xbox, to hear from Microsoft, is failing.That has been a sticking point in its battle to convince the world’s regulators to approve its acquisition of Activision Blizzard, which would bring things like call of Duty, World of Warcraftand perhaps the most targeted kingmobile game suite, including candy crush, under the Xbox banner. It’s a huge acquisition, which is why it’s getting so much attention. But Xbox’s argument is clear: We are just fools. We need this.Sony is way ahead.
Honestly, that’s true in most areas. This is not a false description of the situation. But one element of the Activision-Blizzard acquisition that has always puzzled me is the optics of the Xbox gains. What problems with Xbox does it solve?
Yes, Call of Duty is huge, and it’s going to be a huge bonus. But that’s not to say Xbox doesn’t have access to IP and is developing games that could rock the shooter world. Warcraft is also a huge mainstay, but Microsoft already has both MMOs and RTSs in The Elder Scrolls Online and Age of Empires. These don’t fill in the blanks.
I think Crash and Spyro do fill a niche – and before you say, yes, they’re more recognizable than Banjo. So this makes sense. The same goes for King: Xbox is weak on mobile, and King feels like the most important piece of the puzzle, despite the regulatory battle that has ended Call of Duty.
But none of that addresses what I think is the biggest gap in Xbox’s core gaming offering. This is a Japanese problem, and it is also a Japanese problem. Nowhere is this better than Square Enix.
Square Enix has just announced that Live A Live, a 16-bit remake of the previously Switch-exclusive classic, is coming to other consoles. How is this going? PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Steam. That’s it. Sorry, Xbox users.
This is a pattern. Depending on how you count, Square Enix has almost or well over 10 released games this year, but none of them have been or are set to release on Xbox.
Forspoken is exclusive to PlayStation 5 and also on PC. We also know that Sony has a seat (and cash) in the game’s development, so it can be traced. The same goes for Final Fantasy XVI, which is why its producers kept jokingly referring to “the power of the PlayStation” when it was shown off. But then it gets weird. Theatrhythm: Final Bar Line is a relatively low-impact rhythm game, only available on PlayStation and Switch. Theatrhythm may come to PC later – I’m willing to bet Square Enix is worried about rhythm game piracy and modding, and DLC still hasn’t landed, so it’s coming to PC. But it probably won’t be coming to Xbox.
The most bizarre example is of course Octopath Traveler 2. It’s on everything — PC, Switch, PS4, PS5 — but no Xbox. This is even more odd since the first Octopath Traveler was on the Xbox, not the PlayStation. I feel like I’m about to squint.
This is also nothing new. Star Ocean: The Divine Force, The Diofield Chronicle, Stranger of Paradise, Chrono Cross, and Crisis Core Reunion all came to Xbox last year, but the list of games skipped by Xbox for nearly every other game is much longer. Last year’s Xbox discounted truly exclusive discounts that missed out on SaGa of Romance, Tactics of Ogre Rebirth, Valkyrie of Elysium, Sound of Cards, Centennial Case, and even Bloody Babylon’s Fall. While those games are also great, a fair number of them are still struggling. One would think that being on more platforms would help.
Many future games won’t be coming to Xbox either–including all six Final Fantasy Pixel Remakes, which could be outdated and released any given week.
Basically, if you’re interested in a certain type of gaming outside of Japan and you own an Xbox, you’re probably out of luck. To be clear, this isn’t just Square Enix; smaller brands like Nippon Ichi continue to largely skip Xbox as well. At best, it’s a coin toss. Square Enix’s random scatter method for Xbox releases (Octopath 1 but not its sequel, Crisis Core but not FF7 Remake) is an example. Additionally, Square Enix is the most prolific third-party publisher in Japan.
Of course, if you only want Japanese games, Capcom has you covered. But Capcom doesn’t usually make these same types of games either; visual novels (where’s the new Ace Attorney, you cowards?!) and, yes (apologies to Naoki Yoshida) Japanese RPGs.
For me, this is a problem. Xbox seems to be working on it too. But the question is… are these efforts really having an impact on publishers?
