Tag Archives: microsoft

Polygon’s 100 Best Games of the Decade

Polygon Staff:

We began with a long list of around 300 games that team members nominated. Then we individually voted for the 50 we most wanted to see in the list. After we tallied the votes, we gathered together to sort out the unholy mess, and to argue the merits and faults of the top 150.

After a surprisingly calm and erudite discussion, we agreed on the following list. It is, by its nature, a compromise, but it’s the best we’ve got.

A fun look back at a decade that now seems shorter than it felt — I’ll blame that on the past three years.

I played 23.5 of the 100 titles mentioned in this list. Honestly, that’s more than I thought I would have. (While Red Dead Redemptions 1 and 2 are counted as a single entry, I only ever played the first, so it counts as half.)

As I have a soft spot for Nintendo games, I’m happy with Polygon’s Mario pick over what I assumed would be the shoo-in. Likewise, I’m happy to see an overwhelming industry/fan/consumer favorite sit extremely high in the list at number 2, but not receive top honors. Societal/cultural impact takes precedence here, as I argued back in 2016.

My biggest takeaway is that the past 10 years of games have broadened the scope of what constitutes a “video game” more than any other decade. That seems an obvious observation as there’s evolution in any medium, but video games by their infinite malleability allow for innovation and creativity beyond any other. Video games can be anything (and therefore video games do not exist). Just read Polygon’s justifications for Device 6, Johann Sebastian Joust, or Journey.

If 2000–2009 cracked the door on infinite possibilities, 2010–2019 blew it wide open.

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‘But the answer is simpler when it comes to the real money maker for Microsoft’

Chris Plante, Polygon:

But the answer is simpler when it comes to the real money maker for Microsoft: Xbox as a streaming platform available on every app store. Microsoft could bring its streaming service to any smart TV and streaming device without all this backroom dealmaking necessary for Switch, and reach a considerably bigger audience.

I wouldn’t be surprised if we see all of the above. Going off the others’ reporting, it seems Microsoft is certainly trying to bring Xbox Game Pass to Switch, but the real game changer will be if — like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon — Xbox becomes an app pre-installed on your next TV.

Leave it to Plante to identify the obvious. I’m over here kicking myself that I didn’t think of an Xbox app pre-installed on TV in ‘Activision, Microsoft, and Platforms’. Especially after CES and the growing number of pre-installed services on smart TVs.

If we do see a pre-installed Xbox app, has Microsoft already positioned themselves as the dominant controller manufacturer? In addition to their standard wireless controller, they offer the Elite and classic “Duke” designs as well as the Adaptive Controller, a huge service to those in need of accessibility features.

I personally can not stand the Xbox controller and much prefer Nintendo’s Pro Controller or the PS4 DualShock 4. But if neither of those two options open themselves to an Xbox app — the former due to hardware limitations / lack of foresight, the latter due to some bizarre proprietary lock-in strategy — as an Xbox owner, Microsoft is already poised to be my go-to controller. And with an already broad selection of controllers tailored for the Xbox experience, it makes them the clear winner.

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Rumor: Microsoft Bringing Game Pass And Published Titles To Switch

Imran Kahn, Game Informer:

According to a report from outlet Direct Feed Games, an outlet that has a strong track record for rumors especially centering around Nintendo, Microsoft and Nintendo are about to get together in a big way in the near future. Not only will some Microsoft games find their way to the Switch, but it looks like the entire Game Pass library might arrive via the magic of streaming. 

Oh?

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Microsoft to Bring Xbox Live to the Switch

Jez Corden, reporting for Windows Central:

At GDC 2019, Microsoft is set to debut a new cross-platform development platform with the goal of bringing Xbox Live support to games on Android, iOS, Nintendo Switch, in addition to PC and Xbox consoles.

Microsoft already has a few games with Xbox Live support across mobile devices, most notably via Minecraft, which requires an Xbox Live login on Android, iOS, and Nintendo Switch. Until now, Microsoft reserved Xbox Live support on those platforms for its own games, but now now, Microsoft is aiming to bring Xbox Live cross-platform play to even more titles. Developers will be able to bake cross-platform Xbox Live achievements, social systems, and multiplayer, into games built for mobile devices and Nintendo Switch, as part of its division-wide effort to grow Xbox Live’s userbase.

