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Microsoft must start flexing their financial muscle in the console war

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Long gone are the days of Xbox’s domination of the mainstream console market. During the Xbox 360/PS3 era, Microsoft’s machine was the ‘go-to’ console in the market. Whilst it didn’t finish the top-selling console of that generation, it did have the perception of being the most popular console by mainstream gamers. However, since the dreadful launch of the Xbox One, fortune hasn’t favored the Xbox brand and it is Sony’s PS4 which has taken the crown for the foreseeable future. The Xbox One is by no means a bad console. Of course, it has become trendy now to bash it since it isn’t the number one console like its predecessor, and so we will discuss how Microsoft need to start flexing their financial muscle in order to propel the Xbox brand back towards the top spot.

It’s no secret that Microsoft is a much, much bigger company than Sony, but it is Sony’s PlayStation 4 that has dominated the market this console generation. When we look at reasons behind this, we can draw many conclusions, but now we are five years into this generation, why are some PS4 owners refusing to get an Xbox One? After all, multi-console ownership generally goes up the longer a generation lasts. Pertinently, one point I see repeatedly made is the lack of exclusives on the Xbox One that means PS4 owners, or owners of other systems for that matter, don’t have that reason to go out there and buy the Xbox One (even though bundles can be picked up super cheap now).

So, since the general view is that Microsoft’s console lacks exclusives, why aren’t they doing more to change this perception? This is a company that went out and bought Minecraft for billions of dollars. This is the company that will likely be the first on the planet to make it to a trillion dollars, so why aren’t they investing more in acquiring studios, buying exclusivity for games, or creating new first party studios from the ground up? After all, it was the head of Xbox, Phil Spencer, who said he wanted to do just that in an interview with Engadget at the Xbox One X launch where he shared their intent to start or acquire studios in order to develop more games in-house.

We’re now into April 2018, and not far from E3, but the gaming world is captivated by Sony’s exclusives coming up. Between the impressive-looking God of War reboot or the upcoming Spider-Man title, these games are only available on a PS4 system. When these are dominating gaming websites and gaming spheres on Twitter, how many people will go out there and buy a PS4 to buy them? My bet is it’ll be quite a fair few and where is Microsoft’s response? Well, they’ve been quiet on the exclusives front. Sea of Thieves released recently but, as other Xbox exclusives of this generation, it wasn’t a big hit (in terms of critical score and sales numbers are unknown.) State of Decay 2 comes out soon but that’s not a big AAA title, so what will Microsoft do?

Many Xbox fans have long been calling on Microsoft to acquire a big third party studio and bring them in-house to develop exclusively for Xbox. These calls have been coming ever since the Xbox 360 days but then, they were not nearly as necessary as they are today. Microsoft needs to find a way to gain the upper edge, they need to give PS4 owners a reason to go out there and buy an Xbox One to sit alongside their PS4. They need to convince people who haven’t yet bought a console this generation that they should choose the Xbox One, but it’s a tough sell and this E3 will reveal a lot.

At E3 this year we will learn a lot about Microsoft’s plans. Sure, there’s every chance they could shock the gaming world with a huge exclusive title that will be a must-buy, but unless its the next Halo or the next Gears of War (instead of this same franchise over and over) then Xbox One will firmly remain in second place this console generation and will not pick up much momentum. Of course, it’s just as possible Microsoft will show off a few exclusives already announced (Crackdown 3, Ori and the Will of the Wisps etc.) and then rely on third party marketing deals to pad the rest of the show. This kind of show would reveal something else; that perhaps Microsoft is prepping for the next generation and will support the Xbox One by the minimum amount possible.

Ultimately, Microsoft can and should start flexing their financial muscle. This is a company supremely larger than Sony and should be taking advantage of that in the Xbox division. This isn’t like the first few years of Xbox either, it’s no longer the shame of Microsoft, it’s a big, central part of almost everything Microsoft does – it’s time now that the company put their money where there mouth is. They need to acquire a studio or studios, create their own studios, and start investing more in the Xbox brand. Microsoft need to get out of the business of cancelling first party games and start really investing in this area.