Xbox lead Phil Spencer laments on 'Helldivers 2' and its PlayStation console exclusivity. "But I get it."

Helldivers 2 gameplay
(Image credit: PlayStation Studios)

What you need to know

  • Microsoft has done a round of interviews to discuss its evolving Xbox business. 
  • Microsoft is bringing some of its back catalog to other competing console platforms, widely expected to include Sea of Thieves and Hi-Fi Rush. 
  • Microsoft said games like Starfield and Indiana Jones are "currently" not planned to go broader than Xbox, however, but some are sceptical. 
  • In any case, during the interviews, Xbox lead Phil Spencer lamented on the whole idea of console exclusivity, discussing Helldivers 2 as a case-in-point. 

Yesterday, Microsoft issued its "Xbox Business Update," a short podcast with Xbox execs Phil Spencer, Sarah Bond, and Matt Booty, discussing the future of the Xbox ecosystem. Therein, Microsoft confirmed widely spread rumors that some Xbox console games will begin launching on PlayStation 5 and Nintendo Switch. The games have yet to be officially named, but we can corroborate that at least two of those are Sea of Thieves and Hi-Fi Rush, with Grounded and Pentiment reported by others like The Verge. Microsoft said other games that were reported for multiplatform publishing deals, such as Starfield and Indiana Jones, are currently not on the docket, but they stopped short of saying "never." 

In any case, the topic of video game platform exclusivity has become a hot one again as a result of all this drama. I've argued that Microsoft needs at least some tentpole exclusives to drive interest in the Xbox platform, and it seems Microsoft agrees, at least for now. However, it seems they only agree for incidental reasons, rather that philosophical ones. 

In a new interview with Stephen Totilo's excellent GameFile newsletter (definitely check it out), Xbox lead Phil Spencer remarked upon recent PC / PS5 smash hit Helldivers 2, which is published by Sony, and developed by independent studio Arrowhead Games. 

"I will say, when I look at a game like Helldivers 2, and it's a great game, kudos to the team shipping on PC and PlayStation, I'm not exactly sure who it helps in the industry by not being on Xbox. If you try to twist yourself to say, like, somehow that benefited somebody somewhere." Phil acknowledged that Xbox is still doing the same thing, though, "... but I get it. There's a legacy in console gaming that we're going to benefit by shipping games and not putting them on other places. We do the same thing."

During the FTC hearings over Activision-Blizzard last year, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said he had "no love" for the world of software exclusivity, referring to games, noting that the only reason they do it is because the "competition" does it. Windows itself is, of course, an open platform. 

Exclusive games: Who DOES it help?

Helldivers 2

(Image credit: PlayStation Studios)

Arrowhead Games is an independent studio that has now delivered Sony's biggest ever PlayStation PC win. One would hope that they're earning some sexy bonuses as a result of their success there, but you have to wonder how much more money both Arrowhead, and Sony itself, might make if Helldivers 2 had come to Xbox as well. 

Helldivers 2 would clearly to numbers on Xbox, which has long been described as "the shooter box," owing to a legacy in franchises like Halo and Gears of War. Is it reasonable to assume Helldivers 2 by itself is helping Sony to sell hardware? Perhaps not, since Sony itself has warned investors that it's expecting PS5 sales to decline this year. PlayStation console sales by themselves don't necessarily generate profits, it's the software sales on top of it that generates profit. So, when Xbox and PlayStation opt out of putting their games onto other platforms, they're essentially leaving free money on the table, and also reducing the effectiveness of their marketing spend. 

On the flip side of the argument, you could say a game like Helldivers 2 might not sell consoles by itself, but it contributes to a broader identity of PlayStation having stronger "unmissable" exclusives as part of a complete package. While Xbox has reported record Xbox console usership per its investor calls last quarter, its no secret that PlayStation has a vastly larger console user base than Xbox. This has to be, at least in part, because Sony enjoys a more positive perception of giving fans what they want. Xbox feels like it has been on the defensive and playing catch up for over a decade. 

But indeed, despite Xbox's "smaller" console footprint, they're still enjoying record revenues and engagement. This is in no small part to its approach of placing its software, which enjoy far better margins than hardware, onto as many platforms as possible. Microsoft hasn't relented into putting all of its games onto PlayStation and other competing console platforms, but the "first four" could be the chip in the dam that leads to us getting Halo on PlayStation some day. If Helldivers 2 makes sense on Xbox as Spencer, and the math, would claim, so too would Halo on PlayStation — but does the budget sheet account for a potential collapse in platform interest? Is Xbox Game Pass enough of an "exclusive" by itself to keep people invested? It all remains to be seen. 

One thing is for sure, though. You should play Helldivers 2, for democracy. 

Helldivers 2 — $39.99 at GMG (Steam)

Helldivers 2 — $39.99 at GMG (Steam)

Battle aliens, robots, and other beasts in humanity's quest to spread democracy through an unforgiving galaxy. 4-player co-op at its absolute best, and most refined. 

Also at: Amazon (PS5, Physical) | Walmart (PS5, Physical)

Super Citizen Edition: Amazon (PC, Digital) | GMG (Steam, PC, Digital)

Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden is 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 tea. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his XB2 Podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!