Oh?

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Microsoft’s Super Bowl Ad

I love seeing Microsoft spend the big bucks on such a meaningful product.

OK. Back to cutting onions.

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Activision, Microsoft, and Platforms

This post comes heavily inspired from a recent GamesIndustry.biz Podcast episode, “What now for Activision”:

Whether part of the ten-year agreement between the two firms or due to a change in strategy, there’s no denying that the break-up leaves a Destiny-shaped hole in Activision’s limited portfolio (NB: We mean Activision specifically, which is left with Call of Duty and the Crash/Spyro remakes — the wider company of Activision Blizzard is doing just fine, as is Bungie).

Matt, Chris and James ponder whether Activision will seek its next billion-dollar franchise from another third-party studio like Bungie or perhaps turn to the many developers it already owns (most of which are working on Call of Duty) to come up with fresh ideas.

To get you up to speed, Activision Blizzard recently announced the departure of a partnership with Bungie and Destiny:

Joint Statement from Activision and Bungie:

Today, we’re announcing plans for Bungie to assume full publishing rights and responsibilities for the Destiny franchise. Going forward, Bungie will own and develop the franchise, and Activision will increase its focus on owned IP and other projects. Activision and Bungie are committed to a seamless transition for the Destiny franchise and will continue to work closely together during the transition on behalf of the community of Destiny players around the world.

Additionally, from Bungie:

We have enjoyed a successful eight-year run and would like to thank Activision for their partnership on Destiny. Looking ahead, we’re excited to announce plans for Activision to transfer publishing rights for Destiny to Bungie. With our remarkable Destiny community, we are ready to publish on our own, while Activision will increase their focus on owned IP projects.

Activision Blizzard accounts for the following companies (Q3 MAUs for the games companies provided for context):

  • Activision (46M)
  • Blizzard (37M)
  • King (262M)
  • Major League Gaming (MLG)
  • Activision Blizzard Studios
  • Activision Blizzard Consumer Products

Q1 2016 was the last time Activision Blizzard included their “Portfolio of Compelling Owned Franchises”:

Activision

  • Call of Duty
  • Destiny
  • Skylanders

Blizzard

  • Warcraft
  • Diablo
  • StarCraft
  • Overwatch
  • Hearthstone
  • Heroes of the Storm

King

  • Candy Crush
  • Pet Rescue
  • Bubble Witch 2
  • Farm Heroes

In 2018, that list looks like this:

Activision

  • Call of Duty

Blizzard

  • Warcraft
  • Diablo
  • StarCraft
  • Overwatch
  • Hearthstone
  • Heroes of the Storm

King

  • Candy Crush Saga
  • Pet Rescue Saga
  • Bubble Witch 2 Saga
  • Farm Heroes Saga

There are two notable titles missing from that list, both under the Activision banner.

Now, Activision Blizzard can (and probably should) be looked at as a whole. But as a player of many Activision titles of yore — MechWarrior, Tony Hawk, Guitar Hero (and while not yore, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise, mi amor) to name a few — it’s difficult to separate the name from the reality. It doesn’t help that aside from Nintendo, Blizzard might have been the only recognizable gaming name to me, quality or otherwise, growing up. It’s hard to look past a name.

With only Call of Duty, is Activision still a name? If so, if not, what’s next?

Launcher Wars

Launched in 2003, Steam boasts 150 million active users and 27,000 games. The sheer number of games is in large part thanks to the Steam Greenlight and Direct developer programs. Steam has traditionally been known as a bastion for indie developers. However, the recent drastic increase in velocity of titles launching on Steam is making it harder and harder for indies to break through the noise. But it remains that Steam is the standard for PC/Mac gaming.

In 2013, Activision Blizzard launched the Battle.Net Launcher — a one-stop-shop to launching Blizzard IP Warcraft, Diablo, StarCraft, and now Hearthstone, Overwatch, and Heroes of the Storm. In 2017, this list expanded to Bungie’s Destiny 2 under the Activision banner. In 2018, Activision’s Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 was added to the launcher. Upon the announcement that Destiny 2 would be arriving on the launcher, Blizzard released a statement that there were no plans to expand to other third-party titles:

Our focus in terms of supporting non-Blizzard games is solely around Destiny 2. Aside from potentially evaluating needs or opportunities for future Activision games, we don’t have any short- or long-term plans to support third-party games with Battle.net. It’s important to us to maintain our quality standards for any experience or service we’re putting in front of our players, which represents a big investment of time and effort on our part, so this is not something we’re jumping into lightly.

