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After an Underwhelming 2022, Is It Time to Hit the Panic Button on Xbox?

Microsoft Announces Price Hike for First-Party Xbox Games
Image Source: Xbox Game Studios
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After an Underwhelming 2022, Is It Time to Hit the Panic Button on Xbox?

Is it time to hit the panic button on Xbox?

As the curtain closes for 2022, it’s time for us to look back on the past 12 months and reflect on everything the year offered us. In the gaming world, we were treated to some incredible games and, as with every year, some unfortunate disappointments. But while 2022 was definitely an exciting year for gaming, it’s hard to overlook the disappointment that was Xbox and its train of underwhelming news and releases.

This past year felt like a nonstop barrage of letdowns for Xbox, to the point where it was easy to forget the system even existed. While Sony and Nintendo both had some controversies here and there, both of them managed to buoy this with libraries of must-own games.

Microsoft’s output on Xbox was minuscule, and while that lackluster lineup was not the only thing that went wrong with Xbox, it was highly noteworthy coming off of a solid 2021. Even if it was just one off-year, it could be enough to push the panic button in 2023 if more exclusives aren’t on the way.

Not Enough High-Quality Games

as dusk falls
Image Source: Xbox Game Studios

In 2022, Xbox Game Studios only published three new games, a small total that could technically drop down to two if we consider that one of those titles, Grounded, has been available in early access since 2020. Otherwise, the only other Microsoft-published Xbox titles in 2022 were As Dusk Falls and Pentiment. While these three games are solid in their own right, they are relatively niche and not exactly all-encompassing system sellers. Ultimately, Microsoft’s low-quantity output wasn’t offset by an incredible amount of quality.

For comparison’s sake, Sony had a similarly small number of new major titles, but games like Horizon Forbidden West, Gran Turismo 7, and God of War Ragnarok were largely high-quality releases worthy of owning a PS5. Meanwhile, Nintendo struck a great balance between quantity and quality, with titles like Pokemon Legends: Arceus, Kirby and the Forgotten Land, Xenoblade Chronicles 3, Splatoon 3, Bayonetta 3, and Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope providing Nintendo with a large, diverse and excellent library of exclusives.

Xbox couldn’t reach that same level of excitement as the other two console publishers, and it’s hard to say when it’ll reach that. Looking ahead to 2023, Sony is set to release the long-awaited Spider-Man 2, while Nintendo has projects like Fire Emblem Engage, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, and Pikmin 4 in the pipeline.

As for Microsoft, the only first-party titles expected in 2023 are Ara: History Untold and Forza Motorsport, along with Bethesda’s Redfall and Starfield. While the latter two games are sure to be massive, there’s reason to pause and wonder if Xbox will have a flagging reliance on acquired publishers like Bethesda to pick up the slack.

As gamers, we place a lot of expectations on console manufacturers to release quality exclusives, and for understandable reasons. While the topic of “exclusive games” can be very polarizing, these systems need to have titles that no other platform offers to differentiate them from the competition.

After all, why waste $500 on a console if you either can’t play anything on it or can only play games that other systems have? In 2022, Nintendo and Sony offered compelling reasons to buy their platforms, while Xbox failed to do so. And with the publisher’s 2023 outlook appearing uncertain, there’s reason to be concerned that 2022 could be more than just a down year.

…The Prices Are Going Up?

xbox series x|s and games
Image Source: Xbox Game Studios

Beyond the fact that games are looking few and far between for Xbox’s future, these titles will be available at more of a premium than before. Microsoft recently announced that first-party Xbox Series X|S titles, such as the aforementioned Forza Motorsport, Redfall, and Starfield, will increase in price from $60 to $70.

This was to be expected; PlayStation raised its prices to $70 on the PlayStation 5, so it seemed like Xbox would not be able to hold onto the $60 tag for long. Such a reveal, though, feels extremely strange for a company that has released so few games over the last year, especially since the upcoming titles that this price increase will inevitably apply to still don’t have firm release dates.

The good news for Xbox is that these titles will still be available on Xbox Game Pass. This subscription service has been a massive boost for Xbox and is in itself a worthwhile reason to be a fan of the brand. Having hundreds of games at your service for $10-$15 a month is a blessing, and Xbox’s commitment to release new, major first-party titles on the service on Day One is truly impressive.

But how well will Microsoft be able to hold onto subscribers if it isn’t able to release major titles to the service on a regular basis? After all, if the prices are going up on the games, they’ll have to go up on the services, which means Game Pass may soon see a price hike. Will Microsoft be able to release enough content to justify an increase in the price of its subscription service?

