Video Games

Former Xbox exclusive Pentiment is coming to Switch on February 22

Thanks to today's Nintendo Direct focused on third-party games, we now know the identity of two of the four Xbox titles that Microsoft pledged to release on "the other consoles." One of them is Pentiment, which is coming to Nintendo Switch on February 22 (i.e. tomorrow). The other is multiplayer title Grounded, which will arrive on Switch on April 16.

Pentiment debuted on Xbox, PC and Xbox Cloud Gaming in late 2022, and it was well received by critics. The RPG has an eye-catching historical art style that fits the story a small team at Obsidian wanted to tell. Still, it's a bit of a niche game and one that game director Josh Sawyer admits would never have been possible without Game Pass.

"The old mentality of publishers and developers is generally focused on larger investments with higher [return on investment], and that's not the point in this environment, in this ecosystem," Sawyer told Waypoint Radio, as noted by Eurogamer. "[Game Pass] is the only way in which I conceive of [Pentiment] being viable."

That makes it particularly intriguing that Xbox picked Pentiment as one of the four games it's bringing to other consoles (it's worth noting that the number of Game Pass subscribers hasn't actually grown much over the last couple of years). Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer said earlier this month the titles in question had all been on Xbox and PC for at least a year and that they had reached their "full potential" on those platforms. 

Two of the games are community-driven (i.e. multiplayer titles), and Grounded is clearly one of those. The Honey, I Shrunk The Kids-inspired survival game has been around for a few years. It debuted in early access in July 2020 before its full release in September 2022.

The other two games crossing the great divide are "smaller games that were never really meant to be built as kind of platform exclusives and all the fanfare that goes around that, but games that our teams really wanted to go build," Spencer said. Pentiment more or less falls into that category and had been rumored as one of the games to hit Switch and/or PlayStation. The other two Xbox games expected to come to other consoles are Hi-Fi Rush and Sea of Thieves.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/former-xbox-exclusive-pentiment-is-coming-to-switch-on-february-22-143345195.html?src=rss

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There’s a Pokémon Presents livestream scheduled for February 27

The Pokémon Company is hosting a morning livestream on February 27 at 9AM ET to share “exciting Pokémon news” on its official YouTube channel. The yearly stream, appropriately named Pokémon Presents, will provide a bunch of info about what’s coming down the pike throughout 2024.

The company does this stream every year, but this one could be special. After all, it happens to fall exactly on the totally not made-up holiday Pokémon Day, which celebrates the original Japanese release of Pokémon Red and Pokémon Green back in 1996.

We don’t know exactly what will be shown, but we have some informed guesses. Given previous Pokémon Presents streams, we’ll likely get updates on live-service hits like Pokémon Go, the MOBA Pokémon Unite and the recently-released tracking app Pokémon Sleep.

Dollars to doughnuts, we’ll also get something more substantial to chew on. Most of these streams feature the announcement of an actual Pokémon RPG. Chronologically speaking, it’s too soon to expect a reveal for the true next-gen Pokémon game, as Scarlet and Violet just launched in 2022. The mainline entries typically follow a three-year release cycle.

That leaves remakes and spinoffs. Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl released in 2021 so it’s high-time for remakes of the beloved Pokémon Black and White fifth-gen titles. This is just a guess, but it’s not like the Pokémon Company is gonna skip a generation in its remake-a-palooza. It’s Black and White’s turn to shine.

There’s also a chance we’ll get a new Let’s Go title set in another region of the Poké-verse. We could even get a new action RPG like Pokémon Legends: Arceus. There’s always going to be some oddball announcements, like a new Pokémon Mystery Dungeon or even a new Pokémon Art Academy that integrates the Switch’s touchscreen.

You should expect some announcements regarding content set in the Pokémon cinematic universe. The delightfully quirky stop-motion show Pokémon Concierge was just renewed for a second season, so we could see a teaser. There could also be a trailer for a new season of Pokémon Horizons: The Series.