With only two launchers to choose from — one with Blizzard exclusives two behemoth franchises Destiny and Call of Duty, one with everything else — it’d make sense to keep the Battle.Net Launcher tightly curated to first-party IP.

2018: Enter the Epic Games Store. Dissatisfied with the 30% cut Steam was taking from sales, Epic decided to compete with Steam by releasing their own store, only taking a 22% cut of DRM-free game sales. While the Epic Games Store is slim pickings now, Epic is home to Fortnite, arguably the biggest video game ever with 200 million accounts. As of this post, Fortnite can still be downloaded independently of the Epic Games Store launcher on Mac/PC, but I imagine in due time the launcher will be required. To add, the Epic Games Store is signing exclusive titles such as Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 and Early Access to Supergiant‘s Hades.

If I’m reading the tealeaves correctly, my hunch is that the Epic Games Store is attempting to marry the two models of Steam and Battle.net — loads of third-party content with an attractive revenue model, plus first- and third-party exclusives.

The Platform

More often than not, it seems like I can play any third-party indie title on the platform of my choosing. Let’s take Celeste as an example. I have the option of playing Celeste on my Mac, PS4, Xbox One, and Switch. I chose the Switch as the benefit of portability outweighs online community or big-screen gaming. The Switch has also become my platform of choice as I’m a big fan of Nintendo’s IP. Having all of the content I care about on a single, portable console is a huge draw. (Cue “put everything on Switch” chant.) The friction of bouncing between consoles or being couch-locked is removed.

But the Switch doesn’t have everything, nor can it. It is underpowered to run a healthy majority of AAA games released on PS4, Xbox One, and — the furthest in the power spectrum — the PC. Where HD Twins PS4 and Xbox One compete on the basis of exclusives and online communities/features, the PC competes on the basis of quantity and power; quantity curated by a slew of game launchers. I’d wager to bet most PC/Mac gamers have installed Steam — the heavyweight PC/Mac games store — Battle.Net Launcher (Blizzard) — the exclusive franchise launcher heavyweight — and, as of December 2018, the Epic Games Store — the home of the heavyweight game Fortnite. Regardless, short of a download and account setup, there is no friction involved open multiple game launchers for different titles on the same hardware platform.

If friction doesn’t exist, what’s the benefit to the user? None. So, what’s the point of a launcher? Other than a marketplace for multiple titles or first-party content, it’s a marketing opportunity. Third-party games have an opportunity to be showcased and sold alongside large exclusives — exclusives which attract a core audience to the launcher — which in turn nets revenue for both the platform and the third-party. Without a subscription service à la Netflix and Hulu, it’s effectively the same à la carte model used by the Nintendo eShop, Playstation Store, and Xbox One Game Store.

However, in the case of Battle.net, the launcher is now being used as a vehicle to attract Blizzard IP players to Activision titles. At the time of this post, the first featured image on Blizzard.com is a trial offer for Call of Duty: Black Ops. This offer is also available through the Battle.net launcher, which on a PC can launch both Call of Duty: Black Ops and Destiny 2.

Does this signaling Activision Blizzard’s next move?

Microsoft

I’m going to recall my previous post “Sometimes Failure Leads to Opportunity” with a little help from Ben Thompson:

On Microsoft’s big acquisitions announcement of studios Ninja Theory (DmC: Devil May Cry, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice), Playground Games (Forza Horizon), Undead Labs (State of Decay), and Compulsion Games (We Happy Few):

The Xbox One originally lagged behind the PS4 this generation due to its misguided focus on the living room (including charging $100 more at launch because of the now-discontinued Kinect that was at the center of that effort), but the bigger problem has been a lack of exclusive titles relative to the PS4. One way to counter that is to simply produce them yourself, and these purchases augment Microsoft’s ability to do just that.

