Earlier today, Kotaku released information on Microsoft’s future plans to release a more powerful Xbox in 2017, and to release a smaller, cheaper version of the current Xbox One later this year. This report was confirmed by fellow gaming media site Polygon. In addition to the big news coming out of Microsoft, even though official spokespersons have refused to comment, developer sources have told Kotaku that “Microsoft’s new mandate is to release future games—including the flagship Halo series—on both platforms [Xbox and PC].” Boom.
In what really seemed like a regular day for much of the world, you know, people going to work, a civil war here, some crazy politician there, the announcement of future releases of Halo on PC is pretty groundbreaking. No Halo franchise game has been released on PC since Halo 2, outside of the tablet-aimed Halo Spartan Assault and Spartan Strike. Up until today’s article by Kotaku, we really had no reason to believe Halo would ever be released on PC—why bother? Halo has always been the “console-seller” and pseudo-killer app that has mobilized millions to buy the latest Xbox machine. So why the change of heart? Why does it make sense for Halo Wars 2, and all future Halos, to be released on both platforms?
I am no economist; however, as someone who took a heavy load of quantitative courses, I took my fair share of microeconomics classes. I believe somewhere in basic econ we may find some straight answers on why this is a wise move by Microsoft.
Releasing Halo on PC would be a bad idea for Microsoft if an Xbox purchase of Halo and a PC purchase of Halo were perfect substitute goods. Substitute goods are products that a consumer perceives as similar or comparable enough, so that purchasing one product would lead to the consumer buying one unit less of the other product. In other words, this move by Microsoft would be really bad if people stopped buying Halo on Xbox, and instead bought it on PC.
Sure, some gamers may actually end up doing exactly that: maybe they enjoy PC gameplay more, or maybe they want those much better graphic and such. However, unless every single rational consumer behaves the same way, Microsoft is making the right move. The truth of the matter is that Halo gamers, people who likely have been playing Halo for close to 10 years, and have solid communities and relationships on the Xbox, will not replace their Halo on Xbox experience for Halo on PC. Microsoft is looking at the Halo community and seeing a collective of individuals formed into solid communities that, to be honest, will continue playing Halo on a traditional Xbox console. People like me, who have a dozen friends playing Halo 5 three times a week on the Xbox One, will not be jumping ship to PC—the Xbox console experience is what I am familiar with and I am sticking with it.
However, what Microsoft is pursuing here is the market of gamers who haven’t played Halo since Halo 2. Oh yes—Microsoft knows that there are millions of consumers, including many PC and PS4 owners, who would definitely play Halo, but they refuse to buy an Xbox machine. Therefore, releasing future Halos on PC is a simple win-win. What is there to lose by selling an extra 2-3 million copies of Halo 6 on top of the ones bought by Xbox users? And this doesn’t even take into account the diehard fanboy who, for some reason, will end up buying a PC AND a console copy—don’t lie; we know you are out there.
Xbox Halo and PC Halo will not be substitutes to each other. If anything, they will be complementary products. A complementary good is such in which demand for one particular good increases with the decrease in price of another good. Developing a massive Halo game for an Xbox-only release can’t be cheap and it is likely getting more expensive. However, from a development angle, it makes sense to “double-tap” the incredible effort of developing a Halo game, if you will be able to sell in both the console and PC markets. 343 Industries may even be willing to dish out more fancy additions to the game if they can be certain that the returns to their investment will be many times as much. At the end of the day, we should have seen this shift for the Halo franchise long ago, especially if future Xbox consoles will function more like PCs, which will cheapen even more the cost of developing a multi-platform Halo.
Just when many thought that Halo could be on the edge of decline, Microsoft seems to be smashing on full thrusters forward. We still don’t know for sure what lays ahead at E3. For more on that, and predictions, check out our PSVG podcast—it’s so good. However, we can be certain that in an age of tech-advancement acceleration, the era of the 7-year console cycle may be nearing a close. As consoles shift toward functioning like and having the capacity of PCs, Halo is but the first step in Microsoft’s new take on the gaming industry and what seems to us all as the further integration of the Xbox and PC gaming communities.