In the past decade, the video game industry has grown exponentially. In 2012, video games generated an estimated $63.3 billion in sales worldwide, and current projections put the year 2022 closer to $197.0 billion. With this increased revenue potential comes amplified investment from leading figures in the industry. PlayStation, Nintendo and Xbox want bigger slices of this very profitable pie.
While legacy platformers and die-hard fans celebrate the importance of compelling first-party exclusive titles, history shows that several third-party games are the top revenue drivers of the year. Call of Duty, Madden, FIFA, Grand Theft Auto and other giants often dominate the sales charts. When it comes to undeniable finances, Microsoft has guaranteed solid content. However, there are clear gaps in third party support for the platform.
Time and time again, we’ve seen major publishers skip Xbox. Sometimes this can reasonably be linked to exclusive deals or limited-time publishing arrangements. Unfortunately, there are dozens of examples of worldwide video game releases coming out on every possible platform Except for Xbox. As Microsoft has demonstrated in recent years, platforms can survive and even thrive without global support. However, it is impossible not to wonder why third-party industry partners, especially those from Asia, have refused to offer Xbox versions.
Why is a third-party stand for Xbox a good fit?
This isn’t the first time I’ve discussed the shortcomings of third-party support on the Xbox. Previously, I’ve detailed Team Green’s complex struggles to sustain growth in the Japanese market and highlighted a sadly long list of JRPG franchises that aren’t currently available on modern Xbox consoles. For enthusiasts who frantically follow industry developments, this isn’t exactly breaking news. However, the latest grumbling has reignited frustrations with society once again.
According to netizens who took several screenshots from the ESRB website, Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster for PS4 and Nintendo Switch is rated. Although the ESRB has apparently pulled these console listings, this development adds credence to the long-running rumors about console ports of this beloved collection of popular RPGs. PlayStation and Nintendo fans celebrated the idea of playing Final Fantasy 1-6 on their favorite platforms, but Xbox gamers worried they’d been left behind again.
Currently, the console versions of Final Fantasy Pixel Remaster have yet to be confirmed by Square Enix, so we can’t definitively say if this rumored version overtakes the Xbox with confidence. Sadly, frustrated community members aren’t so optimistic, given the inconsistent history of Square Enix titles on Xbox. This omission probably isn’t worth checking console in an isolated case. However, the real lack of faith and enthusiasm that Xbox fans took to social media after these reports was evident.
As tensions mount between Xbox and fans over third-party inconsistencies, community members are looking to investigative journalists for answers. With few concrete stories published about what is indisputably going on behind the scenes, some critics have suggested that the media has no interest in exposing the truth. Like many gamers, I have a list of questions and concerns about the video games I love, with complete disregard for the Xbox platform.
Throughout 2022, I’ve reached out to Atlus, Square Enix, Nihon Falcom, Capcom, Xbox, Koei Tecmo, and others for comment on cross-platform releases that aren’t available on Xbox consoles. Unsurprisingly, many publishers didn’t respond or simply provided “We don’t have anything else to share at this time.” message. I’ve also spoken to several industry professionals familiar with port business dynamics and informal platform viability in hopes of getting more insights.
We’ve joked publicly about Legend of Mana, one of my favorite games of all time, and I ignore that Xbox is the catalyst for my endless quest for third-party clarity. In my research, I’ve met many passionate advocates of the industry doing their best to shed some light on the situation. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts and active investigations, I still need definitive answers to deliver to frustrated Xbox gamers.
Troubled by the uncertainty and eager for understanding, a part of society replaced theory with reality. From wicked publishers like Square Enix making sweeping statements about exclusive deals, the complex reality of Xbox’s third-party shortcomings is further stumped by this conjecture. I want to touch on the most prevalent 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. This obviously stems from an oversimplification of the business needs of different development teams and companies. In a capitalist-driven global economy, no rational enterprise will willingly exclude a potential customer base if appreciable financial gains are made. So any publisher completely ignoring a market or platform though is somewhat unlikely, given the allure of the mighty dollar.
The oft-used counter to this argument suggests that it’s cheaper and easier to port games to other platforms than ever before. While introducing new versions of previously developed titles is quite affordable, many gamers greatly underestimate the resources required for such endeavors. Reports indicate that the construction of smaller independent ports can take anywhere from 3 to 6 months and typically starts at around $50,000. This timeline and financial investment increases exponentially with respect to complex AAA releases.
And some of you might be thinking, “Well, they can just offset those costs by driving more sales on the new platform.” In theory, this is a possible reality. However, developers and publishers need to assess the financial risks associated with ports. The critically and commercially acclaimed indie game Darling Shovel Knight notoriously performed disappointingly on Xbox. When Yacht Club Games celebrated its two million unit milestone in 2018, a pie chart showed the Xbox version accounting for less than 5% of total sales.
Examples such as Shovel Knight are often used to arm “[insert X genre] Don’t sell on Xbox’ rhetoric, which sometimes contains tangentially supportive statements. The JRPG is often presented as the most damning piece of evidence in Xbox’s uphill battle to expand market share and secure rich third-party support. Early numbers from the 2022 launch Elden juggernaut saw the PS5/PS4 take on It accounts for more than 50% of all sales, with Xbox at 29%.On the surface, that’s an interesting disparity.But when you factor in PlayStation’s vastly more substantial install base, Xbox has performed valiantly.
To respect the wishes of individuals I have spoken to about the situation, I will not be sharing official quotes or comments. A common theme brought up during industry outreach was complexity. The explanations many fans and critics give for Xbox’s lack of global third-party support often don’t account for the nuances of sustainable business relationships. Financial goals, platform expectations, and the unpredictable human factor are all likely candidates for this corporate conundrum.
What can Xbox do?
Xbox’s relationship with some major third-party partners is complex and inconsistent. Microsoft is painfully aware of this. Phil Spencer has previously spoken of the company’s need to “rebuild trust with Japanese creators” to boost the appeal of the Xbox ecosystem. In addition, Sarah Bond has publicly stated that Square Enix is a vital partner, even though its Xbox production is one of the most reliable AAA publishers.
Despite a relatively rocky past, it’s necessary to highlight Xbox’s revitalized efforts to build a better future for third-party developers. We’re currently seeing Xbox live up to its previous commitments to improve its standing with Japanese creators. From noteworthy collaborations with legendary director Hideo Kojima to cleverly placed Xbox Game Pass like Persona 5 Royal and Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, it’s clear Xbox has done some leg work in this market.
In the end, more than anything else, Xbox needs to be consistent. Messages and commitments waned during the Xbox One generation, creating opportunities for Nintendo and PlayStation to establish dominant relationships with major publishers and developers. In contrast, audiences are used to playing some games and franchises on non-Xbox devices. Therefore, in order to successfully course-correct, Xbox must slowly but surely re-establish itself as a must-have platform for all third-party publishers.
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