In a recent interview with The Guardian, Phil Spencer said that games like Overwatch which recently crossed 30 million players have more of an impact in terms of sales than single-player experiences such as Horizon Zero Dawn which sold a fraction of that. This wasn’t the case a few years ago because single-player adventures dominated the space. However, as the focus on replayability and value has become an important topic and consideration for gamers, multiplayer titles are dominating the industry. Just look at Halo 5: Guardians. Despite its weak campaign, the player count stood at 16.5 million a year ago before its trial and free-to-play Windows 10 version released. Gamers want titles which they can regularly come back to, and having a solid multiplayer component is key to that. Spencer added:
“The audience for those big story-driven games…I won’t say it isn’t as large, but they’re not as consistent. You’ll have things like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or Horizon Zero Dawn that’ll come out, and they’ll do really well, but they don’t have the same impact that they used to have because the big service-based games are capturing such a large amount of the audience. Sony’s first-party studios do a lot of these games, and they’re good at them, but outside of that, it’s difficult–they’ve become more rare…It’s a difficult business decision for those teams, you’re fighting into more headwind. We’ve got to understand that if we enjoy those games, the business opportunity has to be there for them. I love story-based games. I just finished Thimbleweed Park…Inside was probably my game of last year. As an industry, I want to make sure both narrative-driven single-player games and service-based games have the opportunity to succeed. I think that’s critical for us.”
While I agree with Spencer’s analysis of recent industry trends. I think it’s necessary for Microsoft to invest in strong single-player games along the lines of The Last of Us. Right now the company relies on multiplayer titles and games like Halo 5: Guardians and Gears of War 4 are proof of that. While they’re a great way to make money through microtransactions, they don’t elevate the standing of the brand. In order to grow as a company, and change the perception people have of the Xbox brand—one which lacks meaningful, mature first-party games—Microsoft has to support single-player experiences more in the future. They already have an exceptional multiplayer portfolio. If the quality is there, sales will come. You don’t need to have 30 million players like Overwatch to be successful.