Earlier this month gamers awoke to strongly credible rumors regarding the cancellation of the highly-anticipated title Scalebound, rumors that shortly after proved to be true. Scalebound, an Xbox One exclusive title, had been in development for several years, first announced at E3 2014. A trailer and gameplay demo at E3 2016 served to generate significant excitement for the once promising title, and fans everywhere voiced their deep disappointment at the cancellation over social media.
Earlier this week I was perusing my Amazon wish list, which is typically full of all the games I’m looking forward to. Dropping through the list of titles, deleting a few that I’d picked up on the Steam sale or had received as gifts, I started to notice a large number of blue game cases and very few green ones. In fact, after I’d sorted through everything that has already been released, I was down to a single Xbox exclusive – Sea of Thieves – in my wish list, but six PS4 exclusives – Horizon: Zero Dawn, Days Gone, Death Stranding, God of War, Detroit: Become Human, and Spider-Man. Digging a little deeper, I several more PS4 exclusives not on my wish list: Final Fantasy VII Remastered, Kingdom Hearts, and Neir.
We’re less than a month into 2017 and already Xbox has an exclusives problem.
Console makers rely on exclusives as a way to move hardware and gain brand loyalty – a game that you can buy and play on another console or PC that you already own surely won’t drive anyone purchase expensive hardware. For years now, Xbox has clung to its flagship franchises in Halo, Gears of War, and Forza as their way of enticing gamers to not only buy but to continue using and even recommending the Xbox One. At E3 2016, I was impressed by just how much Microsoft was looking to move in 2016, releasing a number of exclusives, including the return of the Gears franchise with the highly-reviewed Gears of War 4. The Halo franchise also returns next month in a return the RTS genre with Halo Wars 2, which no doubt will sell well, but will surely also alienate FPS-only gamers.
After that though….
Sony went a different route, releasing very few exclusives over Q3 and Q4 2016, doubling down on the PS4 Pro release in November 2016 and pushing a long list of exciting titles off until 2017. It was a bit of a gamble, and some might argue that what they did in 2016 is no different than what Microsoft is doing in 2017. But as of right now it appears to have left the Playstation 4 in a much stronger position going forward. Trailer after trailer aired during their E3 presentation with a 2017 release date mentioned, and even with the wait the response was mostly positive and optimistic. The return of Hideo Kojima, new IPs in Horizon: Zero Dawn, Days Gone, and Detroit: Become Human, a new and impressive-looking Spiderman title, and the return of God of War all felt worth the wait, as Sony rode the promise of a long list of exclusives through the 2016 holiday season.
Xbox closed out 2016 in strong fashion, finally overcoming the PS4 in console sales for several months behind the Xbox One S and a large number of releases. But where does that leave those proud new console owners now? Between now and E3 2017 in June, where more exclusives are certain to be revealed and others, such as Cupheads or Crackdown 3, may finally receive a release date, there is very little for Xbox One owners to look forward to. Nothing announced over the summer will change the weak showing at hand in the first half of 2017, something Sony was able to weather in 2016.
The Scorpio is still forthcoming at the end of 2017, and if it’s a significant step up over what the PS4 Pro is able to offer, both in overall power and graphical output, it could be the step that Xbox needs to really shake up the console gaming landscape. And maybe Microsoft has a significant lineup in store for gamers to be announced this coming June to set up the Scorpio and Xbox One for success. But the dearth of big name, console-selling exclusive titles that we’re poised to embark on for the next 6-12 months is doing Xbox no favors, nor is it setting it up for long term success through the remainder of this console lifecycle.