Microsoft's problem has always been figuring out how to sell you an Xbox One.
The system’s entire digital hook, as we’ve discussed before, was rejected before it launched. The Kinect is long gone. The Xbox One has long remained a less powerful alternative to the PlayStation 4, while often costing more.
Microsoft’s answer, for a while at least, was exclusives. The games you can’t buy anywhere else, and would bring fans to the hardware. The Halo series. Forza. Gears of War. Even Titanfall, to an extent, served to get people in the door. Who cares if the games might have looked a little bit better were they to exist on the PC or PlayStation 4? The reality is they don’t. There was only one way to play, and that was to buy an Xbox One.
Hell, fans of the console became angry when Quantum Break was given away on the PC with purchase of the Xbox One version. It may seem a little silly from the outside, but it makes sense once you think about it from the point of view of an Xbox One owner. If the exclusives go away, why own the system at all?
The Play Anywhere program removes console exclusivity from Microsoft’s biggest games, at least that have so far been announced. You can buy the game once, get it on the Xbox One and PC, and any DLC or content you buy for one platform will work on the other. You don’t have to worry about your favorite Microsoft-published games coming to the PC, they’re already planned to launch alongside the console version.
The initiative launches on September 13, and removes nearly all need to buy an Xbox One for upcoming games. Here’s the secret: It’s unlikely that Microsoft gives a shit if you buy an Xbox One in the next 18 months or so.
Why this makes sense
What Microsoft wants to do, somewhat desperately, is to get you into Windows 10. The company gave the OS away as a free upgrade, then it began to remind you that you could get the OS if you wanted with frequent "ads" for itself on your desktop and then it finally threw its figurative hands up in the air and gave it to you whether you wanted it or not.
I upgraded to Windows 10 when it became clear I had little choice in the matter; I wanted to make sure I upgraded at a time when I wasn't working on anything and could ensure the process went smoothly. If it’s going to happen, you may as well makes sure it happens at least partially on your terms.
If those strategies are the stick, Play Anywhere is the carrot. It requires Windows 10, as well as the summer update for the Xbox One. There are a lot of interesting things happening here; check out this statement:
"The Windows 10 Anniversary Update and the related Xbox update coming this summer will enable the Windows Store on Windows 10 and Xbox One to support Xbox Play Anywhere games," a Microsoft spokesperson told Polygon. "Then, beginning with the launch of ReCore this fall and continuing with Forza Horizon 3, Gears of War 4, Halo Wars 2 and others, when you digitally purchase a game that supports Xbox Play Anywhere, you have access to the game on both Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs for one price and your progress, game saves and achievements are shared seamlessly across both platforms."
If those strategies are the stick, Play Anywhere is the carrot
I dig this a lot, and if anything it’s made me want to trade in my Xbox One while I can still get the most credit for it. Why not? All the big upcoming games of the next year or so are coming to my PlayStation 4 or PC, and all the big Microsoft-controlled exclusives are now also coming to my PC! Why keep the Xbox One around?
But think about how valuable a customer I’ve become for Microsoft in this scenario. I’m buying my games through the official Microsoft store on Windows 10, when I used to do everything in my power to avoid that. I’m running Windows 10 at all, because Microsoft put the screws to me and I felt like I had little choice in the matter. Even without an Xbox One, I’m buying and playing Microsoft’s big games, and my progress and DLC purchases will be kept for me if I ever decide to buy an Xbox One again or the upcoming Project Scorpio, an Xbox One update that Microsoft hopes will once again give it the graphical edge in the console wars.
We should also note that Play Anywhere only works with the digital versions of the games, so no more GameStop getting my money or my game trade-ins. Microsoft, in one go, converted me into a customer of its services and storefronts it wants me to use while making sure I had no incentive to buy the physical product. And I still feel like I’m getting a pretty good deal!
So let’s say I’m only playing these Microsoft exclusives on my PC for now, because I don’t have any Xbox One systems in my home. Microsoft has over a year to launch Scorpio, and you better believe the company is hard at work giving you reasons to buy that hardware. If I’m going back and forth between a Scorpio and a PlayStation 4 Neo, it’s very possible that having a digital library of games ready for the Scorpio might sway me towards Microsoft. It’s a great play in the short and medium term for Microsoft.
If anything this initiative locks you into their ecosystem even deeper, while players feel like they’re getting more for their money. It may also help introduce more PC players to Scorpio if those players feel like they have a library ready to go from their PC, and their progress and DLC is carried over.
So for now many of us may feel like we don’t need to keep our Xbox Ones to play future exclusives, and if you don’t have one already and can hold out for the Scorpio? That may be the wise play. Play Anywhere is still a shrewd move to draw you in, draw you deeper or keep you in the loving hands of Microsoft, however.
I’m not complaining.