2020, on the whole, barring the global catastrophes and all, was a pretty good year for Xbox. While there was the odd misstep like the Halo Infinite delay or the over hyped May event, on the whole the team at Xbox did a bang-up job.
Xbox Game Studios released 11 different titles across several different platforms, including the critically acclaimed (and TheXboxHub’s Game of the Year) Ori and the Will of the Wisps, the trailblazing Microsoft Flight Simulator and the underappreciated Gears Tactics. They also announced several exciting forthcoming projects such as Avowed, State of Decay 3, and the highly-anticipated returns of Fable and Perfect Dark. They launched not one, but two next-gen systems, setting internal sales records, and released Project xCloud to the public. Oh, and they announced their intent to purchase a tiny company called Zenimax, the makers of something called an Elder Scrolls, some shooter called Doom, and this weird looking RPG Fallout ;). Yes, on the whole, Xbox had a strong year last year that should set the stage for what’s to come in arguably Xbox’s most exciting generation on paper. However, there are still some things it would be wise for the team to address and improve in 2021, including these:
First and foremost, I believe that Xbox should be more forthcoming about their plans with Zenimax and Bethesda, especially in regards to exclusivity. While there is a perfectly justifiable reason why they haven’t shared many details thus far (namely, they don’t actually own Zenimax until all regulatory hurdles are overcome), rest assured, several fans are waiting to find out exactly what the house Chief built has in store for some of the industry’s most beloved intellectual properties. It can also be a tad difficult when some information released by different sources are taken out of context by the wider media, in order to stoke a certain narrative that the games from Bethesda will or will not be exclusive. The truth is, barring games with an existing presence like Elder Scrolls Online, or games with existing agreements in place like Deathloop, we don’t know, and while we can argue our side all we like (as I did in an article we released around the time the news broke), that isn’t going to change that fact. Hopefully once the deal closes as it is expected to, we can get a better idea of what’s down the line.
The second area for improvement in the next year for Xbox is in gameplay demonstrations. All things considered, issues in graphical fidelity aside, the Halo Infinite gameplay demo was an excellent vertical slice in terms of what to expect of the game, and it was expertly constructed. Provided the visuals are up to par, or Xbox is more forthcoming that we are getting an early taste of what’s being shown, it would be incredibly nice to see more gameplay in a similar format to the Halo demonstration. Not a carefully constructed teaser with bits and pieces, but a genuine slice of what gamers can expect to enjoy. CGI and in-engine teasers have their place, especially when it comes to recruiting talent, but once the cat is out of the bag, it’s hard to get excited with more teasers without something more representative of the gameplay and/or story behind them.
The third area in terms of improvement is in managing hype and expectations. Now, I have touched upon this rather extensively in a few articles now, including a very recent one on the lessons Xbox can learn from Cyberpunk, so I’ll keep it brief. Xbox often has great stuff to show, but they can at times overplay their hand in the hype cycle, which can just lead to disappointment. Most Xbox fans will happily show up to watch what you have up your sleeves, so either under-promise and over-deliver, or mostly keep quiet. If you say the show contains gameplay, ensure it contains a sufficient amount of it. Otherwise, be a bit more transparent on what we can expect like you did with the Summer Games Showcase, and especially with The Game Awards, and reap the benefits.
The fourth area from which Xbox can learn is in the value of surprises. Two of the biggest Xbox stories last year – the existence of the Xbox Series S and the intent to acquire Zenimax – were announced seemingly out of the blue and dominated mindshare and conversation. While having events can be a great way to announce such moments, it’s also sometimes important to keep your fans and the press on their toes. Doing this is not only a great way to manage expectations, but it can also ensure that none of your news gets lost in the shuffle, especially in comparison to larger events such as Gamescom, The Game Awards and E3 – where your news will have to compete with the offerings of several third parties and first parties alike.
So, while there are areas that can be improved upon, don’t lose sight of the fact that the choices you have made and are making have had a profound positive impact on the Xbox community, regardless of how many concern trolls scream “XBOX HAS NO GAMES!!!” and “XBOX HAS TOO MANY GAMES!!!” concurrently.
All in all, these are just five recommendations for Xbox in the coming year. Will any of these come to fruition? I suspect at least three are a given, but if you disagree, feel free to let me know! And, as always, for the best in Xbox, you’re in the right place!