Over the past decade, the video game industry has grown by leaps and bounds. In 2012, video games generated an estimated $63.3 billion in revenue worldwide, and current projections call for 2022 to close at $197.0 billion. With this increased earning potential comes amplified investment from industry figures. PlayStation, Nintendo and Xbox want bigger slices of this hugely lucrative pie.
While these legacy platform owners and passionate fans celebrate the importance of compelling exclusive exclusive titles, history shows that many third-party games are the biggest year-over-year profit drivers. Call of Duty, Madden, FIFA, Grand Theft Auto and other behemoths frequently dominate the sales charts. When it comes to undeniable financial workhorses, Microsoft has ensured consistent content. However, there are apparent gaps in the platform’s third-party support.
Time and again, we’ve seen major publishers ignore Xbox. Sometimes this can reasonably be related to exclusivity agreements or limited-time publishing agreements. Unfortunately, there are dozens of examples of worldwide video game releases coming to every platform possible. 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, especially those in Asia, choose not to ship Xbox versions.
Why is the Xbox third party situation relevant?
This isn’t the first time I’ve discussed the shortcomings of third-party support on Xbox. Previously, I detailed Team Green’s complicated struggles to maintain the growth of the Japanese market and highlighted a long list of JRPG franchises not currently available on modern Xbox consoles. For enthusiasts who feverishly follow industry developments, this isn’t exactly breaking news. However, recent rumblings have reignited community frustrations.
According to internet sleuths who took several screenshots from the ESRB website, Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster has been rated for PS4 and Nintendo Switch. While the ESRB has apparently pulled those console listings, this development adds credence to long-running rumors about console ports for this beloved collection of iconic RPGs. PlayStation and Nintendo fans have been celebrating the idea of playing Final Fantasy 1-6 on their favorite platforms, but Xbox gamers fear they’ll be overlooked again.
Currently, console versions of Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster have not been confirmed by Square Enix, so we can’t say for sure if this rumored release is confidently jumping Xbox. Unfortunately, dispirited members of the community lack monumental optimism, given the disjointed history of Square Enix titles on Xbox. This console omission probably wouldn’t be worth looking at in an isolated case. However, the genuine lack of faith and enthusiasm expressed by Xbox fans on social media in the wake of these reports was palpable.
As tensions mount between Xbox and fans over third-party inconsistencies, members of the community are turning to investigative journalists for answers. With few concrete stories published about what is unquestionably going on behind the scenes, some critics have suggested the media doesn’t care to find out the truth. Like many gamers, I have a long list of questions and concerns about the video games I love, ignoring the Xbox platform altogether.
Throughout 2022, I’ve reached out to Atlus, Square Enix, Nihon Falcom, Capcom, Xbox, Koei Tecmo, and others to comment on cross-platform releases that aren’t available on Xbox consoles. Unsurprisingly, many editors either didn’t respond or simply provided a “We don’t have anything else to share at this time.” message. I have also spoken informally to many industry professionals familiar with port business dynamics and rig viability in hopes of gaining further insight.
I publicly joked about Legend of Mana, one of my favorite games of all time, neglecting Xbox to be the catalyst in my never-ending quest for third-party clarity. In my research, I have encountered many passionate industry advocates doing their best to shed some light on the situation. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts and active investigations, I still need definitive answers to provide discouraged Xbox gamers.
Shaken by uncertainty and eager for understanding, part of the community has replaced theory with reality. From cursing publishers like Square Enix to making sweeping claims about exclusivity deals, the complex truth of Xbox’s third-party flaws is further clouded by this conjecture. I want to address the most common assumptions that I’ve noticed gaining traction on social media.
Let’s start by dissecting the idea that some publishers “hate” Xbox or its fans. Obviously, this stems from an oversimplification of the business needs of different development teams and companies. In a global economy driven by capitalism, no rational company would voluntarily exclude potential customers if significant financial gains were to be made. So a publisher essentially ignoring an entire market or platform out of spite seems a bit unlikely, given the lure of the mighty dollar.
A frequently used counterweight to this argument suggests that it’s cheaper and easier than ever to port games to other platforms. While it is unquestionably more affordable to offer new versions of previously developed titles, many gamers grossly underestimate the resources required for such ventures. Reports indicate that smaller scale independent ports can take 3-6 months to build and usually start at around $50,000. This schedule and the financial investments increase considerably when it comes to complex AAA releases.
And some of you might be thinking, “well, they can just offset those costs with increased sales on the new platform.” Theoretically, this is a possible reality. However, developers and publishers must weigh the financial risks associated with ports. Shovel Knight, the critically and commercially acclaimed indie darling, has infamously performed underwhelmingly on Xbox. When Yacht Club Games celebrated its milestone of 2 million units in 2018, a pie chart showed that the Xbox version accounted for less than 5% of total sales.
Examples like Shovel Knight are often used to arm the “[insert X genre] don’t sell on Xbox”, which sometimes contains tangentially favorable data. JRPGs are often held up as the most damning evidence of Xbox’s uphill battle to expand market share and gain rich third-party support. Early figures from the launch of the 2022 The Elden juggernaut saw the PS5/PS4 secure over 50% of total sales, with the Xbox at 29%.On the surface, it’s an interesting disparity.But when you take into account the massive install base most important of PlayStation, the Xbox performed valiantly.
To respect the wishes of those I have spoken to about the situation, I will not be sharing official quotes or comments. A common theme presented during my industry outreach was complexity. The explanations that many fans and pundits provide for Xbox’s lack of universal third-party support often don’t capture the delicate nuance of enduring business relationships. Financial goals, platform expectations, and the unpredictable human element are all likely candidates for this business conundrum.
What can Xbox do?
Xbox’s relationship with some major third-party partners is complicated and inconsistent. Microsoft is painfully aware of this. Phil Spencer has previously spoken of the company’s need for “restoring trust with Japanese designersto bolster the appeal of the Xbox ecosystem. Additionally, Sarah Bond has publicly declared Square Enix a critical partner, despite their Xbox release being one of the most unreliable of AAA publishers.
Despite a relatively checkered past, it’s essential to highlight Xbox’s reinvigorated efforts to build a better future for third-party developers. We are currently seeing Xbox fulfilling its previous commitments to improve its position with Japanese creators. From the remarkable collaboration with the legendary director Hideo Kojima to a clever positioning Xbox Game Pass drops like Persona 5 Royal and Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, Xbox has clearly done some work in this market.
Ultimately, more than anything, Xbox needs to be consistent. Messaging and engagements dwindled during the Xbox One generation, which presented opportunities for Nintendo and PlayStation to establish dominating relationships with major publishers and developers. In turn, audiences have become accustomed to playing certain games and franchises on non-Xbox hardware. So, to successfully correct course, Xbox must slowly but surely reestablish itself as the necessary platform for all third-party publishers.
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