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What Does Xbox Even Mean Anymore?

The company is reportedly considering releasing everything from Starfield to Indiana Jones on PlayStation

6:29 PM EST on February 4, 2024

Over the weekend a number of reports have emerged claiming that some of the Xbox brand's biggest exclusives--including Starfield and the upcoming Indiana Jones game--are going to be released on the PlayStation as well.

The Verge has reported that Indiana Jones and Hi-Fi Rush are due for a PS5 release, having originally been exclusive to the Xbox (and PC). Xbox Era, meanwhile, has reported:

According to sources, we understand that currently Microsoft are planning a launch for Starfield on PlayStation 5 post the release of the already announced “Shattered Space” expansion for Xbox and PC, which is on target to arrive at some point later this year. We’ve also been informed that Microsoft have made additional investment into PlayStation 5 dev kits to support ongoing development efforts – adding further fuel to the fire.

This is all a continuation of whispers that have been spilling out of Microsoft for a while now, reportedly the result of a major change in strategy that has been the cause for some heated debated within the corridors of power at Xbox. Understandably so! Because while many could, and clearly have argued that buying Bethesda and Activision was expensive, so Microsoft needs to sell as many copies of its games as possible, others would surely be countering with "if we do this, what are we even doing here?"

That's the question that hits me every time I see these reports. Some variation of Theoden's "how did it come to this?" exasperation, only without the gravitas or personal investment. Like, if Microsoft are really doing this--and this is a lot of smoke for there to be no fire--then it brings into question just what the Xbox brand even stands for anymore.

Microsoft entered the console space in 2001 with the original Xbox. It was a great, if expensive console, with a fantastic catalogue of exclusive video games. It was followed in 2005 by the Xbox 360 which, catastrophic hardware failures aside, was even better, sold a ton and cemented Microsoft's place as a power player in the home console space.

Then, uh, everything went to shit. The Xbox One's announcement--with a weird focus on entertainment and online junk--was a disaster, Microsoft shuttered most of its successful first-party studios and the company has been playing catch-up to PlayStation ever since. The past decade of Xbox's existence has been marked by a general impression the company has no strategy or clear idea what exactly it wants from video games; it tries one thing, then another, then something else, and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, and sometimes it paints the company into a corner it now finds itself unable to get out of.

While the idea of releasing Xbox-exclusive games on PlayStation might seem incendiary to anyone whose brain has been turned to paste by decades of console war, it's also the only possible outcome here. Nobody forced Microsoft to buy first Bethesda and then Activision Blizzard. But they went and did it anyway, and are probably now finding that those companies relied on multiplatform sales for a reason.

So of course, releasing Starfield on PlayStation makes sense on a tactical level. But at a strategic level it also completely undermines the point of Xbox, at least as we know it today, and makes me wonder if this is something the company had planned all along (a rarity over the past decade), or something it has just fallen into doing as a result of scrambling to fix past mistakes (maybe more likely!). As long as it has existed, Xbox has been primarily identified as a hardware platform, a brand synonymous with owning its own video game console. It felt weird to even type that, to even have to spell it out, because that's just what Xbox is.

But if, as these reports suggest, big changes are afoot--these games would be just the first wave--then what even is Xbox anymore? Sure, there's still a console on the shelf you could theoretically buy, but if this really is the start of a wider change in strategy it would turn Xbox into more of a publishing house than a platform holder. Combined with the fact Xbox exclusives have long been available on the PC, Microsoft's cloud gaming efforts and the financial success of Game Pass, you could even argue it signals the company's final steps in a move away from releasing its own hardware entirely, steps that would definitely explain the reports of internal dispute over Xbox's direction.

Which, fine, whatever! I couldn't care less if Microsoft ever releases another console or not. I haven't owned one for years anyway, but I have been playing Xbox games the entire time somewhere else, and if that's what the future is going to look like then so be it. Remember that the original Xbox's arrival came only months after Sega's demise as a platform holder, and I'm playing two Sega games on my PC right now. Times change, and right now, it looks like Xbox is very much in motion.

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