It's not hard to say that Microsoft has made some mistakes this generation. Sales of the PlayStation 4 have hit 30.2 million worldwide and in response Microsoft has decided not to share console shipment numbers as its primary success metric in the future. The Kinect is dead. Though it launched with the Xbox One, Microsoft has removed the device as the standard pack-in with consoles in order to shave the standard retail price down.
A look at the NPD charts for November 2015 shows that Xbox One exclusives aren't winning over consumers. Halo 5: Guardians ended up at number eight on the charts, while Rise of the Tomb Raider didn't chart at all. And other than Call of Duty: Black Ops III and Just Dance 2016, every multiplatform game sold better on PlayStation 4.
The Xbox One isn't dead by any means, but it's firmly in second place this generation. Despite that, Microsoft is counting on the Xbox brand in the future. In an article on The Verge, Microsoft executives talked about the future of the Xbox brand and how they intend to gain ground on Sony in the future.
"No, I fully expect that you'll see another console from us," Xbox boss Phil Spencer told The Verge. "Our best customers are Xbox console customers, and I want to keep those people engaged both on the Xbox One and anything we might do in the future. I'm 100 percent committed to that. I don't want to dilute what the Xbox console customer feels. I want to expand what we're able to do for more customers."
So Microsoft is now the underdog and that means making the smart moves to try and win back consumers. In our industry, the smart move isn't a new controller or extra peripheral. It's better games. So Microsoft has to scramble to make better games, knowing that one of the major producers of games the community enjoys, Japan, is pretty much ignoring the Xbox One. In fact, Sony has locked in exclusives like Street Fighter V, Persona 5, Valkyria: Azure Revolution, Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness, and King of Fighters XIV, which make the PlayStation 4 look like a far more lucrative platform for fans of Japanese games.
"I see our primary role really as being the proof point," explained Microsoft Studios general manager Shannon Loftis. "We prove to gamers why it's worth playing on the Microsoft platforms. We prove to game developers why it's worth [making games for our platform]."
The big bets for Microsoft in 2016 are Quantum Break, Crackdown 3, and ReCore. None are made in-house at Microsoft. Quantum Break is being developed by Remedy Entertainment, Crackdown 3 is being created by Reagent Games (Crackdown creator David Jones founded the studio), and ReCore is a Comcept and Armature Studio project. If anything, successful games like Killer Instinct, which was developed by Double Helix Games and has since been stewarded by Iron Galaxy Studios, have shown Microsoft that it's all about bringing the right team together with the right concept.
"I actually love this notion of finding seed IPs," says Loftis, "and helping game creators realize their very first vision. The more we can engage with that developer, the more releases we can put into the marketplace, the more likely that it might become one of these franchises."
Of course, Microsoft still has an uphill battle. It needs to not only have parity with Sony's PS4 output, the company also has to watch out for Nintendo's NX platform in the future. For the time being though, the company is saying the right things and shifting away from ideas that put the Xbox One in second place from the beginning of this generation.