Friday, 6 November 2015

Lets Talk: Is Microsoft handing the keys to the Kingdom to Sony?

Since there is no interesting news, I blame Fallout 4 lurking over the horizon for that.
I've decided to rumble on about something for a little bit. 
Today I'm asking "is Microsoft playing too defensive?" You see during the 360 era MS dominated Sony by grabbing exclusive rights to games, advertising and early access DLC. Which made the PS3's early years with out any major exclusives an hard fight but an stellar comeback and MS's giant PR nightmare of the X1's reveal changed all that.

After loosing ground on Sony for a year Phil Spencer declared they was going to stop paying for exclusive content, advertising and games. Instead taking that money and reinvesting that money in their own studios and funding new games from other developers (instead of buying exclusive rights to existing games). At the time this very Nintendo-like approach was applauded by many as it meant more games and IP for Xbox One but the end to what many called the "money war",

During the 360 era MS aggressively pursued what it called "partnerships" with publishers locking in early DLC access, games and advertising. Many a Sony fan often claimed Xbox was "buying the market" and it was unfair. This caused a tit for tat bidding war that saw each console getting extras for different games making it hard of third party fans to own either system.  MS ending the "money war" could of changed that but something else happened.

Sony grabbed every exclusive contract going and not only drastically tilting the multi-format game in their favour but also meaning most adverts (both digital and physical) of these titles being PS4 branded. With Mircosoft only advertising its exclusives this Christmas; two of which aren't full exclusives Tomb Raider an timed exclusive and Fallout a multi format with early mod access. This creates a very poor image system that it shares with Nintendo "it only has its own games". Which is very untrue for the Xbox. Its an image Microsoft can not afford after their rough start and "resolution gate" (which is admittedly dying after Battlefield Hardline knocked BOTH systems down an HD peg). To show this advertising issue lets remember that by Sony's own admission their first party PS4 Christmas (the most important time in game sales) line up is incredibly light, yet its dominating in terms of advertising.

Following the Street Fighter V PS4/PC exclusive announcement Phil Spencer confirmed Microsoft wont "invest" in games that would compete against its own IP. The foolish idea an Free-to-play title can compare to the biggest fighter out there aside this create's competition where it's not needed, I highly doubt the all but forgotten Killer Instinct would of experienced any real drop in revenue when SFV launched 3 years later. This "us vs them" attitude certainly explains why Sony now has the early access DLC rights to this years competing shooters Black Ops 3 and Battlefront, which launch less than a month after Halo 5 (which will feature no-cost DLC maps).

The problem here seems to be they went from "playing to win" to full retreat. In reality what MS should of done is to continue its bidding for these contracts but instead of playing to win, they should of just "played to draw". Sure the first few times they might have to pay of parity between the platforms but it wouldn't of been long before Sony said "look we're both paying for nothing, lets just not bid" and both sides would have more money for original content.

Will the Nintendo style first party first approach work for Microsoft? Well we don't know yet as there doesn't seem to be any of these new first party titles out yet. MS is still trading on the last of its deals Tomb Raider (game), Fallout (early mods) and next year's The Division (DLC). This new generation of first party titles not only have to be good to lure players to the Xbox One but they also have to represent the console in advertising, which means they have to be ready on time as delays will create gaps in their marketing. You only have to look at the Wii U to see the damage that those gaps can cause. Microsoft has a tough fight ahead of it as it must effectively fight its allies (third parties).

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