Almost one month ago to the date,
a colleague of mine claimed that Gamescom was Microsoft’s opportunity to fight back against Sony’s hold over the European console market. Indeed, Sony opted against hosting a press conference, and Nintendo is suspiciously absent from the 180,000 square meters of German marketing space, as well as the odd 400,000 event visitors and countless others on live streams. As a result, Microsoft found itself in a metaphorical boxing ring with no competitors.
One might be forgiven for thinking, then, that Microsoft would follow the trend and provide a rather terse briefing at Gamescom. However, the company made no such mistakes. Xbox head
Phil Spencer vowed to bring at least three big exclusive titles to the table alongside “a real show” and strong first-party support, and Microsoft delivered. As it was, before the doors of Gamescom even opened, Microsoft was in a position to gain some much-needed ground in Europe.
Microsoft had earlier dubbed its 2015 lineup “the greatest in Xbox history,” and with Rare Replay (currently sitting at a comfortable 85 on Metacritic) serving as the opening act, Microsoft certainly set a high bar for itself. The Gamescom briefing continued in strong fashion, with a flurry of Microsoft-exclusive titles such as Scalebound, Crackdown 3, and Quantum Break—just to name a few—all being shone upon by Gamescom’s bright spotlight. All three games are exclusive to Xbox One, and notably, all three were omitted from Microsoft’s E3 lineup, with the company already having one eye on Europe. While Nintendo had overlooked the event, and Sony’s floor exhibit at Gamescom being listed only a handful of days ago, Microsoft was saving its big guns for Europe, and, with its two rivals out of the competition, was pulling no punches.
The company showed no shortage of independent games, either. So far, [email protected] has been a successful endeavor, if one may say so, with 40 titles already released through the program, and with well over 30 more headed our way, including surprise appearances from games like ARK: Survival Evolved and Cities: Skylines (and let us not forget the adorable Cuphead in the dust, either).
There is one franchise both Sony and Microsoft can rely on to push sales: FIFA. And Microsoft is doing everything possible to capitalize on that. Two new Xbox One bundles, with FIFA 16 and EA Access included, was a signal of intent towards the European market, where FIFA sales surge regularly (as an example, FIFA 15 sold over 5 million copies on its launch). As a cherry on top, 60 new Legends players are making their way to FIFA 16 on Xbox One. Combined with Microsoft’s promise that all future Xbox Games With Gold titles will be backwards-compatible at launch, it shows just how committed Microsoft is to a strong presence in Europe.
Furthermore, Microsoft still holds within its hand one final trump card. Microsoft may not be the king of first-party games—that title is still reserved for Nintendo—but few games can push console sales quite like
Halo does. Microsoft sold over 1 million copies of Halo: The Master Chief Collection, a disc that is nothing more than a re-release of Halo games past, in its opening week speaks volumes. In addition, Microsoft is pushing a Spielberg-directed Halo TV series, as well as the freshly announced strategy title Halo Wars 2. However, all that is but a mere hors d’oeuvre in comparison to the main meal: Halo 5: Guardians.
If one may only use one word with which to describe Halo 5, “eSports” is certainly a good candidate. Microsoft appears to have taken notice of the blossoming eSports scene, something that was very much reflected in the Halo 5 presentation. A heavy multiplayer focus with 24-player matches, alongside a full Capture The Flag game with professional shoutcasters to boot was enough to make Microsoft’s aspirations for Halo 5: Guardians abundantly clear. Combined with a stunning 1TB Xbox One Halo 5 Limited Edition bundle, Microsoft pulled out all the stops in the effort to make Halo 5: Guardians this year’s must-have software.
It may very well appear then, at first glance, that Microsoft has run out of playing cards, to continue the earlier metaphor. However, much like how
Quantum Break, Crackdown 3, and Scalebound were omitted from E3, three additional Xbox One-exclusive games were omitted from Gamescom; ReCore, Sea of Thieves, and Gears of War 4 have been saved like fine wine, to be opened for a special occasion in Microsoft’s bid to win over the European market (Paris Games Week later this year springs to mind).
And yet, despite all Microsoft has got going for it, and in spite of its strong Gamescom briefing, it still remains to be seen if all that effort will be converted into European sales. With up to 90% of the market firmly secured by the PlayStation 4, Microsoft and the Xbox One face a gargantuan task to gain some market share, having already lost the battle in Japan. However, if the roaring and thunderous applause following its Gamescom briefing is any indication, Microsoft may have a fighting chance in Europe after all.