We’re never going to get the hard numbers we all want, but Microsoft does have some good Xbox milestones to share from last year. And they do point to a healthy and engaged ecosystem and, frankly, a healthy engaged Xbox team. Both are great for gamers.
“Some of the most visionary developers unfurled some of their best and most enduring worlds yet, and players came together from around the world in new ways,” Microsoft’s Will Tuttle writes in the Xbox Wire announcement about 2018.
Here are some of the highlights.
Xbox Game Pass. Microsoft added 116 additional game titles to its Xbox Game Pass subscription, which I consider to be both Xbox’s crown jewel and its path forward. There are now over 65 game makers participating in Xbox Game Pass—up from 25 at launch in June 2017—and there are over 50 games from developers in the [email protected] program. Best of all, perhaps, 17 games launched day and date in Xbox Game Pass concurrently with their broader public releases, so this isn’t like Netflix where you get to see only yesterday’s hits today.
First-party content. One of the big criticisms of Xbox is that Microsoft doesn’t have enough first-party and console exclusive content. I think that argument is mostly crap, as the Xbox One game library is jam-packed with high-quality offerings, and I’ve never understood why the availability of a game I like playing on a different console in any way impacts me or Xbox. But no matter: Microsoft acquired or otherwise brought seven game studios in-house in 2018, including Playground Games, Ninja Theory, Undead Labs, Compulsion Games, InXile Entertainment, Obsidian Entertainment, and The Initiative.
Backward Compatibility. One of the big benefits of the Xbox platform is Microsoft’s commitment to Backward Compatibility, by which it brings games from previous console generations—the original Xbox and Xbox 360—forward to Xbox One, helping to protect gamers’ investments. In 2018, the firm added over 100 new titles to Backward Compatibility, bringing the catalog to over 550 games. And 57 of them are specifically Xbox One X Enhanced.
Popular games. Some of Microsoft’s blockbuster game releases in 2018 were, as you might expect, quite popular. Forza Horizon 4 is the highest-rated Xbox exclusive of this generation (meaning both Xbox One and Windows 10) and over two million gamers were playing the game in its first week of availability. Sea of Thieves was the first Microsoft Studios title to launch day and date in both Xbox Game Pass and retail in March, and Microsoft says it was the fastest-selling new Xbox intellectual property of the generation.
[email protected] In addition to the Xbox Game Pass milestone noted above, Microsoft’s indie game developer program saw its 100th title published in 2018. And gamers spent over 4 billion hours playing [email protected] games last year.
Cross-network play. Despite Sony’s sad attempts at blocking cross-platform play on the PlayStation 4, Microsoft saw great success in opening up its platforms to games that chose other hardware. Microsoft teamed with Epic to provide cross-network play in Fornite, which impacted almost 80 million gamers. And Microsoft teamed with Nintendo last year, too, to bring Minecraft cross-play to Nintendo Switch, Windows 10, Xbox One, and mobile. This community boasts over 90 million players.
Mixer. Microsoft’s gameplay streaming platform may be an also-ran compared to big players like Twitch and YouTube, but it racked up some significant improvements in 2018 and saw its active monthly users jump from 10 million in January to over 20 million by the end of the year.
Looking ahead, Microsoft points to some milestones we expect for 2019—like the releases of Crackdown 3, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Gears of War 5, Gears Pop!, and Minecraft: Dungeons—while promising some surprises as well. I’m looking forward to the next-generation Xbox console, which should neatly leap-frog the Xbox One X and offer consistent 4K/60FPS experiences, and a long-due Xbox Elite Controller the most. But there will be many more game announcements to come, as well, of course, and then there’s Microsoft’s future game streaming service to consider. Point being, it should be a news-packed year for Xbox. Again.