The main complaint among those disheartened by the Xbox One console family was its lack of big, new, and enticing console exclusives – an aspect that Sony’s PlayStation 4 thrived on. Unfortunately, the hyped launch of the next-gen Xbox Series X|S represented much of the same: nothing exclusive for early adopters and even the software of the console was the same as the last one.

However, there’s been work behind the scenes in recent years to fix this, with Microsoft snapping up several studios, culminating in the colossal acquisition of ZeniMax Media – the parent company of Bethesda Softworks. It was a game-changing move that, if future releases are made exclusive, will grant Microsoft platforms a massive shot in the arm.

Franchises like The Elder Scrolls, Doom, Fallout, and Wolfenstein could now join the long-limited ranks of Gears of War, Forza, and Halo to present a mighty release schedule of exclusives on the Xbox. As the European Commission has approved of the $7.5 billion deal, there’s a chance that Microsoft will continue to shop around.

So, where could the company look, and will it help bring Microsoft on par with the likes of Sony and Nintendo in video gaming?

Improving on Microsoft’s chosen 23

Including the studios coming over from the Bethesda deal, Microsoft considers itself as having 23 game development studios. Each of them offers something different, from the triple-A teams at Playground Games and The Coalition to smaller-scale project studios like Undead Labs and Double Fine Productions.

Perhaps the most intriguing The Initiative, which has been labelled a quadruple-A studio by Microsoft. Next to nothing is known about what the 2018-founded studio is working on, but if it lives up to its billing, it’ll finally expand the Xbox’s collection of exclusive premium software – which the Bethesda teams may be able to do too.

Bringing in Bethesda seems like the perfect topper to a spending spree, but there are certainly more studios that could be brought in to make the Xbox competitive with the other two home consoles. Perhaps the most obvious target would be FromSoftware, the creators of the Souls series, but that could prove to be another very hefty purchase.

For a more shrewd move, Microsoft could look to other independent studios which have proven themselves capable of building innovative titles and could flourish with more extensive backing. Supergiant Games would be one, with their most recent game, Hades, being one of the best games of 2020. Moi Rai games also burst onto the scene last year with the innovative, Kickstarter-backed Monster Sanctuary, which was nominated for best indie game awards.

Enhancing the appeal of an Xbox

Powered by classy games, the Xbox 360 was a better console than the PlayStation 3, so Microsoft bringing in several proven studios is the smart play to attempt to move back towards parity with the best-selling consoles.

Of course, the big-ticket item is the cost-effective Xbox Game Pass subscription, which needs big exclusive releases to appeal to more players and sell more consoles. It’s the last piece of the puzzle for Microsoft, with the company already peddling it the right way with free trials included in-game cases and several cut-price promotions.

It’s a proven strategy – combining exclusive content that can’t be found elsewhere with free ways to access it – across all forms of gaming. Other far more lost games have come back from near-extinction using this method. The prime example is that of bingo, which very publically faded not long ago. Now, thanks to enthusiastic brands offering free bingo games and a welcoming, communal atmosphere online, players are coming through the virtual doors to play again.

Microsoft is certainly going the right way about laying the foundations of a globally appealing platform, and it might now just be a waiting game. Once the studios start to deliver, we’ll see how well the Xbox truly compares to the Switch and PlayStation. That said, the highly-anticipated Bethesda games, like the next Elder Scrolls, look to be years away.

There’s a lot to be excited for as an Xbox fan, particularly because all of this game action will be coming without extra cost on the Game Pass.