For the first two years of the eighth console generation, choosing between the Xbox One and PS4 could almost be settled by flipping a coin. Sure, each had a few of its own notable exclusive titles, but the majority of the must-own games were multi-platform releases. Destiny, The Witcher 3, Metal Gear Solid V, save for minor resolution disparities and occasional marketing exclusivity contracts, gamers across both console brands enjoyed a similar experience. The PS4’s majority mindshare was fuelled much more by Microsoft’s dismal launch of the Xbox One than it was by a gulf in the quality and volume of exclusive games.
Fast forward to 2018, however, and the landscape has changed dramatically. Both Sony and Microsoft tout its consoles as the best place to play games. The difference is that when Andrew House pledges a “commitment to partnerships with the most talented developers and storytellers in our medium”, it carries weight. Meanwhile, Aaron Greenberg’s claims people pick Xbox for exclusive franchises feel like shallow marketing spice by comparison. This, of course, is a result of differing fortunes for both companies. As Sony has consolidated its industry-leading position by delivering quality exclusive games, Microsoft has battled with canceled projects, closed studios, and a general lack of content. And this is Microsoft’s biggest problem right now: the growing narrative that it isn’t nurturing quality exclusive first and third party games.
If you made year-in-review highlight reels of both console’s 2017 exclusive catalogs, it would make for an embarrassingly one-sided affair. The PS4’s a pulsating montage accentuated by critically acclaimed action and role-playing games throughout; the Xbox One’s comprised of Halo Wars 2, a tumbleweed blowing across the screen for six months, and then Cuphead. As a result, despite launching the most powerful console ever made, it was a year to forget for Microsoft. Rather than the Xbox One X’s awesome capabilities glimmering center stage, the key takeaway was and still remains that the entire Xbox brand is suffering, void of exciting content to match Sony’s PS4. And things are only shaping up to get worse moving forward unless something is done quickly.
Shadow of the Colossus Remake, Ni No Kuni II, God of War, Spider Man, Detroit Become Human, and Days Gone round out Sony’s exclusive lineup for 2018. Just as was the case last year, these anticipated games are part of an upcoming arsenal that Sony has been curating for years, and they don’t look all that likely to miss their release dates. Microsoft, then, has its work cut out if it’s going to turn things around in the face of what will certainly be another exceptional year for the PS4. A disappointing 2017 is entirely forgivable if the year ends up being remembered as one of transition. If we’re writing articles next year about the Xbox’s stellar selection of exclusive titles in 2018: no harm, no foul. The question is whether Microsoft can make that happen. Worryingly, it’s already looking like a tall order, especially considering that Sony’s waterfall of exclusives starts next month with the Shadow of the Colossus Remake, and there’s plenty more penciled in for the rest of Spring.
Microsoft has Sea of Thieves coming in 2018, an intriguing pirate-themed cooperative adventure game that looks like a unique and hugely entertaining prospect. Elsewhere, Crackdown fans tentatively wait for the third installation to reappear after its lukewarm E3 reception last year. But that’s about it so far, and though it’s still early days, the year is already looking ominously barren and eerily reminiscent of the last. (Update: State of Decay 2 is also scheduled to release in 2018).
We’re still waiting for that Xbox One X showpiece title to push the console beyond being merely an expensive way to play up-resed multiplatform games. Even more crucially, the whole Xbox One brand desperately needs a lift. Consider that, with the exception of Red Dead Redemption 2, the 2018’s hottest games are all Sony exclusives – what does that do for any semblance of momentum that Microsoft has built with backward compatibility, Game Pass, and the Xbox One X? It simply has to combat the situation by issuing a statement of intent: it has to give us a roadmap, forecasting upcoming content for the Xbox family. It’s time for Microsoft to pull a Sony E3 2015 and give us a sizzle reel highlighting an exciting glimpse into the future, even if its games aren’t anywhere near ready.
Thankfully, President of Gaming at Microsoft, Phil Spencer, has recently given us cause for excitement, “noting” that Xbox has “faced criticism from gamers for its lack of hot first-party titles” and commenting that he looks forward growing the business in that respect. Well, it’s time for actions to back up those words because while it might not quite be sink or swim time for Microsoft, as of right now, 2018 certainly is shaping up as another year in which the console drowns in a sea of PS4 exclusives.