Let me give a specific example. A few years ago, Xbox invested heavily in Square Enix, bringing a selection of its titles to Xbox and Game Pass. We’ve had a Final Fantasy buffet in Game Pass for a few years now, along with Dragon Quest XI and Octopath Traveler. Prior to this, Xbox had made strong proposals to secure Final Fantasy 15 and Kingdom Hearts 3. But, a few years later, the Xbox reappeared in the wilds of Square gaming.
Anyone who became a new Final Fantasy fan through Game Pass will now have to head to Steam, PlayStation, or Switch to play more games. Will Dragon Quest 12 and Kingdom Hearts 4 come to Xbox? Neither platform has been announced, but it feels absurdly unlikely.
Some would-be “analysts” and professional idiots on twitter are squinting at binoculars with lens caps still on and ruminating that this might be part of the plan, suggesting Sony’s Square Enix deal Already in place, just waiting for the Activision mess to end. The bone of contention is that Square Enix didn’t make games for the Xbox because it knew an offer was coming. Additionally, it’s been suggested that last year’s big sale at Square Enix’s western studios was also part of the deal preparation. Honestly, all of this seems pretty far-fetched for two public companies. If Sony did acquire Square Enix, I suspect these actions have much to do with it.
But again, there’s clearly a strong relationship here too – perhaps from the days when Sony owned the majority of the company (it doesn’t anymore), or just echoes of the Japanese concept of “Keiretsu”: thought derived from iron – agreeing to a simple The idea that companies that are corporately and culturally aligned might feel free to help each other out.
Apparently, there are still sales. Clearly, fewer Game Pass deals can help drive things along — but publishers also need to feel like their games are going to be big hits in order to put them on Xbox.The only way to do this is to build an audience for these games…and the only way That Broadly speaking, making the game genre itself available on Xbox. It’s a vicious circle. The only thing that can break this is the continued investment of Xbox itself, because they’re the only ones really motivated to care. Unless there’s a Game Pass deal for Dragon Quest or Oc topath Traveler, why care if Square Enix predicts negligible sales?
The real imminent test is probably RoleXbox is doing the same again, courting Sega and securing Game Pass debuts with ports of Persona 3, 4, and 5. It’s a great move for Xbox, given its top Japanese title popularity in a franchise that’s undergoing explosive growth. It’s also important for Sega and Atlus, as it can expose Persona to new, untapped audiences. But with Xbox, if Persona 6 is a PlayStation exclusive like Final Fantasy 16, platform holders will look like jerks investing heavily in late-stage ports of Entry 3-5.
Some of you will no doubt say that these are niche games, with small sales, even smaller on Xbox. In a way, you are right. I might be a little biased too; and iGamesNews, I’m co-owner of an RPG site whose lifeblood is at least partly these games. But by the same token, each of these small missteps is another small gap in Xbox’s claim that its hardware and subscription serve all gamers. It also just makes Xbox look weak enough to protect ports of SNES game remakes, even though they’re on hardware with strikingly similar architectures.
Also, not all of these games are small games. Of course, none of them are CoD. But Live A Live sold more than 500,000 copies on Switch, and Octopath Traveler eventually sold more than 3 million copies. If Persona 6 proves to take the series further, it could sell more than 6 million copies. There’s an audience for these games — and if given the chance, it’s likely to find an audience on Xbox.
There was a time, generations ago, when it looked like these games were in trouble, their relevance waning. But now the tide has turned. They are again important and significant. Their Western audience has also grown enormously – so even Xbox’s lack of a foothold in Japan doesn’t explain the lack of support. Even so, there is only one answer to Japan’s market share question; having more games that Japanese games want to play, syncing up with other platforms. The potential for xCloud in Japan is huge, given the country’s focus on mobile devices and excellent data infrastructure — but it’s only available for games that actually want to be played on the Xbox.
Or to put it another way, Sony may think losing Call of Duty is a coup de grace risk, but in some market segments, Xbox is dying by a thousand cuts.
What can Xbox do? Well, this is a complicated question, and well above my pay grade. All I know is that this is a problem and needs to be fixed.
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