Xbox still hasn’t solved its biggest problem at E3 2021

Xbox rocked up to E3 2021 with a lot to prove – stop me if that sounds familiar. With PlayStation 5 setting or matching records through its first six months on sale, already touting a strong lineup of exclusive games, it’s felt like Microsoft are still having to sell people on the idea of their new generation of games console. Yes, the acquisition of Bethesda, announced just as Xbox Series consoles went up for pre-order, turned a lot of heads, but Microsoft hasn’t been able to shift the perception (or at least the joking perception) that Xbox has “no games”.

Opening with Starfield was a big power play, that’s for sure. The acquisition of Bethesda is still fresh in the memory, and I’m sure many PlayStation fans out there still held out hope that Bethesda’s games could be cross-platform. I’m sorry to break it to you for the 13th time, but no… Starfield is an Xbox and PC exclusive (and before you start, Windows is a Microsoft platform, so yes, these are exclusives).

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The somewhat bitter pill here is that Starfield is still a long way off, with a release date pencilled in for 11/11/22. The same was true for most of the other new first and second party games announced, as Arkane’s new co-op shooter Redfall is expected in 2022, and there’s no hint of when Contraband from Avalanche might be coming out.

There’s a soft underbelly to Microsoft’s first-party lineup, as they repeatedly announce new games with CGI teaser trailers years and years before they are ready to release. You just have to think back to E3 showings of the last few years. Everwild, Avowed, Fable, Forza Motorsport, Perfect Dark, Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II, State of Decay 3… none of these games appeared at E3 2021, a clear sign that their announcements and CGI or in-engine reveals all came very early in their production.

Heck, you had the announcement of The Outer Worlds 2 from Obsidian, poking fun at Microsoft’s own practice of cooking up a glitzy trailer well before a game was really ready to show. It’s a problem that Microsoft need to dig their way out of, and that can only happen by showing more restraint in when they announce their games.

The one shining light here wasn’t Halo Infinite – the multiplayer gameplay reveal looked great, but the segment for the game was perhaps the slowest part of the showcase and there’s still no release date – but rather Forza Horizon 5. The game looks sublime, the rendition of Mexico on Xbox Series X and high-end PCs absolutely stunning, and the studio having consistently pushed their arcade racer series to new heights.

We’ve been here before, though. Forza, Gears of War and Halo have been the three constants of the Xbox lineup for years now, and as excellent as they typically are, they’re also game series that preach to the choir of Xbox fans. Microsoft is diversifying their line up considerably, there’s tons of new first party IPs announced for their platforms, and yet the end of 2021 will rely once again on their most reliable of franchises.

Forza Horizon 5

Forza Horizon 5 is sure to be another sublime arcade racer.

Just focussing on Xbox exclusives and this particular calendar year kind of misses the point for what Microsoft want to do this generation. With Sony’s first party games now costing £70 at the till, Microsoft is effectively countering that by pitching Xbox Game Pass as the best value proposition in video games. There’s 18 games joining Xbox Game Pass on day one through the rest of 2021, and Microsoft can always add to that number.

There’s all of Xbox Game Studios’ first-party titles, which includes Halo: Infinite, Forza Horizon 5, Age of Empires IV, Psychonauts 2 and Flight Simulator, but then there’s the compelling third party games like Back 4 Blood, Scorn, Hello Neighbour 2, The Ascent, Sable and the sublime Hades. They cover a wide range of genres, come from all sizes of developer, and they’re just… there if you have Xbox Game Pass.

It’s that point that makes Game Pass a great tool for fence-sitters, gamers who see a price tag and suck in air through their teeth. How many people were on the fence about Outriders, but thought “You know what? It’s on Game Pass, so I might as well try it.” I can see that argument coming up quite a lot through 2021 and beyond. It’s the same reasoning that has powered some of the most successful films released on Netflix.

Xbox Game Pass 2021 Lineup

Xbox Game Pass has got tons of great-looking games coming day one in 2021.

On the whole, Microsoft got the job done. Again. I feel like I say this every year. It wasn’t a knock your socks off showing, but there remains a huge amount of potential for Microsoft’s upcoming lineup of games, especially with Bethesda’s games now in their portfolio. The problem is that Sony could be out of sight in the console sales race before we truly get to see it.

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7 Comments

  1. You’re right, nothing really blew me away, but I feel the problem you’ve described isn’t exclusive to Microsoft – it’s for the whole ‘new gen’. Sony aren’t at E3/don’t even have a State of Play. There’s been nothing yet that has made me want to buy a new console- in fact last week I ordered new PC parts (sans GPU!). But I will say watching Microsoft’s conference I was impressed with the quantity & quality of games coming to Game Pass over the next few years.

  2. Xbox wasn’t as pathetic as Ubisoft. But they’ve all been pretty terrible. Looks like Nintendo are gonna steal the show.

  3. It’s all very well saying Game Pass is the best thing since whatever was the last best thing, but it’s still over £130 a year. Until the price starts to creep up. And for what? How many games would you really want to play, rather than just playing them because they’re there? Sure, that’ll get you that rare game you wouldn’t have played otherwise and really enjoy. But that won’t be all of them.

    It’s looking like MS made a huge mistake with the Series S too. Nobody’s buying it. (I could pop out and get one and be playing with it in the next hour, if I wanted to). If they’d gone the same way as Sony, and made the Series S just a digital only Series X for £350, it’d be great for all those Game Pass games. But they went for something cheaper and a lot less powerful, that clearly isn’t selling.

    • It’s £96 per year, where are you getting £130+ from?
      I’m sure it will go up, but just looking at the average price of new games makes it very attractive to me at least.

      • I was going by the £10.99 a month for Ultimate. £96 is just for the cheap version that doesn’t include Xbox Live Gold. I’d assume you want to actually be able to play all those included games online?

    • Even at £130 a year that is great value.
      Forza Horizon 5: £60
      Halo Infinite: £60
      Back 4 Blood £50 (not sure on price, so estimating lower)
      Psychonauts 2 £50

      That’s 4 games out this year alone that would probably be among the biggest sellers on Xbox, that’s £220 of games to play day one even if that is all you play in the year (and don’t forget that the £130 also includes Xbox Live Gold, worth £83.88 per year if you assume the pay-monthly approach you are basing the £130 on – or ~£40 if you shop around)
      Add on some of the other games you may not have otherwise tried, Hades, Twelve Minutes and The Ascent and the value just grows.
      Then next year you still have all those games, but also Starfield, Stalker 2, Redfall and whatever other exclusives launch next year.
      For people that really want to ‘own’ the game, they can still play it on day one, then wait for a sale to pick it up to own on the cheap – best of both worlds.

      That kind of value just doesn’t exist on any other gaming platform.
      On the PS5 for £130 you’ll get PSN and Horizon FW, if you also want to play Ratchet & Clank and Back 4 Blood, then you’ll be at a spend of around £250.

      After the backlash earlier this year when MS reversed course on their XBox Live price increase, they are aware of the pricing sensitivities… but if they get their subscriber numbers up to the 80m range, they will be making so much money they wouldn’t need to increase the price. That’s just my view, it may not turn out that way, but even if they increase the cost by £2 per month, that’s would be £156 per year, which still keeps it in the ‘great deal’ range (IMO of course…).

  4. As a long time PlayStation player I actually have both consoles this gen. I can honestly say I’m only playing a couple of gamepass games on series X (and 4K Blu-ray’s). My ps5 has already had Astro, Spidey and Rachet and returnal to pick from. 6 months in I feel like Xbox should have at least one platform must have. The wait will be another 6 months it seems.

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