The Xbox Games Showcase did exactly what Microsoft promised it would, showing off enough games within the space of an hour that you’d need to take your socks off to keep count. Not all of them were new announcements, not all of them were even full games, but at the second time of asking, Microsoft managed to show a compelling set of first party games and make big game announcements to please those looking for console exclusives.
But there was one thing notable by its absence during the show. Microsoft have talked up their decision to make all their first party games cross-generational during the first year or so of the Xbox Series X life cycle. You shouldn’t feel the pressure to upgrade unnecessarily, they said. So… where were the Xbox One games during the showcase?
Halo Infinite opened the show and yes, it’s a big cross-generational blockbuster that loses none of its ambitious open world (ring?) design for being on Xbox One as well as Xbox Series X. And then there’s Grounded from Obsidian and Dontnod’s Tell Me Why, both coming this summer to Xbox One and with Xbox Series X upgrades down the line, with Remedy aiming to deliver a modern warfare shooter experience with CrossfireX.
All of those games were already known about, though. Already promised for the current generation. The four new announcements from Xbox Game Studios all omitted the Xbox One from the title cards. Forza Motorsport from Turn 10, Fable from Playground Games, Avowed from Obsidian, As Dusk Falls from Interior/Night and State of Decay 3 from Undead Labs are all only coming to Xbox Series X and PC. Ninja Theory’s Hellblade 2 and Rare’s Everwild, both of which were announced at the tail end of 2019, also returned to confirm their next-gen exclusivity.
In fact, Everwild was originally listed on the Microsoft site as coming to xbox One, so unless that was an error in 2019, that’s one cross-gen exclusive fewer than before! – We’ve asked Microsoft for clarification on this.
And so we have to ask, was this all bluster from Microsoft?
Back in January, Xbox Game Studios head Matt Booty said, “As our content comes out over the next year, two years, all of our games, sort of like PC, will play up and down that family of devices. We want to make sure that if someone invests in Xbox between now and [Series X] that they feel that they made a good investment and that we’re committed to them with content.”
And just last week, Phil Spencer wrote in an Xbox blog post, “You won’t be forced into the next generation. We want every Xbox player to play all the new games from Xbox Game Studios. That’s why Xbox Game Studios titles we release in the next couple of years–like Halo Infinite–will be available and play great on Xbox Series X and Xbox One. We won’t force you to upgrade to Xbox Series X at launch to play Xbox exclusives.”
As it stands, those aren’t lies, but they now look like half truths. The implication now is that, for Spencer and Booty’s statements to be true, all of the newly announced first party games are coming out after that cross-generational window that they outlined. Where Sony can still dangle the carrot with their first party line up for PlayStation 5, lightly suggesting that there will be a steady trickle of new exclusives through the first year without actually saying as much, Microsoft’s slate of freshly announced first party games has to be releasing from late 2021 and onwards, leaving a void to fill in the first year of Xbox Series X.
In a statement to The Verge, Microsoft said, “Our future Xbox Game Studios titles are being developed natively for Xbox Series X. We will continue to invest in tools for devs to scale across consoles. Which consoles each Studio/game can support will be based on what’s best for their game and their community at launch.”
Aaron Greenberg responded on Twitter to say “Future 1P titles are developed for Xbox Series X first. Not saying those games won’t ship on Xbox One, only that we are leading with Series X & each studio will decide what’s best for their game/community when they launch.”
Of course, Microsoft have held back on discussing what some of their other first party studios are working on. Last night saw them reveal or show games from nine of their studios, but others were notably absent. We have to be realistic, though. inXile is hard at work finishing the cross-platform Wasteland 3, while Compulsion Games of We Happy Few and the homegrown studio The Initiative are just a couple years on from their last release and founding.
So where the hell are the cross-gen games going to come from, then? Well, again, games like Grounded and Tell Me Why are set to release this summer and receive free next-gen upgrades, and there’s the partnership with Smilegate for CrossfireX’s cross-gen console exclusivity. There will also be Series X optimisations for Forza Horizon 4, Ori and the Will of the Wisps and Sea of Thieves as they’re inducted into the Smart Delivery programme.
And then there’s PC games making the jump to console. Gears Tactics drew plenty of plaudits with its PC release back in April, and will receive a Smart Delivery cross-gen release later this year, while Microsoft Flight Simulator is coming to PC in August, but with an Xbox One and presumed Series X version expected at some point after that – presumptions are pretty risky a moment, I know.
Again, it feels like Microsoft have fumbled in their attempts to manage expectations. The Xbox Series X event back in May was expected to show far more tangible gameplay than it actually did, and the constant talk of cross-generational games had many expecting that there would be more first party big hitters bridging the divide in the next 12 months. Where everything in the PlayStation 5 showcase feels like it could be releasing in the next year, Microsoft’s announcements look to the more distant future of Series X.
Ultimately, the Xbox Games Showcase did what it needed to do, it just wasn’t what we were led to believe it would.