What you need to know
Rumors are swirling that Xbox is gearing up to end its console-exclusive games run, with a wide array of titles slated to hit its main console rival, Sony's PlayStation 5.
Sea of Thieves and Hi-Fi Rush have both been rumored for the multi-platform treatment, owing to both games' saturation on Xbox and PC. Hi-Fi Rush also had in-game t-shirts datamined, which seem to hint at a run on PlayStation and Nintendo Switch.
We started hearing rumors about Microsoft's multiplatform ambitions back in early December, which were then effectively confirmed by Xbox CFO Tim Stuart at a Wells Fargo meeting a short while ago.
It was unclear whether or not it would be select titles, or many titles, but this latest report from XboxEra suggests that even flagship exclusives like Starfield are destined for PlayStation too.
UPDATE: Reportedly Indiana Jones, and even Gears of War are being considered for multi-platform treatment, amid continuing radio silence from Microsoft.
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It's a bold new world for Xbox, and the death of the term "Xbox exclusive" may be rapidly approaching.
Recent reports have suggested heavily that Microsoft is planning to take games like Hi-Fi Rush and Sea of Thieves beyond Xbox and Windows, with PlayStation and Nintendo Switch versions planned. Microsoft would usually be eager to shut down rumors like this, but the total radio silence has become deafening in recent weeks, lending further credence to the rumors.
For what it's worth, our sources have been indicating to us since early December that Sea of Thieves was slated for a multi-platform release, although we were unable to fully verify it at the time. Later on, various outlet's reports and rumors began to swirl that Hi-Fi Rush, last year's surprise hit action game is also slated for multi-platform treatment. The rumor gained additional credence when datamined assets hinted at PlayStation blue, and Nintendo red in-game t-shirts to celebrate the multiplatform approach.
UPDATE (Feb 5, 2024): Reportedly, Indiana Jones (via The Verge) and even long-time Xbox staple Gears of War (via Jeff Grubb) are also being considered for multiplatform treatment. Microsoft has so far declined to comment.
Fans have been wondering and waiting to find out if and when Microsoft would confirm or deny these rumors. We've also been speculating about exactly what types of games would go exclusive and what wouldn't. Sea of Thieves makes sense on paper, perhaps the game has achieved all it can on Xbox and PC, and going further afield could give the game a fresh audience (and fresh cash in the process). Hi-Fi Rush is a little more confusing, since, while the game "achieved" millions of players, the bulk of this was likely via Xbox Game Pass "for free" and not via retail sales. Hi-Fi Rush only managed a 6000-player all-time peak on Steam, suggesting that retail appetite was probably not exactly hot for the game. Either way, grabbing new players on new platforms will certainly help the game's profitability, so it's not exactly illogical either. However, a new report from XboxEra seems to suggest that even Xbox's flagship exclusives are also heading to competing platforms too.
It seems that Starfield itself may be slated for PlayStation 5, according to the report. XboxEra claims that Starfield will launch on PlayStation 5 some time after the release of Starfield's first DLC, "Shattered Space," which is supposedly slated as an upcoming Xbox game for 2024.
As of writing, I'm unable to verify the specificity of Starfield coming to PlayStation, but I can confirm that Microsoft as of right this second is planning to launch more and more of its "Xbox exclusives" onto PlayStation and Nintendo Switch where applicable. The part of the report from XboxEra I can corroborate is that the decision to do this has been the subject of stringent internal debate, and even now, seems to be perceived as a huge risk.
The logic for doing this, and the risks
Microsoft is banking on the idea that its large base of users across Xbox One and the Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S platform, which account for roughly half of the active console install base apiece according to my sources, will remain unphased by the change. The vast majority of the casual console audience tend to stick to a few games per year, revolving around staples like FIFA, Call of Duty, Fortnite, and Minecraft, and similar. For so-called "core" games, the Xbox and PC audiences alone may simply not be large enough to achieve the margins Microsoft needs to deliver the quality Xbox fans have long been asking for. PlayStation's larger audience may be able to help improve profitability on that side of the equation, which Microsoft can then use to fund timed exclusives for the Xbox ecosystem — that at least in theory — achieve a higher bar.
However, you have to wonder if ditching exclusive games, or even obfuscating the concept could lead to a large backlash from core, long-suffering Xbox fans who have stuck through Microsoft despite years of repeated missteps, mishaps, and failed projects. Additionally, Microsoft runs the risk of perpetuating a meme that Xbox no longer has anything exclusive, and that PlayStation is now, without a shadow of a doubt, the default console of choice for the vast majority.
It's going to be a bad look if Xbox fans spent the past 2 plus years "beta testing" Starfield, only for a "finished" Definitive Edition to launch later on something like the rumored PlayStation 5 Pro, while potentially running better too.
In a perfect world, it would be celebrated that Starfield is going to PS5. But PlayStation isn't going to offer anything in return, obviously, to ensure Xbox stays even vaguely competitive. It's hard to imagine a universe where this could benefit the Xbox ecosystem and thus keep it competitive in an era where competition is already strained. Xbox customers stand to lose decades-worth of investments in Microsoft's ecosystem if it eventually decides to call it quits in hardware.
"PlayStation uses the money they make off of Xbox Games on PS5 to pay for other games to block on the Xbox Platform."
Common sense would dictate that Sony will in no way, shape, or form, but games like God of War on Xbox — even if they are experiencing a similar profit margin squeeze. Furthermore, Sony will also take 30% of everything Microsoft does on PlayStation, and they will use that money to further squeeze Xbox hardware, and the Xbox ecosystem out of existence. Xbox CEO Phil Spencer said himself during the regulatory proceedings over Activision-Blizzard that Sony takes a cut of games like Minecraft, and then uses the funds to procure timed exclusivity deals on games like Final Fantasy 7 Remake and Rebirth, specifically to damage Xbox.
So, by Microsoft's own arguments, it seems like common sense that this move predicts a potential future where Xbox hardware is no longer desirable, third-party support dwindles, and a self-perpetuating, self-created policy leads to Xbox customers' losing decades of investment in content. But perhaps Microsoft knows something we don't.
One thing is for sure, for Xbox customers, Microsoft needs to come out and clarify all of this ASAP.