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End of console wars? Microsoft could set new precedent by bringing Xbox games to PlayStation

Indiana Jones and the Great Circle, one of this year’s big releases on Xbox, may also be headed to the PlayStation 5 under a rumored initiative at Microsoft. (Xbox Image)

Rumors have been in circulation for weeks that Microsoft might publish some of its exclusive games on competing consoles. Now a new report indicates that one of the most anticipated Xbox games of 2024 may also be a cross-platform release.

The Verge reported over the weekend that Microsoft is exploring the possibility of publishing a new game made by its Bethesda subsidiary, Indiana Jones and the Grand Circle, for Sony’s PlayStation 5, its primary competitor in the console market. We’ve reached out to Microsoft for comment.

This joins persistent rumors throughout January that Microsoft was already planning to bring a couple of its other console exclusives, such as Tango Gameworks’ Hi-Fi Rush, to the PS5 and Nintendo Switch.

Edit: Microsoft has neither publicly confirmed nor denied the report, but Xbox head Phil Spencer announced via X that it would offer a “business update” next week, as below.

Were this to go through, this would be approximately on par with the idea of Hulu licensing its original programming to Netflix or Disney+. There aren’t many precedents for this sort of move in the console gaming space.

That being said, this isn’t particularly strange for Microsoft, which has published Minecraft for every platform under the sun since it bought Mojang Studios in 2014. That includes its console rivals Nintendo and Sony, as well as iOS and Android. Minecraft is such a monolith in modern video games that it can be hard to remember that someone actually owns it — it just sort of exists, like mountains or the moon — but Microsoft has already been a cross-platform video game publisher for almost a decade.

It also matches the concessions Microsoft made to get the Activision Blizzard acquisition across the finish line, which involved agreements to continue to bring games like Call of Duty to the PlayStation for the foreseeable future. If Microsoft is already contractually bound to release some new games on rival consoles, then at least on paper, it makes sense to release a few others.

Even so, this is a big departure from what longtime fans and analysts have grown to expect out of the games industry. The last decision comparable to this was arguably when the Japanese company Sega ended production on the Dreamcast in 2000 in favor of becoming a third-party games publisher. It subsequently brought many of its exclusive franchises, such as Sonic the Hedgehog, to its former competitors’ consoles.

That’s led to a lot of fans wondering out loud if the Great Circle deal might also mark a “Sega moment” for Xbox. At time of writing, though, that question is premature.

For one thing, the finalized acquisition of Activision Blizzard means Xbox is now a bigger part of Microsoft’s bottom line than ever before. As per its Jan. 30 earnings report, Microsoft’s gaming sector exceeded Windows in revenue for the first time in company history. For all its drama in 2023, such as the underperformance of Redfall and Starfield’s mixed reception from fans, Xbox has never been bigger or more lucrative than it is right now.

If anything, this would follow up on a consistent topic that various Xbox insiders, executives, and creators have brought up for the last few years. Console exclusives, as per their argument, simply limit a game’s potential audience. While that exclusivity has traditionally been one of the major marketing points for buying one console over another, Microsoft has pivoted away from that strategy in the last decade.

Back in June, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella testified in court that he “would love to get rid of the entire exclusives on consoles, but that’s not for me to define, especially as a low-share player in the console market. The dominant player there [Sony] has defined market competition using exclusives, so that’s the world we live in. I have no love for that world.”

Against that backdrop, if Microsoft were to start publishing its Xbox exclusives for other platforms, it would suggest that it’s fully abandoned the previous concept of the “console war.” There are no reported plans on the horizon for Microsoft to stop producing physical Xboxes, but it suggests that in the future, it plans to continue to sell the Xbox as an ecosystem rather than a console. In so doing, it’s moving out into previously uncharted territory.

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