Phil Spencer now wants rival storefronts on Xbox

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Xbox boss Phil Spencer has suggested that Microsoft would be willing to open up their console platform to third party storefronts. Could with see the likes of itch.io and Epic Games Store on Xbox in future?

Speaking at GDC last week (via Polygon), Spencer explained “[Consider] our history as the Windows company. Nobody would blink twice if I said, ‘Hey, when you’re using a PC, you get to decide the type of experience you have [by picking where to buy games]. There’s real value in that.”

The statement comes alongside Spencer expressing a concern over the lack of growth in the games console market. While there’s hundreds of millions of PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo consoles out there, the overall number of console gamers hasn’t significantly grown this generation – per research firm MetaFacts (via ZDNet).

Combine that with the future difficulties that companies will face in pricing as the era of easy die reductions and savings on components make it less feasible to sell consoles at a loss and make it up on licensing fees down the line, and the console business is going to become more and more expensive in the coming generations.

This is the latest clear sign that there’s a massive shift of business strategy coming at Microsoft and Xbox. Amidst a swirl of reports and rumours at the start of the year, Microsoft has decided to bring an initial batch of four games to their console gaming rivals at PlayStation and Nintendo, and there’s resurgent expectation that the bulk of Xbox games will take a similar path in future.

Microsoft is looking for new areas of growth, and that will come down to software, one way or another. It seems counterintuitive for Microsoft to open up Xbox to third party store, and to bring their games to other platforms at the same time, but taking a broader industry-wide view, and this could be a pretty smart move.

If Microsoft is willing to give up their walled garden, then they’re able to start exerting pressure on other companies to do the same. Yes, that could mean Sony to a certain extent, but Sony aren’t the ones currently in the crosshairs of regulators around the world. That would be Apple, who are currently fighting battles with the EU to begrudgingly comply with the recent DMA regulations that enforce sideloading and third party stores, and just last week became subject to a DOJ anti-trust suit in the US.

Following Apple’s announced rules for the EU, Spencer said that Microsoft didn’t see a viable path onto iOS with an app store or even Xbox Cloud Gaming – despite this kind of app now specifically being allowed – but with further regulatory action, that could change. Giving up a walled garden for around 50 million gamers would be a big signal to regulators, and could eventually net them much greater access to a market of billions on smartphones.

Maybe.

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