Big News Creates Big Drama & Expectations

xbox activision merger
Image Source: Xbox Game Studios

Perhaps the biggest distraction from Xbox’s minuscule 2022 lineup was the massive drama surrounding what may have been the biggest gaming news of the year. Back in January, Microsoft announced the acquisition of embattled publisher Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion. This was an industry-shaking announcement, opening a huge door for Activision to provide major titles in franchises like Call of Duty on Xbox Game Pass. Obviously, a deal this huge was going to be scrutinized in some way, and that scrutiny has damn near been the story of Microsoft’s 2022.

While Activision’s shareholders near-unanimously approved the acquisition, Sony has taken massive issue with the deal. The company’s most significant concern comes regarding Xbox’s potential ownership of Call of Duty, one of the biggest franchises in gaming and one with a history of offering exclusive content on PlayStation. Despite Microsoft’s best attempts to emphasize that Call of Duty will still come to PlayStation, Sony is not buying it and wants the deal to be held back.

Sony is not the only one struggling to come to grips with the proposed acquisition; while the deal is naturally being investigated by several governing bodies, the Federal Trade Committee (FTC) recently announced its intent to block the deal from going through. All of this has led to the merger serving as an albatross for Microsoft that hangs over its head and exists as a major distraction. While this is probably not stopping Activision from being able to create games, it’s clearly going to take a lot of the company’s attention.

Should the merger go through, it will close sometime in mid-2023, though it could take even longer, given the FTC’s intervention. Xbox has already been said to take a hands-off approach with its acquired studios; could the long timing of this deal suppress Microsoft’s focus on in-development games for the coming year? One can only hope that the end result of the deal comes sooner rather than later.

Seriously, Where WERE The Games This Year?

fable xbox showcase 2020
Image Source: Xbox Game Studios

Perhaps the most damning thing about Xbox’s minuscule lineup was the severe lack of updates regarding many of the company’s previously announced games. Across the last two years, Microsoft has shown off titles like Avowed, Everwild, Contraband, Fable, Perfect Dark, Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II, State of Decay 3, and The Outer Worlds 2.

While this would be a pretty exciting lineup for the Xbox Series X|S, we’ve heard frighteningly little about these projects since their initial announcements. This is especially bad news, given that quite a few of the aforementioned games were announced before the new Xbox consoles were released.

To be completely fair, these titles were shown off at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic was still casting a firm grip on the world, so many of these teams have not had COVID-free years to develop. Thus, it’s understandable that such renowned creators want to take their time to fully craft these games, and may want to wait to announce dates until they’re concrete, instead of having to suffer through constant delays. This is absolutely valid, and the developers deserve empathy for being able to work through these conditions. That said, Microsoft’s absolute silence on these projects emphasizes the clear need for greater communication between the development teams and the fans.

What doesn’t help in this case is that games like State of Decay 3 and Perfect Dark have seemingly been going through troubled development periods at their respective studios, which will further impede their progress. Xbox’s aforementioned hands-off approach could be taking a toll on the company’s in-progress games, and it means we haven’t gotten to see them, even though the company has had plenty of chances to bring them out.

At this year’s Xbox & Bethesda Games Showcase, Microsoft repeatedly emphasized that all of the games it would showcase were expected to release within the next year. While that’s very respectable, this meant that none of those titles made an appearance at the big show. As previously mentioned, modern games take a long time to develop, especially in the conditions the world has found itself in over the last two years, but the sheer lack of news on these projects makes their no-show status all the more noticeable.

Adding insult to injury, Xbox showed absolutely no games during The Game Awards 2022. While Sony and Nintendo each showed glimpses of some upcoming titles, Microsoft’s presence was only felt in Phil Spencer’s quiet attendance and a commercial or two for Xbox Game Pass.

Between a lack of new releases and major announcements, it was almost like Xbox Game Studios didn’t want anyone to know of its existence in 2022. How much longer will fans have to play the waiting game with AAA first-party exclusives? At this point, it’s easy to get impatient.

Is It Time To Panic?

the outer worlds 2
Image Source: Xbox Game Studios

Anything could happen; for all we know, the Activision merger will close in March, Xbox has a killer 2023 lineup prepared, and Call of Duty will show up on Game Pass by the time E3 2023 rolls around. Xbox’s competitors, Sony and Nintendo, have proven multiple times in the past that they could bounce back when the world is counting them out, so it’s not impossible for Microsoft to dominate with the odds stacked against them in the coming year.

But is it, nevertheless, time to hit the panic button on Xbox in 2023? Absolutely. Until the company can communicate the progress on its upcoming games better and especially provide a greater lineup of first-party titles in the interim, the slump seems likely to continue as we move forward.

There’s a giant uphill battle that Xbox faces to justify the price increase of its first-party titles, and while Game Pass will continue to be one of the best deals in gaming, it could absolutely use some heavier hitters. Here’s hoping Xbox has some magic up its sleeve and that 2023 can give everyone short memory of how 2022 played out.

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