This gets at purchasing many smaller studios to begin bolstering IP.

Meanwhile, Microsoft continues taking strides away from the traditional console wars.

Jason Schreier, Kotaku:

Truth is, as Team Xbox has been signaling for quite some time now, and as we’ve gathered from our own conversations with both people in and outside of the company, Microsoft is no longer interested in competing directly with Sony. That’s a battle it lost as soon as Xbox executives started outlining its original, odd plans for Xbox One in 2013. The PS4 has outperformed the Xbox One so resoundingly, Microsoft stopped providing hardware sales figures.

Instead of licking its wounds and trying to fight Sony yet again next generation, the Xbox division under Phil Spencer has taken a drastically different approach. What Microsoft wants most today is studios that will help boost its impressive Game Pass subscription service, its upcoming streaming platform, and its continued stabs at PC gaming. Developing big Xbox exclusives is no longer a priority for Microsoft, and in fact, the company decided in 2016 that it would release future games on both Xbox and PC. Soon enough, Game Pass will also be available on PC, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see Microsoft embrace Steam—or overhaul the Windows store—as it tries to reach the hundreds of millions of people who play video games on computers.

Microsoft embracing Steam would have been interesting as it may open doors to the Mac audience as well, but the latest signal from Microsoft paints a different picture.

Satya Nadella via Stratechery (members only):

We are in, quite frankly, the early days in all of this, but good momentum and we do have ambitions outside of this which I don’t think we covered particularly today with you all. Some things that I’m really invested in is gaming, and the simple idea there is we have as much of a shot to build a subscription business as anybody else. So we describe it as shorthand, “Netflix for games”, we have a structural position in that we have both a console business as well as a PC business which happens to be in fact bigger than the console business when it comes to gaming and the idea is to aggregate those sockets with a subscription service, we won’t be the only ones, there will be competition just like with other content, there may be a few subscriptions that will be successful, so we are going to go after it. The good news is, we have a huge back catalog, which is we have our own games, we bring not only users, we bring already a social network in Xbox Live, we bring content, and we’re going to go after it. We’re going to go after it with current sockets, and of course streaming is another element to it, because then can you plug in an Xbox controller into even an Android phone and play a Triple A game? We know that’s feasible, now the question is when does the cost curve on it going to be viable. So those are at a high level what we are trying to get done.

If we put this together, not only does Microsoft have a wealth of great back-catalog, they are investing heavily in smaller studios to continue the growth of first-party titles. If they do pull off the “Netflix for games” — like the Netflix model — the back-catalog and new first-party titles should come along with a rich collection of third-party games. I’ll be curious to see if Microsoft would/could bring this “Netflix for games” service to the Switch.

To take a step back, here’s the historical and (potentially) future lay of the land; color indicating first-party, gray indicating third-party, solid border indicating some sort of paywall, dotted border indicating free entry:

What should Activision do?

Putting aside if it needs to do anything differently, the question of whether or not Activision should do anything differently is nagging at me. If looked at on the whole, even with the departure of Destiny 2, Activision Blizzard accounts for monster franchises Call of Duty, Candy Crush, and all of Blizzard’s franchises. But I’d wager to bet that’s not enough. To me, that looks like a lot of eggs in only a couple of baskets. If I’m in Activision’s shoes, I‘m beginning to ask myself if I should get the jump on a subscription-based service in the Battle.Net Launcher.

If Activision Blizzard were to open a third-party storefront in the Battle.Net Launcher, indie (and potentially AAA) developers would have an opportunity to see their content alongside Blizzard IP. With an attractive revenue model, as much as I’d hate to see Blizzard’s catalog muddied with third-parties and King, Battle.net becomes an attractive service. To keep the water a little less murky, a tightly curated games store would help. To find the middle-ground between Blizzard IP and random third-parties, the utilization of Activision’s existing nine studios and/or the purchase of several indie studios a la Microsoft would bridge the gap. Battle.net would become a launcher for Blizzard’s first-class titles, Activision owned subsidiary titles, and collection of top-tier indies.

