Opinion: Has Microsoft just crippled Xbox with its Play Anywhere program?

Xbox Play Anywhere is a great publishing move, but it could surrender the console hardware market to Sony this generation

It hasn't been too long since Microsoft unveiled ‘Xbox Play Anywhere’ — a feature that allows you to buy a digital game for either PC or Xbox and be able to play on both platforms with no extra charge.

It’s neat and has the potential for some awesome crossover experiences the way Cross-Play has worked on PlayStation platforms. But will the lack of exclusive games cause sales problems for the Xbox?

Let’s get a few things out the way first — the Play Anywhere programme will only come from titles that are published by Microsoft Studios, meaning you won’t be playing third party games across both platforms.

There’s actually been some controversy about how many titles will actually be part of this programme. Microsoft altered their initial statement of all Microsoft Studios games to just the ones that were shown at E3. The head of Microsoft’s division, Phil Spencer, has said there could be some unique games that don't make an appearance on both platforms but that the main goal is to make the platforms a lot closer.

Will being able to play Microsoft's Xbox exclusives on PC hurt console sales?

After getting the finer details out the way there’s the question of what this programme does to the Xbox itself, because this move can’t do anything but hinder the sales of the console. There’s a big dichotomy between the actions of a publisher and the actions of a hardware manufacturer, and Microsoft seems to be making moves of the former.

When looking to buy a new piece of hardware, I’ve always asked myself ‘what exclusives does the console have?’ — this question is completely irrelevant if all of Xbox’s heavy hitters such as Gears of War 4, Forza Horizon 3 and Halo Wars 2 are also available on PC.

Big triple A games like these are hardware sellers and although Microsoft is still making an effort to push its first-party games on Xbox, by announcing special edition consoles such as the recently revealed Gears of War Xbox One S, if you already own a PC powerful enough to play the game there’s no reason to own an Xbox.

If you own a decent gaming PC, should you now buy an Xbox One S?

PC gaming is very popular. But a lot of people still have the idea that if they invest in a PC they’re doomed to spend the rest of their gaming days hunched over a keyboard looking closely at a screen. However controllers are widely adopted among PC players — this is mainly because you probably already own one that’s compatible. The PlayStation 4’s DualShock and Xbox One’s gamepad are compatible out the box with PC’s — these are the first step in getting a laid back gaming experience on a PC.

The next thing is the monitor you’re using — you already own one of those too! Steam has been putting its resources into getting the PC experience in the living room. The company’s solution was Big Picture mode. This is a way of playing PC games that have been designed for use with a controller and TV, what’s more is that every Steam game is supported in this mode, meaning you’re not missing out!

Another stereotype is that it requires a raid on Fort Knox to afford PC gaming - this couldn't be further from the truth. Although buying the hardware outright is more expensive than a console, it's also important to remember you’re also getting a PC as well, not just a gaming machine. That PC can also be upgraded, so can potentially last longer than the average console cycle.

There’s a bunch of entry level PC’s like the Dino Primal GE2 that will run all the latest games at higher frame rates and resolutions than the current consoles on the market, this example comes in at £500.

Although that’s still over £150 more than a current generation console, remember that you’re getting something more capable and has the potential for upgrades further down the line — we all know the Neo and Scorpio are eyeing up the current consoles on the market, you don't get any of that with a PC.

Would spending more on a PC benefit the gamer in the long run?

There’s a big divergence in console tactics if you look over at Sony — if you want to play any first party games like Uncharted or the upcoming Horizon Zero Dawn you have to buy a PlayStation 4. The same can’t be said for Xbox and that’s going to result in a ton of people opting to play their games on the PC they already own rather than going out and buying new hardware.

Sony has a tightly knit ecosystem that makes you buy their hardware to sell software. Whereas Microsoft seems to be moving towards being a prolific investor and creator of software with the Xbox platform as an optional box you can buy that will also play first party games. There’s no doubt Microsoft will see an increase in game sales as a result of this move, but Play Anywhere seems to call the Xbox into question as well as what position Scorpio will take when it launches next year.

Gears of War 4 will be one of the first major titles to fall under the Play Anywhere initiative.

Since the launch of the Xbox One, Microsoft seems to have been fighting to stay as relevant as Sony. It seems as though the giant needs to do more to keep up and in doing so they seem to have laid out plans to sacrifice their own hardware in exchange for publishing games on both platforms and seeing an increase in sales there.

The perceived value of hardware comes from the games you can only play on that system. If Microsoft makes all its massive exclusives also available on PC then it calls into question where the Xbox now stands in the company at all. This is a perplexing move from a hardware manufacturer and although there will be short term gains in software sales, the negative impact on hardware will hurt Microsoft in the long run.

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