Also, to throw a bit of cold water on expectations, this is a stream conducted by The Pokémon Company, and not Nintendo. You won’t catch a whiff of software planned for the Switch 2, or whatever the new console ends up being called. Rumors swirl that the release of that console has been delayed until 2025. Nintendo’s holding its own Direct livestream tomorrow, but it’ll focus on third-party titles and will likely not include any news on the forthcoming console.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/theres-a-pokemon-presents-livestream-scheduled-for-february-27-173512254.html?src=rss

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Wednesday’s Nintendo Direct will focus on upcoming third-party releases

The next Nintendo Direct is scheduled for this Wednesday, the company just announced. It's being billed as a "partner showcase," with Nintendo saying it'll show off Switch games coming in the first half of this year from "our publishing and development partners." It'll kick off on February 21, bright and early at 9AM ET. 

While Nintendo holds these showcases on a regular basis, this one is potentially more significant than usual. Last week, Microsoft made an expected but still surprising announcement that it would begin bringing some of its titles to "other consoles," a phrase that's hard not to interpret as games coming to the Switch (and Sony's PlayStation 5 as well). 

Nintendo says it'll be a 25-minute presentation, so there's a chance we'll hear about some games from other developers, as well. But we're all expecting to see some news about what games Microsoft is going to bring over to the Switch. Microsoft only said that it would be bringing four games to other platforms but didn't name them; the latest rumors cite Hi-Fi Rush, Sea of Thieves, Halo and Gears of War as likely options to make the move.

This comes at a time when Nintendo doesn't have a lot of its own first-party games scheduled for the platform (that we know of, anyway). There's also the looming specter of a Switch 2 console; reports just said that the hardware is getting pushed back to 2025 after an expected launch at some point this year.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/wednesdays-nintendo-direct-will-focus-on-upcoming-third-party-releases-221910223.html?src=rss

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Microsoft should exit the console business

After listening to yesterday’s Xbox Podcast, where the company announced it was bringing four older titles to non-Xbox consoles, a question popped into my head: Why does Microsoft, a software and services company, need a console business?

The same question was asked when The Rock announced the original Xbox console in 2001, but the industry has changed a lot in 23 years, and it’s worth asking again. Microsoft, after initially struggling to make an impact with the Xbox, firmly established itself as a top player with the Xbox 360, before settling for second place with the Xbox One and currently finding itself in a distant third with the Xbox Series consoles.

As much as the industry has changed, no company in it has changed more than Microsoft. It is now a mega-publisher of games, with over 30 in-house studios. Many of these development teams are world-renowned, with a rich, multi-platform history. It’s also the operator of one of the largest game subscription services in the world, Game Pass. Microsoft’s plan has been clear for all to see: Sell a console and upsell a subscription service filled with games produced at cost by in-house studios.

There’s just one problem: It doesn’t have the audience.

Key art of Lilith, Diablo IV's main antagonist, showing glowing eyes, dripping black stuff from the eyes (mascara?) and ram-like horns.
Diablo IV, released June 5, 2023, will be the first Activision Blizzard game on Game Pass next month.
Blizzard Entertainment

The pandemic years saw rapid growth of Game Pass, which rose from 10 million subscribers in April 2020 to 25 million in January 2022. Since then, it’s added just 9 million subscribers, with the current total standing at 34 million. Any thoughts that Game Pass could emulate Netflix’s decade of growth are long-gone, but there’s a crucial difference between the two services: Netflix doesn’t try to sell its customers $400 boxes to watch Netflix.

Microsoft has struggled with the duality of its gaming strategy: A subscription service requires a constant churn of content to feel worthwhile, but a console requires “system sellers” that attract people to buy it over the competition. Those are very different things, with wildly different budgets and timelines. Game Pass, no matter how attractive, is not a system seller by itself.