This is certainly a “let’s spend Activision Blizzard’s money” post, but short of spelling doom for Activision Blizzard with the rise of Fortnite, departure of Bungie, and Microsoft’s “Netflix of gaming”, Activision Blizzard needs a model that will continue to drive revenue in a PC world without the friction of a hardware platform. If the battle is lost, Activision Blizzard titles join the ranks of third-party titles vying for the top-spot on other launchers and platforms.

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The Xbox One X makes a lot more sense in 2018

Ben Kuchera, Polygon:

The ability to play classic games in 4K is one of the most interesting, and sometimes under-discussed, features of the Xbox One X. The system currently provides the only way to play the first Red Dead Redemption in 4K, and doing so is absolutely worth your time. The list of Xbox One X-enhanced games that are backward-compatible isn’t huge — there are currently only 21 as of this writing — but there are some jewels in there, from the original Mirror’s Edge to Portal.

I bought a 4K HDR TV last weekend. My first thought after purchasing it was, “PS4 Pro or Xbox One X?”

Thankfully for my wallet, the original PS4 supports HDR, and that’s more meaningful than 4K in my book. But had I owned neither, I’d be all over the Xbox One X.

While the breadth of catalog isn’t there, there’s certainly enough for my casual needs. But most importantly, for cross-platform games, I’d know I’m getting the best console experience on the market. That’s tough to swallow for a snob like me.

Between (enhanced) backwards-compatibility, early adoption of cross-platform multiplayer, and unmatched performance, I agree with Kuchera. This will be a holiday to watch Microsoft.

Storytelling. Corner.

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Xbox All Access Pass hardware, software, and services subscription

Ben Thompson, Stratechery Daily Update:

That noted, it is not too difficult to imagine this program morphing into something much more significant in the ninth-generation, which is due in 2020. I’ve already discussed the anticipated shift to streaming, at least for some titles; that, naturally, fits a subscription model perfectly.

What is particularly compelling, though, is idea of assuming regular hardware upgrades throughout the generation. Microsoft could, of course, simply charge its best gamers for those slight upgrades every time they come out, but what if instead of financing new consoles the model was more akin to leasing? Pay one monthly fee, get access to online services, streaming games, and new hardware every few years?

Consumer hardware as a service.

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Sometimes Failure Leads to Opportunity

Ben Thompson, Stratechery:

I’ve been pretty critical of the Xbox over the years, arguing that it failed at its strategic goal (winning the living room not just for gamers but for everyone) and didn’t make sense for Microsoft in the long run. Microsoft, though, has continued to insist that it was committed to gaming, and it backed that up at the ongoing E3 game conference.

First and foremost, if you’re not paying for Ben’s Daily Update, you’re missing out on the best business x tech analysis out there.

Ben’s latest regarding Xbox is a great snapshot of Microsoft’s motives for the future. Here are some choice quotes to summarize.

On Microsoft’s big acquisitions announcement of studios Ninja Theory (DmC: Devil May Cry, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice), Playground Games (Forza Horizon), Undead Labs (State of Decay), and Compulsion Games (We Happy Few):

The Xbox One originally lagged behind the PS4 this generation due to its misguided focus on the living room (including charging $100 more at launch because of the now-discontinued Kinect that was at the center of that effort), but the bigger problem has been a lack of exclusive titles relative to the PS4. One way to counter that is to simply produce them yourself, and these purchases augment Microsoft’s ability to do just that.

On Microsoft’s announcement of a game streaming service, “dedicated to perfecting your experience everywhere you want to play — your Xbox, your PC and your phone”:

Still, PlayStation Now requires a PS4: what EA and Microsoft are talking about is a service that works on any device, from a phone to a smart TV to a PC to a console, because all of the computation is done in the cloud, and that right there is where the Xbox suddenly starts to make a lot more strategic sense: Microsoft has a massive advantage in a future where games are predominantly cloud-based.

Ultimately, I think Ben summarized the Microsoft showcase perfectly. I do hope you read it. To end:

Indeed, I find this idea so compelling that I must formally withdraw my recommendation that Microsoft get out of gaming; I still believe that the Xbox was a failure in terms of its original goals, but sometimes failure leads to opportunity, and streaming seems to be a significant one, for both Xbox specifically and Azure generally.

I have to say, the Xbox event was my favorite of E3, with Nintendo in a close second. With that, I truly think Microsoft has turned a storytelling corner.

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