In the last decade, the video game industry has grown tremendously. In 2012, video games generated an estimated revenue of $63.3 billion worldwide, and current projections suggest that 2022 will end with a staggering $197.0 billion. This increased sales potential is accompanied by increased investments by prominent figures in the industry. PlayStation, Nintendo and Xbox want bigger slices of this hugely lucrative pie.
As these veteran platform owners and ardent fans celebrate the importance of compelling first-party exclusives, history shows that many third-party games are the most significant revenue drivers year after year. Call of Duty, Madden, FIFA, Grand Theft Auto and other juggernauts often dominate the sales charts. When it comes to the undeniable financial workhorses, Microsoft has ensured consistent content. However, there are obvious gaps in third-party support for the platform.
Time and time again, we’ve seen major publishers skip the Xbox. Occasionally, this may reasonably involve exclusive deals or time-limited publishing agreements. Unfortunately, there are dozens of examples of global video game releases available for every possible platform except for Xbox. As Microsoft has proven over the past few years, platforms can survive and even thrive without universal support. Still, it’s impossible not to wonder why third-party industry partners, particularly those from Asia, choose not to ship Xbox releases.
Why is the Xbox third-party situation relevant?
This isn’t the first time I’ve spoken out about the shortcomings of third-party support on Xbox. Previously, I detailed Team Green’s complicated efforts to sustain growth in the Japanese market and highlighted an unfortunately lengthy list of JRPG franchises that aren’t currently available on modern Xbox consoles. For enthusiasts feverishly following developments in the industry, this isn’t exactly groundbreaking news. However, recent rumors have reignited the community’s frustration.
According to internet detectives who took several screenshots from the ESRB website, Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster was rated for PS4 and Nintendo Switch. While the ESRB appears to have pulled these console listings, this development lends credence to long-standing rumors of console ports for this popular collection of iconic RPGs. PlayStation and Nintendo fans hailed the idea of playing Final Fantasy 1-6 on their favorite platforms, but Xbox players fear they’ll be neglected once again.
At this time, the console versions of Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster have not been confirmed by Square Enix, so we can’t say definitively if this rumored release will safely skip the Xbox. Unfortunately, given the inharmonious history of Square Enix titles on Xbox, disheartened community members don’t have monumental optimism. This console omission probably wouldn’t be worth checking on an individual basis. However, the real lack of confidence and enthusiasm expressed by Xbox fans on social media following these reports was palpable.
As tensions rise between Xbox and fans over third-party inconsistencies, community members are turning to investigative journalists for answers. With few concrete stories released about what is undeniably happening behind the scenes, certain critics have suggested that the media is not bothered about uncovering the truth. Like many gamers, I have a long list of questions and concerns about video games I love and completely ignore the Xbox platform.
Throughout 2022, I reached out to Atlus, Square Enix, Nihon Falcom, Capcom, Xbox, Koei Tecmo, and others for comments on multiplatform releases not available on Xbox consoles. Unsurprisingly, many publishers didn’t respond or merely provided a “We have nothing further to share at this time”. Message. I’ve also spoken to numerous industry experts familiar with the business dynamics of ports and platform viability in hopes of gaining further insight.
I’ve publicly joked about Legend of Mana, one of my favorite games of all time, and overlooked the fact that Xbox is the catalyst for my endless third-party quest for clarity. In my search, I came across many passionate advocates for the industry who have done their best to shed some light on the situation. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts and active research, I still need definitive answers to help discouraged Xbox players.
Angered by uncertainty and eager for understanding, part of the community has replaced theory with reality. From slandering publishers like Square Enix to sweeping statements about exclusivity deals, the complex truth of Xbox’s shortcomings is further clouded by this conjecture. I want to address the most common assumptions that I’ve noticed on social media.
Let’s start by analyzing the idea that certain publishers “hate” the Xbox or their fans. Obviously, this stems from oversimplifying the business needs of different development teams and companies. In a capitalist-driven global economy, no sane company would willingly foreclose a potential customer base if significant financial gains were to be made. A publisher who basically ignores a market or an entire platform out of spite seems somewhat unlikely given the lure of the mighty dollar.
A common contradiction to this argument is that it’s cheaper and easier to port games to other platforms than ever before. While it’s undoubtedly more affordable to ship new versions of previously developed titles, many gamers grossly underestimate the resources required for such endeavors. Reportedly, smaller indie ports can take 3-6 months to build and typically start at around $50,000. This timeframe and financial investment increases dramatically with complex AAA releases.
And some of you might be thinking, “Well, they can just offset that cost with higher sales on the new platform.” Theoretically, this is a possible reality. However, developers and publishers must weigh the financial risks associated with porting. Critically and commercially acclaimed indie darling Shovel Knight notoriously underperformed on Xbox. When Yacht Club Games celebrated its 2 million unit milestone in 2018, a pie chart showed that the Xbox version accounted for less than 5% of total sales.
Examples such as Shovel Knight are often used to describe the “[insert X genre] Don’t sell on Xbox” rhetoric that occasionally includes tangential supporting data. JRPGs are often presented as the most damning evidence in Xbox’s uphill battle to expand its market share and secure expanded third-party support. Early numbers from the launch of the 2022 Juggernaut Elden saw PS5/PS4 securing over 50% of total sales, with Xbox 29%. On the surface, that’s an interesting discrepancy. But when you factor in PlayStation’s massively larger install base, Xbox fared bravely.
To respect the wishes of the people I spoke to about the situation, I will not share any official quotes or comments. A common topic advertised during my industry work has been complexity. The explanations that many fans and pundits offer for Xbox’s lack of universal support for Xbox often don’t represent the delicate nuance of sustainable business relationships. Financial goals, platform expectations, and the unpredictable human element are all possible candidates for this entrepreneurial conundrum.
What can the Xbox do?
The relationship between Xbox and some key third parties is complicated and contradictory. Microsoft is painfully aware of this. Phil Spencer has previously spoken about the company’s need to “rebuild trust in Japanese developers” to boost the appeal of the Xbox ecosystem. Additionally, Sarah Bond has publicly declared Square Enix a key partner, despite her output on Xbox being one of the most unreliable of the AAA publishers.
Despite a relatively bumpy past, it’s important to highlight Xbox’s reinvigorated efforts to build a brighter future for third-party developers. We’re currently seeing Xbox live up to its earlier commitments to improve its standing with Japanese developers. From the notable collaboration with legendary director Hideo Kojima to cleverly positioned Xbox Game Pass drops like Persona 5 Royal and Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, Xbox has clearly put in some footwork in this market.
Ultimately, the Xbox must be consistent above all. Messaging and commitment declined during the Xbox One generation, giving Nintendo and PlayStation opportunities to develop dominant relationships with major publishers and developers. In turn, audiences got used to playing certain games and franchises on non-Xbox hardware. So, to successfully correct course, Xbox must slowly but steadily re-establish itself as the necessary platform for all third-party publishers.
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