create a catalouge of games they can show regulators they don't keep as exclusives?Reply
Great write-up as usual, Jez.Reply
My view on this is simple:
1. I like exclusives. They give ecosystems flavour. And I say this as an Xbox-only player;
2. as long as exclusivity remains a big industry play driven by Sony and Nintendo, Xbox can't afford to put valued exclusives on other consoles;
3. doing so highly diminishes brand appeal and potential. Game Pass alone can't save it.
I'm of the mind that exclusives don't help anybody but the platform holders themselves, and I think as consumers we should all hope that consoles were more open similar to help PC works.Reply
I think the problem here is Xbox lack of communication, Even though they've said that exclusives will be a case by case basis they need to come out right and say IF they plan on publishing games on more platforms in general instead of tiptoeing around it.
If there's one thing I've noticed is that on a lot of crucial things in the industry Xbox tends to be ahead of the curve so I can see them paving the way for platforms being more open as the console market plateaus and companies like PlayStation and Nintendo eventually jumping on board to publishing games in more places, albeit I know it's some what of a pipe dream.
And this is all coming from someone who's purchased hundreds and hundreds of games for the Xbox platform over four generations, Xbox putting their games in more places doesn't devalue my console nor the games that I've collected. As a port beggar I want to see games and as many places as possible so we all can enjoy experiences instead of being stuck behind pay walls that only benefit multi-billion dollar corporations. If game platforms were more open than actually developers would have to compete even harder as their pool of potential competitors grows exponentially.
Also I own a switch so I'd be very happy to purchase Xbox games on there because I enjoy the portability and I already double dip on third-party and indie games quite frequently lol.
This is an L decision.Reply
Xbox gamers don't even recieve any benefits. Just lesser of a justification to enter or remain in the Xbox user base.
I was an avid Xbox fan and often argued online with PlayStation users. But I'm tired of the constant rumors that Microsoft wants to release its games on PlayStation and Nintendo. I don't want to buy a games for a console that could die at any moment at the whim of Microsoft, as they did with Windows Phone. Therefore, I bought a PlayStation 5 and will no longer buy games or subscriptions for my Xbox Series X. Phil Spencer is the Xbox console killer. He's worse than Don Mattrick.Reply
When you buy a console you choose which one based on two things: first and third party games. PlayStation and Nintendo have really powerful first party franchises. PlayStation also has all the third party games.Reply
The only reason to get an Xbox console is if you can’t miss their games. If said games start appearing on competing consoles, meaning I get their first party offerings plus Xbox ones, why should I choose an Xbox?
This will result in console market share dropping faster than it is now, because people will choose other consoles with the prospect of also getting Xbox games, and this will result in less Gamepass subscriptions, because Xbox consoles are its main driver, and possibly less 3rd party games on Xbox.
It’s a short time win for a long time loss