Microsoft has spent the past few years trying to rebuild the Xbox franchise and compete effectively with Sony in the console wars. With the Xbox One X launched, the company is considering another problem with its lineup: a distinct lack of third-party exclusives.
That’s the word from Polygon, which notes that the Xbox One remains far behind the PS4 in terms of total units shipped (VGChartz reports 36.4M Xbox One sales to-date, compared with 73.6M PS4 sales). The Xbox One X outsold the PS4 in December in the United States, at least, but the Switch sold more than either.
To put the Switch’s meteoric rise in perspective: With 12.3 million units shipped, Nintendo has now sold more than a third as many consoles as Microsoft, despite the Xbox One being on the market for more than four years, while the Switch has been available for less than one. Microsoft doesn’t really see Nintendo as a primary competitor, but it wants better exclusives for its platform as a way to win back market share from Sony, and it’s supposedly considering buying one or more game studios, up to and including a deal for Electronic Arts itself.
That last, if true, would be an extraordinary maneuver. EA is much more known for buying studios than being an acquisition target, but it makes sense. EA owns a huge range of franchises, including Madden, FIFA, Battlefield, Battlefront, NHL, Dragon Age, and titles like Star Wars: The Old Republic. If you wanted to buy a game publisher that could then cut preferential deals likely to be of interest to your gamers, EA would be on the short list of targets that might plausibly influence console purchases, if only because it has its fingers in so many different pies.
The larger question is how much winning new console exclusives this late in the cycle will really help either company. After more than four years, with a refresh cycle already locked in for each console, I would’ve thought most consumers had already chosen a side. We don’t know how many PS4 Pro or Xbox One X sales are to first-time buyers as opposed to upgrading customers, but the chance that Microsoft will find a huge number of new customers seems low. The only way the company might pull that off is if it can lock in true exclusives, rather than time-limited lockouts.
The one caveat here is that we don’t know how much Sony and MS are planning to extend the current console generation. The PS3 and Xbox 360 were halfway through their life cycles at this point in time, but the Xbox One and PS4 have been recently refreshed. Sony and MS could try to extend the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X for a longer period of time to justify that mid-cycle upgrade, which means this could be a console cycle that lasts as long as a decade. If they’re thinking that far out, Microsoft’s push to buy a studio or studios might make more sense. Over such a long period of time, it makes more sense to think about users acquiring both platforms, or even switching from one to other.