We’ve known for some time now that Microsoft’s next-gen strategy is not to focus on the specific Xbox Series X console but rather on the Xbox family of devices, including PCs, for releases of essentially all titles on the platform. While third-parties are free to develop how they want to and we’ll most certainly see some next-gen exclusives on the platform, Xbox head Phil Spencer says that next-gen exclusive titles are “completely counter to what gaming is about.”
Spencer isn’t talking about platform exclusives here, at least not specifically. His comment refers to the different strategies between Sony and Microsoft for next-gen. While Sony is already touting next-gen PS5 exclusives like Horizon Forbidden West, Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, and Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart, which will require players to purchase a PlayStation 5 to play, Xbox exclusives will be playable on Xbox Series X, Xbox One, and PC, so players have more freedom to get to play the game and don’t need to feel left out if they don’t purchase the next-gen Xbox.
“Sorry, I am a bit soapboxy with this one,” Spencer stated in an interview with GamesIndustry.biz. “Gaming is about entertainment and community and diversion and learning new stories and new perspectives, and I find it completely counter to what gaming is about to say that part of that is to lock people away from being able to experience those games. Or to force someone to buy my specific device on the day that I want them to go buy it, in order to partake in what gaming is about.”
Expectedly, his comments don’t seem to apply to making Microsoft Studios games available on other platforms like PlayStation, despite saying “or to force someone to buy my specific device.” Rather, he is talking about the more PC-like strategy of finding more ways to allow players to play their games, as long as it’s within the Xbox ecosystem.
He continued, “Gaming is bigger than any one device, and that is something as an industry that we’ve embraced all up as we bring more and more players in. I think it’s vital to the role that gaming can play on the planet.”
PS5 Next-Gen Exclusives
PlayStation, on the other hand, is embracing the generational divide. They want players who have purchased a PS5 to feel like they are getting real value and a true next-gen leap when they choose to spend that money on the new platform. Sony’s made multiple comments asserting this, saying they want to transition players from PS4 to PS5 at a faster rate than before, and that they believe in distinct console generations and not iterations. Sony’s reasoning for doing this is to make the most of the PS5 architecture and features in a way that can’t be done with PS4 as the baseline.
When asked if using Xbox One as a lowest common denominator held back games, Spencer said he feels that view is a “meme” created by people who are “caught up in device competition.” He references PC development, which builds games across multiple specs. However, Spencer’s comments about a platforms “power” consistently refer to “fidelity” and visuals, conveniently ignoring a fact that developers have talked about: that beyond visuals, fundamental game design is constrained and defined by the lowest common denominator hardware.
If a game has to be able to run on the Xbox One, then it cannot be uniquely designed with the Xbox Series X in mind. Sure, it can be optimized for Series X. Developers can always ramp up performance and speed and visual fidelity, which is what we’re going to see with a lot of cross-gen games like Destiny 2, but just the fact that a game is even capable of running on current-gen hardware means that it does not take full unique advantage of what next-gen offers.
Insomniac’s Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart is a great example, utilizing the baseline of knowing there’s a custom architectured SSD in every PS5 to create an experience that not even possible on the current generation of hardware. It’s not strictly about visuals, but gameplay design capabilities. Digital Foundry’s Richard Leadbetter recently talked about Sony’s strategies for PS5 games and making them uniquely PS5, not just PS4 games with faster frame rates and better visuals.
That’s not to say that Microsoft’s strategy is wrong, however. It’s just different, and rather specifically focused on the player and broad accessibility. “As a player you are the center of our strategy,” Spencer said. “Our device is not the center of our strategy, our game is not the center of the strategy. We want to enable you to play the games you want to play, with the friends you want to play with, on any device. On TV, the Xbox console is going to be the best way to play console games. Xbox Series X is the most powerful console out there and it will have absolutely the best versions of our console games. But that’s not to exclude other people from being able to play.”