Xbox's no-show at The Game Awards caps off a disappointing 2022

Windows Central | Jez Corden
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Xbox has had spurts of serious momentum this year, with the Xbox Series S, Xbox Game Pass, and Fortnite hitting Xbox Cloud Gaming doing a lot of the heavy lifting. Increasingly, though, fans are struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel. We all knew 2022 was going to be a rough year, with Starfield and other upcoming titles delayed, but the slog of regulatory drudgery from the Activision deal, coupled with the generalized lack of information is starting to wear thin. 

There are plenty of reasons to be excited about Xbox's 2023 when you step back and take a broader view, but the vision is muddied by a march of irritating developments that have made 2022 a particularly slow year for Microsoft's gaming brand, and one we can only hope won't play out like this again any time soon. 

Here's a post-mortem on Xbox's 2022, and ultimately a list of things Xbox needs to do better moving forward. 

Xbox has had some wins this year ...

Image of Xbox Series X and Series S side-by-side with Xbox Wireless Controllers.

(Image credit: Matt Brown | Windows Central)

Microsoft hasn't had a completely terrible 2022 when it comes to gaming. A few standout titles like As Dusk Falls, Pentiment, and Grounded 1.0 have proven Xbox's ability to deliver artistic and diverse titles, while Halo Infinite's big Forge update provides some hope for the future of the game. 

Other Xbox games like Forza Horizon, Flight Simulator, Minecraft Dungeons, Age of Empires II and IV, and Sea of Thieves all continue to get compelling updates and content, and third-party developers released some truly incredible experiences on the platform, including Game of The Year award-winner Elden Ring. Microsoft also spent the year plowing high-quality indie titles into the platform, many of which also hit Xbox Game Pass on the side. 

PC Game Pass has expanded considerably, and the inclusion of Riot Games' titles is a major win for the service. Xbox Cloud Gaming soared to new heights landing Game Pass deals for major third-party titles like Persona 5 Royal — which is something Xbox fans have been clamoring over for years.

The Xbox Series S is the best gaming gift of 2022

The Pope likes the Xbox Series S. (Disclaimer: Probably isn't true.) (Image credit: Windows Central)

The Xbox Series S has also continued to be a bit of a success story for the company. The console reportedly bested the PlayStation 5 during the Black Friday sales rush, and the Xbox Series S Holiday Bundle remains $60 dollars off through the holiday season, which should help boost Microsoft's footprint in the console space. There have been some high-profile criticisms of the Xbox Series S, but it continues to punch above its weight, delivering 120 FPS in games like Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 and Overwatch 2, with more and more titles picking up optimization specific to the pint-sized platform. 

The Xbox Series S has also been credited with an expansion of influence in Asian markets, in particular Japan, where the console has spearheaded a small resurgence for Xbox in recent years. The console's size and value proposition when combined with Xbox Game Pass has arguably been carrying Xbox throughout the generation thus far, as Xbox's first-party studios have generally failed to deliver a steady cadence of new games coming out of the pandemic. 

And therein lies the primary disappointment of Xbox's 2022, really. Xbox fans have truly been waiting for the best part of a decade for Microsoft to start delivering GOTY-worthy titles outside of the Forza Horizon and Gears of War franchises, and patience is starting to wear thin. 

... but it's not enough

Xbox Series X|S Controller Comparisons

(Image credit: Miles Dompier | Windows Central)

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago on my Xbox Two Podcast that I'd heard there was a possibility Microsoft would have a muted presence at this year's Game Awards. I was reluctant to put a hard stamp on that as a report since I was unable to get real confirmation, but it seems the rumors were ultimately true. Save for a couple of Xbox Game Pass ads, Microsoft didn't reveal anything fresh. There was nothing for Hellblade 2, Perfect Dark, or even imminent 2023 titles like Starfield or Redfall. And commentators and fans aren't exactly enamored with this performance.

Only a cursory glance across Twitter reveals what some Xbox community figures are thinking about Microsoft's decision to sidestep The Game Awards, with the spotlight increasingly turned towards the lack of content and updates for titles we know are in the pipeline. 

The fallout over The Game Awards caps off a string of momentum-busting Xbox stories of the past few weeks. Microsoft revealed that it will join Sony, Activision, and other publishers in raising the price of their premium games to $70, while citing the "complexity" of its modern games. The statement came off a tad tone-deaf, considering Microsoft has yet to really deliver a game-of-the-year worthy candidate outside of the Forza franchise for well over a decade or more, with fans time and time again being asked to wait, and wait, and wait. 

