OPINION: Microsoft wants a platform-agnostic future. Buying the world’s biggest studios might force Sony to agree to the unthinkable – Xbox Game Pass on PS5. It would end the console wars as we know them
Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass on the Sony PS5 games console. It sounds outlandish doesn’t it? It’d be like Wonder Woman showing up a Marvel movie with Superman on her arm, getting all up in Thor’s business. It just wouldn’t happen, right?
However, if Microsoft continues to colonise iconic gaming studios, we may finally see gaming’s biggest universes collide in a previously unthinkable way. There’s a chance we’re already beyond that tipping point. After Microsoft’s blockbuster purchase of Activision Blizzard, there’s now serious doubt over whether the next Call of Duty game – to name but one in-limbo franchise – will be available on the PS5.
That would have been unthinkable to many gamers who managed to snag a new PlayStation over the holidays. However, the fact remains that, CoD is about to become a first-party Microsoft property. If Microsoft keeps Call of Duty and others as Xbox and PC-exclusives, Sony would surely have to seriously consider what I believe to be Microsoft’s ultimate endgame here: to bring its Xbox Game Pass service to PS5.
Content vs console
Microsoft’s decision to spend an unfathomable amount of money on Activision Blizzard, makes one thing patently clear: the Xbox maker took its hammering in the last-generation console war really personally. Microsoft took a beating in the PS4 vs Xbox One battle, and has spent the first year of the rematch attempting to nullify Sony’s deadly weapon – exclusive games.
For Xbox, it’s no longer all about Halo, Gears and Forza. If Microsoft so chooses, it can now command Xbox console exclusivity over franchises like Call of Duty, Crash Bandicoot, Diablo, Spyro, Overwatch, Tony Hawk, Warcraft, Doom, Fallout, The Elder Scrolls, Wolfenstein, Quake and the forthcoming Starcraft. Wow. That’s from the last two acquisitions of ZeniMax Media and Activision Blizzard alone.
That choice is important. It’ll define the future of console gaming.
And right now, it feels like Phil Spencer – the newly minted CEO of Microsoft Gaming – is enjoying his position as gaming’s all-powerful puppet-master. There’s a certain ‘maybe I’ll throw you a bone, maybe I won’t’ vagueness to his recent comments.
He’s adamant he doesn’t want to “pull communities away” from their favourite games, just because they’re playing on PlayStation consoles. However, there could be a kicker in the post. Perhaps PS5 owners only play the next Call of Duty, by inviting the enemy into the marital bed.
Rather than appearing the bad guy for pulling staple franchises from the PS5, Spencer could put the onus on Sony to accept Game Pass on PlayStation and enable gamers to maintain access to everything they’re used to, and a whole lot more. Spencer could say “we want to do it, but Sony won’t let us.”
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If you can’t beat them, join them?
Sony has its exclusives too. It can have every confidence that God of War: Ragnarok, Horizon Forbidden West, Gran Turismo 7 (and whatever Naughty Dog is up to next) will keep PS5 gamers happy, but once those gamers start to lose third-party titles they’ve taken for granted, the picture could change significantly.
Sony’s response could be drastic. It could be weighing up a move for EA, Ubisoft, Square Enix, Konami or Capcom, and fight fire with fire. That would be unquestionably bad for gamers. Whereas, previously, only a few exclusives made the difference, the entire market could effectively be split down the middle. We’d have a duopoly.
Or, Sony could accept Microsoft’s vision for gaming’s future: That gaming happens anywhere and everywhere, where the branding on the hardware is secondary to the experience and cloud tech that powers everything.
The latter would unlock so many possibilities. Whatever Sony comes up with to rival Game Pass could also go platform agnostic, effectively ending the console wars as we have known them since Nintendo and Sega first locked horns more than 30 years ago. It’d effectively end the last, restrictive vestige of the entertainment world, where hardware brands determine which content you can enjoy.