Microsoft is easily one of the most recognizable brand names in the world. Almost everyone with access to technology has used a Windows machine, which is the company’s most popular product. Even so, Microsoft has only recently started paying some serious attention to the Windows gaming market. Why is that?
The original Xbox was released back in 2001, formally marking Microsoft’s entrance into the console industry. Now that the company had a dedicated gaming system, it obviously had to support it. While Microsoft had made many great titles for MS-DOS and then Windows, it shifted the majority of its gaming resources towards the Xbox. This continued to be the case for quite some time, going through the (very long) life of the Xbox 360 and into the beginning of the Xbox One’s lifetime. So, what happened?
While the original Xbox was barely able to hold a candle to the massive sales of Sony’s PS2, its successor the Xbox 360 really gave the PS3 a run for its money; the 360 was able to stand up to the PS3 in basically every avenue. As a result, both systems ended up selling almost the same amount of units over the course of their decade-long lifecycles. However, the current situation is a lot different than in the previous generation: the Xbox brand is once again being eclipsed by PlayStation.
Ironically, Microsoft has fallen into the same trap as Sony did in the previous gen, which was the reason why they were unable to recreate the massive dominance of the PS2 with the PS3—arrogance. Microsoft saw how much of a hit the 360 was and got a bit too confident, which is why it had the audacity to publicize its initial Xbox One DRM policies and also why it made the expensive KInect add-on a ‘necessary’ part of the experience. Similarly, Sony got way too ahead of itself with the pricing of the PS3. In both cases, fans went over to the other side.
Somehow, Microsoft didn’t learn from Sony’s arrogance in the 7th-gen.
As a result, the Xbox One got off to a bad start.
The Xbox One hasn’t been able to completely recover from its initial hardships due to the fact that it just doesn’t have the same kind of appeal as the PS4. Sony’s system has been a big hit in just about every market, including its own backyard of Japan; a region where the Xbox brand has always been notoriously tiny. Had Sony not made such massive fumbles in the early days of the PS3, then perhaps it would have replicated the success of the PS2. Either way, Microsoft has its back against the wall in the console market right now, which is why they have called upon Windows once more.
Microsoft has now taken the fight over to a new arena where Sony can’t touch it. While it does have to battle over people’s living rooms when it comes to consoles, Microsoft is virtually uncontested in the PC market; there’s no other gaming platform on PC that’s bigger than Microsoft Windows. With services like Xbox Play Anywhere and Xbox Live on Windows 10, Microsoft is basically transforming the ‘Xbox’ brand into an umbrella for its entire gaming division. PC gaming has always had a fairly large presence, so why has this change been happening only recently?
Well, in addition to the Xbox One being eclipsed by the PS4, the PC gaming scene has really been blowing up over the last few years. Back in the earlier days of gaming, consoles had the upperhand since they were designed specifically to play video games. PCs on the other hand were built to be multipurpose machines, with gaming being just another feature instead of the focus. As time passed, hardware companies have been catering to gamers more and more to the point where gaming computers are now a popular type of PC. While Microsoft has kept most of its gaming efforts focused on the Xbox consoles throughout the 2000s, it has also enhanced newer versions of Windows by means of making them more stable and efficient when it comes to system resources. This has led to game support and performance improving with each new iteration of the OS. Finally, arguably the biggest reason as to why PC gaming has become so big, is the Steam service from Valve.
Ask any PC gamer if they use Steam and there’s a high chance they’ll say yes. It’s the heart of the market.
Steam is easily the largest gaming marketplace in the PC realm. There are thousands of games from all sorts of different studios hosted here, and the service has only been getting better and better over the years. A lot of PC gamers have shifted to keeping their libraries purely digital instead of having shelves full of game cases thanks to Steam. This has made things more convenient. Throw in extra features like game gifting, refunds and great servers, you have yourself a recipe for great customer satisfaction. Steam has become so popular that other companies have made their own digital platforms for their titles, such as EA’s Origin service and Uplay from Ubisoft. Microsoft finally took notice of just how big of a deal this all is, and is now trying to squeeze its way into the mix with Xbox Play Anywhere and the Windows 10 Store.
While bringing formerly console-only exclusives to Windows may reduce Xbox hardware sales, Microsoft is still winning either way. I wrote an article recently defending the Xbox Play Anywhere service, noting that it doesn’t completely detract from the Xbox One and is really more of a benefit than a curse. One factor I brought up is this: you still have to go through Microsoft to play Xbox-branded titles, where it’s on an Xbox One or a Windows PC, so it’s still a weapon to use against Sony and even Nintendo.
With Windows being a Microsoft product, its biggest in fact, the company still makes a profit. I wouldn’t be surprised if Microsoft flat out admits one day that it doesn’t really care where you play its games—as long as you’re playing them. After all, it’s tough to make money off of hardware due to the cost of manufacturing and even marketing. Software is a lot cheaper, so that’s where a lot of the revenue has always come from. Now that Microsoft is bringing all of its titles to PC, that opens them up to an even bigger market of potential consumers. As a result, their games have a greater chance of turning a profit.
By releasing games on both Xbox and Windows, Microsoft is in a position to enjoy high software profits.
Microsoft arguably needed to tap into Windows once again in order to bolster the Xbox brand. The Xbox One has basically been fighting an uphill battle with the PS4 since day one. After the long length of last generation, Microsoft probably didn’t want to sit in Sony’s shadow for what might amount to another decade. So, now we have ‘Xbox on Windows’. By the looks of it, this seems to be the future for the Xbox brand: it will continue on basically as a service.
While I don’t think the Xbox consoles are going anywhere, Microsoft will continue to slap the ‘Xbox’ stamp on all of its gaming-related products. Not only this consistent, but it’s also familiar; consumers will ultimately stick close to the brand just because they know the name “Xbox”.
I see this as being a smart decision; even if it really was made out of being desperate to gain some leverage over PlayStation, I still want to commend Microsoft. Time will tell to see how drastic of an effect this has on the ‘Xbox’ brand in the console market, but I do believe that Xbox and Windows can co-exist.