A lot of the current upcoming Xbox games content roadmap has only been revealed through leaks, too. We know Microsoft has a lot of games coming as a result, from first-party studios like InXile, to third-party publishing deals like Stoic's Project Belfry. However, Microsoft has also been incredibly shy to show off games from its announced lineup of titles, too. We haven't seen a shred of gameplay from Contraband. We haven't seen any in-engine action from State of Decay 3. It feels like Playground's Fable project has been completely missing in action. Perfect Dark is AWOL. We know nothing of Indiana Jones, Elder Scrolls 6, or Gears 6. We don't know how Hellblade 2 builds on the original. We have no idea what Compulsion's next game will be like. We don't know if Rare's Everwild will ever launch. The list goes on.

The complete and total lack of transparency is a relic of a video game era that I would argue no longer exists. In the age of early access and ongoing service games with frequent updates, the hunger for information is stronger than ever — and Microsoft isn't delivering. Instead, Microsoft seems intent on propping up the ESA and its old-fashioned once-per-year E3 event that flies in the face of modern direct-to-consumer marketing principles. Sony's State of Play events and Nintendo's Directs are driving excitement on a near quarterly basis, particularly so in the case of Nintendo — where is Microsoft's answer to this?

Microsoft's VP of Xbox Games Marketing Aaron Greenberg recently tweeted that Xbox fans wouldn't have to wait long to find out more of what Xbox has in store for 2023. And indeed, I've heard some tentative, and unverifiable rumors recently that Microsoft may be exploring some kind of event for Q1, possibly in the vein of its X0 events of the pre-pandemic age. The most recent X0 was back in 2019, which offered a decent look at upcoming games while revealing some unannounced ones, such as Grounded. For the sake of Xbox fans, I hope this particular rumor turns out to be true. 

Another ongoing source of disappointment is the near-constant regulatory drama that is Microsoft's battle to acquire Activision Blizzard. The FTC just announced it will sue Microsoft in an attempt to block the deal from going through, on the basis of some spurious competition "concerns" that seem ignorant of Microsoft's position in the gaming market. While there's still a decent chance the deal will close despite this, the constant back-and-forth is like a drip-feed of uncertainty over what Xbox's future will look like — and sadly, uncertainty has become core to Xbox's brand. 

More waiting ... 

Bing AI generated image of a skeleton holding an Xbox controller

(Image credit: Bing AI Image Generator)

Since Crackdown 3 launched back in 2019, I really did start to wonder whether or not Xbox would be able to ever deliver exclusive games that resonate with me personally. Microsoft went on an acquisition spree in during this era, but we have yet to really see the fruits of that content round-up, and it still may be years before we do. And even then, there are absolutely no guarantees. You can rely on Sony's first party to deliver high-quality cinematic action experiences on a consistent cadence. Nintendo defies the hardware restraints of the Switch with a steady stream of innovative titles that focus on pure fun factor.

Microsoft has capitalized heavily on its Flight Simulator and Forza franchises, but these aren't the types of cinematic story-driven games Xbox is increasingly criticized for lacking when it comes to exclusives. Redfall and Starfield could plug the gap in 2023, but so little is known about them, with Microsoft disconcertingly reluctant to commit to a launch date, while other games in the same launch window like Diablo IV and Street Fighter 6 seem quite happy to lock themselves in. Microsoft's competitor also wields its market share to lock down compelling AAA exclusives like Final Fantasy 16 away from Xbox to make up for quarters where it has nothing of its own to offer, while also leaving Xbox fans with another layer of uncertainty over whether or not they'll ever make their way across.

This year, uncertainty became core to Xbox's brand.

It's hard to know for sure where the difficulty lies for Microsoft and its first-party games output. Some have blamed Microsoft's internal rules around contract work as causing unnecessary churn that sees projects lose key staff on a higher-than-usual basis. I've been told internal politics over engine use has also led to developmental problems in games like Fable and Halo Infinite, as Microsoft sought to use its own tools rather than fully-featured industry standards like Unreal Engine, which further exacerbates problems around training contractors, only to lose them mid-project. The pandemic was harsh on all sides of game development, but that doesn't seem to have stopped Sony from releasing Horizon Forbidden West or God of War Ragnarok this year, nor has it stopped Nintendo from launching Splatoon 3 or Pokemon Scarlet / Violet. 

Whatever the cause, Xbox core fans' patience is starting to wear thin. It's certainly true that the vast majority of gamers are happy to jump on, play Call of Duty and FIFA, and ignore the discourse that revolves around the "core" gaming community — if the discourse was important, I doubt Xbox would be doing as well as it is. However, the sentiment does filter down through memery, influencers, and the general mood toward the Xbox brand. Xbox is delivering undeniable and massive raw value thanks to Xbox Game Pass, but it's not creating exclusive and desirable experiences on the same level as its competitors. For tens of millions, PlayStation is the default, and Xbox is a value-added consolation. 

I still believe that Xbox's 2023 will be better than 2022, but only on paper. I feel like Microsoft has been working pretty hard to train Xbox fans to lower their expectations year in, and year out. I'm not sure how much lower those expectations can get. Roll on 2023. 

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!