Microsoft, with its two recent announcements, has finally revealed their endgame. It won’t be a console and it won’t be Windows; no, what Microsoft has in store is far greater. Microsoft’s goal isn’t to conquer the gaming market with a console or a single platform, instead, Microsoft’s aim is to be on any and everything with its brand—Xbox—and these two announcements are the first step.
The first of these announcements is for a brand new cross-platform XDK (Xbox Software Development Kit) that aims to bring together several platforms, mainly: iOS, Android, Nintendo Switch, PC, and Xbox One by giving access to the Xbox Live ecosystem. We currently don’t know to what extent this will take until Microsoft officially announces its scope and goal, but the fact that this is being designed to be on—what was previously considered—competition and non-traditional platforms for Microsoft, shows one of their main goals is to spread their reach. The second, while smaller, but still equally important announcement, is the renaming of Microsoft Studios to Xbox Studios. A subtle but important change in how the studio is both perceived and positioned to deliver games, no longer just as an arm of Microsoft, but instead a developer for the Xbox brand and wherever that may exist.
Combined, these two announcements confirm what Microsoft has eluded to over these past few years, reporting changes and new marketing tactics that all come together as pieces of the puzzle signaling that Microsoft is looking to be more in the gaming market than just its console.
While impossible to tell at the time, looking back, the start of this path can best be seen with the expansion of the Xbox Game Pass (a subscription service much like Netflix but for games on Xbox One) in January 2018. It was at this point that Microsoft began to start including first-party titles in the previously limited program, starting with Sea of Thieves, and has been steadily expanding both the number of first-party titles, but titles in general.
Following not long after the expansion of the Xbox Game Pass, the launch of Inside Xbox, a monthly show that highlights everything that is Xbox started in March 2018. In its current incarnation, this includes items such as game announcements, new features, and even updates or segments focused on older games. It has become one of the best promotional tools Microsoft has created to highlight the strength of the Xbox One and Microsoft’s general marketing prowess (despite what some critics may say). With the start of Inside Xbox, Microsoft created a new monthly program that anyone who is interested in the Xbox brand can tune into and get a large dose of news in a single showing.
Around this same time, Microsoft also made a large change in its reporting of what constitutes an Xbox player to something far larger, including anyone who is on some level part of the Xbox ecosystem.
The definition of what constitutes an Xbox customer simply used to be someone who owned an Xbox. But with Microsoft’s expansion and shift in the platform and brand, it has come to mean anyone who at some point has logged in, purchased, or interacted with a Microsoft platform that is focused on gaming as an ‘Xbox customer’. If you play Minecraft on your Nintendo Switch, you’re an ‘Xbox customer’. If you used Microsoft’s Mixer streaming platform, you’re an ‘Xbox customer’. If you end up playing a game made from Microsoft’s new cloud division in the future, you will most likely be an ‘Xbox customer.’
Lastly, after all these changes, at E3 2018 Microsoft, and later during Inside Xbox, the company would announce that several new studios have been acquired and would become part of Microsoft Studios, or what is now, Xbox Studios to bring in more in-house developers and potential exclusives.
In an extremely short time period, Microsoft changed its sales model for games to include a subscription, started a monthly show focusing on Xbox as a brand, changed its reporting for an ‘Xbox customer’ to something far broader, and purchased a fair amount of studios to become part of Xbox Studios. Taking a look at these past steps with the new information of what Microsoft intends to do next and how they all come together starts to paint a bigger picture.
The Bigger Picture
All these events individually looked like Microsoft was simply keeping par for the course. Introducing a new marketing tactic here, a new business model there, and acquiring some new studios to fix the ever-growing exclusivity problem the Xbox One has faced since its inception. But when looked at overall, the picture changes into what appears to be a concerted effort on Microsoft’s part to disrupt the traditional console market by abandoning the platform purity of their brand. In Microsoft’s eye, the Xbox One is merely just another machine, one they happen to control, but still just one of many entry points for consumers to play games and access the Xbox ecosystem. All of their recent moves are in an effort to make Xbox more than a console, but a whole system, one that ties together gamers from all different platforms, and each move has its own role to play.
Let’s start with the Xbox Game Pass, currently a feature only available on the Xbox One, but with a new interconnected system ranging across multiple platforms, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to consider this extending to other platforms for games that Microsoft has across platform (ex. Minecraft). Inside Xbox, at the moment, is focused exclusively on the Xbox One and Microsoft created titles, but in a post-Xbox-Live world where it’s on multiple platforms, it’s fairly easy to see this now established show could easily be expanded to other titles that could potentially interact or use this expanded system. Then there are the multiple studios that Microsoft has purchased and brought under their roof, these studios wouldn’t necessarily need to create exclusives (much like Minecraft), instead, it’s possible for them to exist exactly how Mojang has, by creating games that would go onto other platforms as an entry point into the Xbox Live ecosystem. Finally, there is the reporting to bring it all together, by combining anyone on the Xbox Live ecosystem as an Xbox customer, the goal of the company shifts into bringing as many people onto the platform as possible.
All these changes and additions serve to fulfill one main purpose; Microsoft isn’t a one-console kind of company anymore, it’s a one-platform company. Microsoft has positioned itself to be a platform across consoles and devices to bring gamers together, regardless of where they are playing. This puts Microsoft in a powerful position—if allowed—to shape exactly how the landscape will look by consolidating these platforms in the first meaningful way that has never been done before. It gives Microsoft the chance to become the leader in cross-platform gameplay, games, and connectivity in a way that simply doesn’t exist currently.
Will Microsoft still have an Xbox? Sure. But that no longer is their focus, instead, it’s to turn all of us into Xbox customers one way or another—and it won’t matter where we are playing, just that we are.