Cross-play is a strange thing. The idea of playing a game on my console against people playing on another device just seems really cool and inclusive. But while in theory it might be exciting, in practice it doesn’t make much sense. That’s essentially Microsoft’s cross play model with Fable Legends—interesting, but confusing.
Maybe I’m being a little old fashioned here, but this idea just doesn’t seem like it could work. Microsoft is in a situation where their new home console doesn’t have as much hype compared to its competition. Although recently the Xbox One has put together a string of months (November and December) where it outsold the PlayStation 4 in North America. Worldwide, the PlayStation 4 sold 18.5 million units, whereas the Xbox One shipped 10 million. It’s not a huge difference, but it’s difference enough. Despite that, Microsoft says that they sold 50 per cent more Xbox Ones than 360s at the same point in their life cycles. That’s something to be proud of, but the industry wasn’t doubling the revenue of movies back then.
One of the big reasons for Microsoft’s success lately is part price drop, part exclusive content. Taking the price drop out of the equation we’re left with Microsoft’s exclusive library. Because, let’s be honest here you don’t hear much about games running better on the Xbox One, but there have been issues in the past where games run worse (looking at you Watch_Dogs). The big exclusive draws for the system are Sunset Overdrive (which came out on October 28) and Halo: The Master Chief Collection (which came out on November 11). The release dates show why November was so strong with a game released at the end of October, followed by a release just shy of mid-November—strategically these games helped carry them through the holiday season. There was a time when Fable was one of Microsoft’s bigger IPs, not quite on the level of Halo but still a big deal. Its first and third games were actually released on PC as well. The second wasn’t though. Despite that, it managed to be the best selling game across all platforms in the month of October 2008.
High quality games keep eyes on any console. But if they’re available for on other platforms, it takes focus off the system Microsoft needs to sell--unless that’s not the company’s focus anymore. But that isn’t very good business. Yes, the money goes to Microsoft anyway, but consoles are sold at a loss for years until they break even. A monolithic company like the house that Windows built can withstand it, but eventually there has to be some profit. And exclusive content is one of the most important things for a console to sell.
I just don’t see a situation where taking one of the more recognizable exclusive IPs in the Xbox’s library and making it accessible on other platforms will bring new gamers to their media hub. Cross-play is a very intriguing concept, but there are more PCs in the world than Xbox Ones. Microsoft could shoot itself by releasing this game on both. There is a market of gamers who have already made a decision for their console and it wasn’t Xbox One, but have the expendable cash to potentially have a second system. By releasing a large IP on PC as well, it just doesn’t make sense to buy an Xbox One.
Maybe I’m overestimating the appeal of Fable, or maybe I’m underestimating the appeal of cross play, but when exclusives aren’t really exclusives a console can lose its lustre. Hopefully this isn’t a trend Microsoft peruses because every game they release on PC, the easier it is to find reasons to not buy that chunky vented console. And if they’re already losing the battle, then they won’t do themselves any favours with this.