The Xbox Brand Faces an Inferno. Will Something Better Rise from the Ashes?
8 mins read

The Xbox Brand Faces an Inferno. Will Something Better Rise from the Ashes?



I’m currently sitting in a hotel room in Los Angeles, working on my laptop with my back to the window. Behind me, an atmospheric river pours rain down the windows, flooding the streets below. At the same time, in the windows of the laptop in front of me, part of an online gaming community is lighting its torches and picking up its pitchforks, ready to burn the Xbox brand. The hardcore community’s confidence in Xbox is seemingly at a low not seen in over a decade, since the Xbox One’s online check-in requirements and TV-first messaging instantly torched all of the momentum that had been carefully and brilliantly built up over the course of the Xbox 360 generation.

The root of the issue this time comes down to an existential question about the Xbox platform itself: namely, why should gamers continue to invest in it? Because right now, the suggestion is that many of the things that make Xbox valuable could find their way to rival consoles. It started with whispers of last year’s shadow-dropped rhythm-action hit Hi-Fi Rush being ported to Nintendo Switch and possibly also PlayStation 5. Subsequent murmurs said the same about the long-running live-service hit Sea of Thieves.

The hardcore community’s confidence in Xbox is seemingly at a low not seen in over a decade.

These, I admit, didn’t really bother me the way it irritated many in the Xbox community. Hi-Fi Rush is fantastic, to be sure, but it isn’t a AAA blockbuster release that draws new players into the Xbox ecosystem. Should it find its way to other platforms, fine. Xbox players have still had access to it, for “free” (as part of their Xbox Game Pass subscription), since it launched. And they’ll continue to do so. Switch players would have to pay for the privilege of playing it.

As for Sea of Thieves, well, that’s a six-year-old game, live-service or not. It’s hard for me to get too worked up about that one.

But these latest rumors, if proven true, have the power to shake the very foundations of the Xbox brand. They suggest that everything might be on the table for possible PS5 porting: Starfield, Indiana Jones and the Great Circle, and maybe even Gears of War. And these are rumors which, by the way, sure look like they have some truth to them, given that Xbox boss Phil Spencer took to X to respond to the chaos, saying, “We’re listening and we hear you. We’ve been planning a business update event for next week, where we look forward to sharing more details with you about our vision for the future of Xbox. Stay tuned.”

The whole thing gives off some serious “resigned to third place” energy from Microsoft, and it’s left longtime Xbox fans – people who have invested thousands of dollars over multiple console generations – wondering why they should still support Xbox when they can just go buy a PS5, enjoy the many stellar exclusives that Sony has spent the past decade-plus cultivating, and get whatever Xbox has to offer over there eventually. In short, consumers have shown Microsoft loyalty, but it now feels like perhaps it’s not being reciprocated.

Truly, Xbox Game Pass really is the “console” now, not the Series X or S. It’s been trending this way for a while, and it’s admittedly a weird notion to wrap your head around. But it’s interesting to see it actually happening. You’ll still get that good Game Pass deal and get it first on Xbox, but will that be enough to get people into your ecosystem?

There is a potential winning strategy here, which I’ll get to in a moment, but there’s one other massive problem that’s making all of this worse for Microsoft – and for gamers – right now: messaging. I’ve been covering Xbox for a long time, and to be frank, I’m not sure its messaging has ever been this terrible. Frequently, it’s hard to decipher what the company means. Last year, Phil Spencer told Eurogamer that “we think our games should be available in more places,” but offered no concrete parameters around what that means. Is it more places in the physical realm, with Game Pass going quite literally everywhere via phones and other portable devices? Or, as the rumors suggest, do more places equal rival consoles? Poor communication around what Microsoft perceives as a place for Xbox has done nothing but damage to the fears and discourse around the brand.

On top of that, Xbox’s messaging is almost always reactive rather than proactive. The brand is in a constant defensive state. It’s been this way since 2013, and it makes Microsoft look weak, honestly. Sony and Nintendo aren’t like this. But anytime Xbox takes a step forward, there’s seemingly a rake on the ground that smacks it in the face and causes it to stumble backwards. And it’s always self-inflicted!

Case in point: already in 2024 we’ve gone from “Yay! The Developer Direct was great!” to…this whole mess now. Last year, they had a killer start to the year with the first Developer Direct and the shadow drop of Hi-Fi Rush…until they failed to see the train wreck that was Redfall until it was far too late, hyping its first-ever $70 first-party game to be the next big thing from renowned developer Arkane instead of seeing what was really about to ship and resetting community expectations accordingly. That constant one step forward, one step back is, as much as anything, why I think Xbox fans are simply exhausted.

As a hardware manufacturer and first-party publisher in the industry and one of the biggest companies in the industry overall (now more than ever!), Xbox just needs to be better. That’s it. Tell people what’s awesome about the platform and then prove it. Show some confidence!

What if, in the end, Microsoft is right?

Which brings me to that possible light at the end of the tunnel. What if, in the end, Microsoft is right? Sony has masterfully built its PlayStation walled garden and Nintendo continues to successfully march to the beat of its own drum for better and for worse (see: Wii U immediately followed by the Switch), but console growth is not accelerating. Mobile growth is. If Xbox is everywhere – on consoles, PCs, and phones – is that the winning long-term strategy? Does Gen Alpha (aka the 14-and-under crowd) even care about platforms? Do they just want games on all devices but especially whichever one is closest to them at that moment?

But even if Microsoft is right, it sure could do a better job telling everyone why it’s confident it’s right. Instead, Spencer’s message of, in effect, “We hear you. We’ll get back to you next week!” is not particularly reassuring. The future of Xbox is likely to look very different from both its past and its present. But in this present, we are watching a monolith of a company attempt to rewrite the rules of engagement in real time. It might work – but will Microsoft throw away 20 years of hard-earned brand loyalty in the process? Stay tuned next week.





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