On paper, Microsoft’s much-touted Xbox Play Anywhere initiative, which launches September 13, is exciting and pro-consumer. It will allow you to buy any game that Microsoft publishes on either Xbox One or Windows 10 PC, and allow you play that title on both platforms. Effectively, this means that every future Xbox One exclusive is not only coming to PC too, but that you will get a copy of the PC version too when you buy any of the following upcoming games for Xbox One, and vice versa:
- Gears of War 4
- Forza Horizon 3
- Sea of Thieves
- Halo Wars 2
- Killer Instinct Season 3
- State of Decay 2
- Ark: Survival Evolved
- We Happy Few
- Crackdown 3
While Microsoft wins out on this initiative no matter what, as they are making money no matter what device consumers choose to play their games on, this is also a strange move for the company, since it effectively means that there is no such thing as an Xbox-exclusive game anymore. With PCs offering an objectively better gaming experience overall (and I say this as someone who plays consoles almost exclusively), is there even a reason to go out and buy an Xbox One after Sept 13 when Play Anywhere launches? Exclusive games aren’t the sole reason to buy a console, of course, but they’re certainly a primary factor in consumer purchasing decisions. In this particular case, it seems like PlayStation 4 and PC players win out while Xbox loses.
Think about it: Sony can reap the benefits of Microsoft’s new initiative because the PS4 still offers a ton of exclusive games that you can’t get anywhere else, which makes it an attractive option for PC players who might be looking for a companion console. What does the Xbox One offer? Sure, it still has attractive features such as Xbox Live and Xbox 360 backwards compatibility, but if you’re looking to play any of the above mentioned games that Microsoft is putting out over the next year or so, you could just splurge a bit more money and get a good gaming PC instead.
The other drawback is that the ability to play games cross-platform doesn’t really have any benefit on the Xbox side. It’s great if you’re an Xbox One owner who’s thinking about getting a gaming PC, as you’ll already have a good library of games to carry over if you do decide to upgrade. But if you’re buying these games on PC first, what possible reason would you have to want to play them in an inferior state on Xbox?
It gets even stranger when you consider that Microsoft is hard at work on the Xbox Scorpio, which they announced at E3 last month. The Scorpio is being positioned as a gaming PC of sorts, as it will be much more powerful than the current Xbox hardware and also capable of handling 4K gaming and VR (probably). The thing is, there are already PCs that can do these things and by the time the Scorpio comes out, you’ll almost surely be able to build a more capable gaming rig anyway (though it will probably still cost more than the Scorpio). Everything we know about the Scorpio so far points to it being aimed at gamers who crave better graphics and performance, but the majority of them are just going to choose a PC regardless, so I’m not really sure who the Scorpio is for … but that’s a topic for another day.
Ultimately, I do think this is a good move for Microsoft, as selling more games to more people is never a bad thing, but I do worry about the Xbox division and its business strategy going forward. The line between consoles and PCs is more blurred than ever this generation, especially when it comes to the Xbox One, as it’s really just another PC now. Perhaps there still is a place for the Xbox in Microsoft’s gaming ecosystem as the company’s more casual gaming option, as consoles remain popular with consumers who can’t be bothered to build a gaming rig and prefer the relative ease and simplicity that a console offers. That being said, the PS4 already has a massive sales lead over the Xbox One this generation and I can only seeing that lead increase now that the Xbox has just lost one of its biggest selling points.