Alongside the big hardware reveal, Microsoft’s Xbox conference E3 2017 was basically a massive slate of games unveiled in rapid-fire succession, often with barely enough time to absorb the details of one game before another was shown. But tucked away in that dense cluster were quite a few pleasant surprises, particularly if you’re someone with a subpar PC who’s been looking with envy at your PC master race friends. Microsoft seems committed to chasing down some of the PC’s hottest games and getting them tucked neatly into its four platform service (counting Windows 10 PCs, Xbox One and the forthcoming Xbox One S and the nee-Scorpio Xbox One X).
Grabbing early console exclusive rights to PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, the island of death survival shooter that’s taken Steam and Twitch by storm (to the tune of millions and millions of dollars) makes a ton of sense, and was something a number of pundits were predicting ahead of E3. But more surprising were reveals of the free-to-play action RPG Path of Exile, a Steam stalwart that rivals Diablo for compulsive playability, and the promising early access MMO Conan Exiles.
Both games have garnered a ton of attention in PC circles and, importantly, both games are very reliant on big online, multiplayer communities. Doubling down even further was the glimpse Microsoft afforded us of Black Desert; Black Desert Online is a Korean MMO with some bold ideas about the future of that genre, like player-owned cities and massive sieges.
After more than a decade of Sony and Microsoft talking a big game about bringing proper MMO experiences to consoles, and some genuine progress in that direction in the last few years, it’s nice to see one of the platform holders really wading into this space. And it makes sense for Microsoft, with its ties to PC and ambitious cross-platform plans, to gather some of the cream of the PC crop for its “most powerful console ever made.”
Console hardware will never be able to keep pace with cutting edge PCs, of course, but delivering some comparable games on console or letting you play the games you’ve been drooling over with your friends that are already playing on PC is a great way to distinguish the Xbox One X. And it’s also a step towards trying to take back some of the ground that Sony’s gained in the current generation.
Microsoft has made some smart choices in the games it cherry-picked, too. Not only are these games some of the best multiplayer games on PC (and some of the hottest, games that are squarely in the zeitgeist right now, particularly Battlegrounds), but they’re all from very different genres. Microsoft made a big deal of delivering a diverse roster of games for their new hardware, and in the titles they sniped from PC they succeeded. Path of Exile is a loot-drive, isometric hack and slash RPG, Battlegrounds an arena shooter, and Black Desert is a direct control 3rd person MMO. None of these games are the sort of deeply traditional (and fully exhausted) standard MMOs you might expect a newcomer to pluck out when trying to push into the MMO market, and they’re all very different in terms of control and presentation and core gameplay.
The idea that consoles are really just custom PCs built specifically for gaming has never felt more true, and the line between what is a ‘hardcore PC game’ and what’s traditionally a console game has never been blurrier. Microsoft seems intent on bringing games that normally languished on PC to their console and showcasing the power of their console not only in terms of flashy graphics, but with its ability to handle new and complex systems and massive numbers of simultaneous players. Making games prettier in no way ensures that they’re better, as any number of hardcore Forza Motorsport fans will be happy to tell you.
The other, more subtle message here is that Microsoft wants to build communities around these games on its platforms, the way those same games have attracted large fan bases on PC. The ideal result here for the Xbox team is that some of these top tier PC games pull in players who may have been on the fence about buying a console, and those players go on to buy other games and get properly hooked into the Microsoft ecosystem. The more ‘play anywhere’, Windows 10 / Xbox One games that get revealed, the more likely that kind of crossover is to happen.
Even for players solely on PC, pulling them into the Windows 10 store gives Microsoft an opportunity to advertise its consoles and try to tantalize them with exclusives. It’s a smart play from a number of angles and is deftly tucked into the larger Xbox strategy, which seems to be steadily gaining momentum. The ball is very much in Sony’s court.