In case you missed it, The Guardian had an in-depth interview with Xbox boss Phil Spencer last week that covered all kinds of topics from console life cycles, Netflix for video games, and video game development. You definitely should read the article if you’re interested in either Xbox or the video game industry.
One item in particular that caught the attention of PSVG’s Xbox crew was an answer Phil provided when asked about story driven video games.
So what about the games that don’t need to exist as services? We’ve seen a huge drop in the number of big, single-player narrative adventures – the games that provide a discreet experiences and then end. How do we keep those experiences alive?
“The audience for those big story-driven games… I won’t say it isn’t as large, but they’re not as consistent,” says Spencer. “You’ll have things like Zelda or Horizon Zero Dawn that’ll come out, and they’ll do really well, but they don’t have the same impact that they used to have, because the big service-based games are capturing such a large amount of the audience. Sony’s first-party studios do a lot of these games, and they’re good at them, but outside of that, it’s difficult – they’re become more rare; it’s a difficult business decision for those teams, you’re fighting into more headwind.
“We’ve got to understand that if we enjoy those games, the business opportunity has to be there for them. I love story-based games. I just finished [LucasArts-inspired RPG] Thimbleweed Park – I thought it was a fantastic game. Inside was probably my game of last year. As an industry, I want to make sure both narrative-driven single-player games and service-based games have the opportunity to succeed. I think that’s critical for us.” ~ Phil Spencer
It’s an interesting take on the current video game software landscape and is absolutely correct. While narrative based games like Horizon Zero Dawn and Zelda Breath of the Wild are tremendous success stories; neither approach the widespread sales of games with a multiplayer focus / service based delivery such as the game ring leader Call of Duty or the better selling in March Ghost Recon Wildlands.
The opposite of this take is that even though games like Zelda Breath of the Wild and Horizon may not reach the ultimate heights of other titles, their sales numbers prove that there is a desire amongst the community to play (and buy) more single player, narrative focused games. In the case of Zelda Breath of the Wild, the game has an astonishing 100% attach rate in its first month proving that a “big, story driven single player game” can indeed push hardware sales. Taking this stance, an argument can be made that the lack of these experiences in the Xbox lineup is factoring into the sales numbers compared to the PlayStation 4.
So what does Team PSVG think?
The problem that I have from the interview is the notion that single-player, narrative focused games an unnecessary risk. Games like any of the Zeldas, Horizon, the Last of Us, and Uncharted prove that gamers want to play these types of video games. In a year where Assassins Creed skips a year and there’s nothing from a Tomb Raider or Rockstar to lean on, I feel the pinch in the amount of games I’m playing on my Xbox One. In a lot of ways, they’re on the opposite end of the spectrum from Nintendo. Xbox has a great powerful box with tons of 3rd party releases but that isn’t enough to be the market leader. Just like a Nintendo 1st party only box isn’t enough to become the market leader either. A successful, market leading console has both 1st and 3rd party content that offers a diverse selection of service based and narrative driven experiences. My opinion – It is obvious that Microsofts first party development teams need to diversifty their offerings outside of Master Chief, Fenix, and pretty cars.
As I’ve said on our podcast more than once, Microsoft needs to reclaim their big single player adventure game. It was always fable and I’d love to see it return, but a new IP would also be welcomed. The Xbox needs something to recapture the imagination of their audience and it should be from their first party stable. Exclusives sell hardware and that’s the only thing lacking with my Xbox right now.
Ultimately, my opinion could just be a temporary scheduling and unfortunate development issue (Scalebound). This E3 is going to deliver Star Wars, Call of Duty, Crackdown, State of Decay, Cuphead, Red Dead Redemption, Destiny 2, Assassins Creed, and more. There will be plenty of things to play on the box you already own, but having that exclusive, shiny new game that everyone’s talking about about for 6 months goes a long way to selling people a Scorpio. Software, always always always, drives hardware in the end. And they need a reason above their competitors to buy a new box.
To Donnie’s point, what made the PS4 successful in this generation? Power and price. That’s it. You have power and you can sell that power at a competitive price, done. Too easy. That’s how you got Destiny. That’s how you get Call of Duty deals. Big single story games are added toppings. You win by proving power at a competitive price. PlayStation and Nintendo have always been superior at single story games, but that didn’t keep them from getting smacked around during the 360 generation. The One came underpowered and overpriced. Boom. Death blow. The Scorpio needs to be smartly priced. People will buy it at a competitive price and we will begin to see deals turn to Xbox.
I think it’s more than just power and price. If the Xbox One & PlayStation 4 were equal in terms if power and price I was totally ready to go all in with Xbox, but they just lacked games the single player franchise games that I wanted to play and have yet to close that gap. I was totally interested in Scalebound until it was cancelled. I’ve long said that the Xbox is the multiplayer machine, the PlayStation is the single player box, and Nintendo is the family box. I think this still holds true with this current generation of hardware. As interested in Scorpio as I am – if they dont bring a big single player games I will probably have to pass. Even though my favorite games are service based, World of Warcraft and Destiny, I play them 90% of the time by myself. I am not a huge multiplayer person. I like co-op but only for the parts of the game designed for that type of gameplay. Story missions I want to play alone, so that I can enjoy the story at my pace. I think every box has its audience and are less in competition than people think. PlayStation 4 won this generation by throwing money at activision for Call of Duty and Destiny and by having great single player games.
My big question regarding Scorpio – How long will Scorpio be “the most powerful console ever” ? Is Scorpio competing with PS4 Pro and then in a year or two will they release another Xbox to compete with whatever Sony has planned?
Coach Mo Says:
With great power comes first place.