While Microsoft has balanced its dual goals of Game Pass growth and console sales, its competitors have stolen its audience. Nintendo and Sony are laser-focused on exclusive experiences for their customers, which they both see as key to selling consoles. Microsoft has once again found its hardware outsold 2:1 by Sony, and the Switch has likely outsold the Xbox One and Xbox Series consoles combined. While Sony is increasingly understanding the power of the PC market, and Nintendo is still maintaining at least a couple of its money-spinning mobile games, there is little chance of either company’s overall console strategy changing.

Pentiment
Pentiment, released November 15, 2022, is rumored to be one of the first Xbox exclusives coming to other consoles.
Microsoft

Microsoft’s pledge to bring four unnamed titles to “other consoles,” then, is intriguing. I subscribe to Game Pass, but I’m not sure I would’ve paid $30 for Hi-Fi Rush or $40 for Grounded, no matter how much I enjoy either of those games. From the way Xbox chief Phil Spencer described the company's cross-platform quartet, there seems a reasonable chance that those games, together with Pentiment and Sea of Thieves, are the subject of this experiment:

“We looked at games that are over a year old … A couple of the games are community-driven games, new games, kind of first iterations of a franchise that have reached their full potential, let's say, on Xbox and PC … Two of the other games are smaller games that were never really meant to be built as kind of platform exclusives and all the fanfare that goes around that, but games that our teams really wanted to go build that we love supporting creative endeavors across our studios regardless of size.”

Porting these four titles to other platforms is not going to do much to change Microsoft’s fortunes. Yes, I’m pleased that more people will get a chance to play Hi-Fi Rush and Pentiment, and I’m sure Microsoft will make some money from Switch and PlayStation owners. But from Microsoft’s perspective, why give your potential audience four fewer reasons to buy an Xbox?

Cloud streaming, and the ability to turn any screen into an Xbox, is clearly the long-term plan for Microsoft. There has been some progress in getting its app on more platforms, but few TVs or streaming boxes support Microsoft’s Game Pass app for cloud streaming, and Xbox Cloud still isn’t close enough to local play to be a viable option for many games. More expensive options like GeForce Now show some promise, but it’s clear that cloud gaming is not going to be a viable primary gaming platform for the masses for many years.

game controller
Xbox Cloud Gaming is available through an Android app or via a browser on iOS.
8BitDo

In the meantime, what does Microsoft do? We’re likely approaching the midway point of this console generation, and its current systems have a comparatively tiny audience. Game Pass subscriptions are slowing, and there isn’t a viable way for PlayStation or Switch players who don’t own a gaming PC to play Xbox games. It’s a lot like the Xbox One generation, except Microsoft now owns roughly $76 billion more game studios. In this landscape, it’s easy to understand the rumors of top-tier Xbox games being released on other consoles after a brief exclusivity window.

The economics of making big games for small audiences are tough. 2024 looks set to be a better year for Microsoft, with first-party titles like Hellblade II, Indiana Jones and the Great Circle and Avowed on the way. But even combined, it seems unlikely that these titles will grow Xbox sales or Game Pass subscriptions significantly. Few gamers are willing to commit to a second console, let alone a third.

As a third-tier player in the console market, there’s really no easy road to success. To release AAA titles on PlayStation would increase the sales of Microsoft games massively, but it could also erase the point of owning an Xbox. Microsoft could probably afford to go multiplatform while maintaining a console business if it had some true AAA franchises to hold back, but despite spending $69 billion on Activision Blizzard, it agreed to not make its new-found system seller, Call of Duty, exclusive to Xbox until 2034. Halo and Forza are not enough in 2024.

So… maybe it’s time for Microsoft to stop making consoles, and just focus on becoming the biggest company in gaming. I’d almost suggest that was the plan, were it not for Phil Spencer confirming future hardware was on the way. It’s obviously not viable to abandon this console generation, but it’s definitely viable to begin planning for a graceful exit from hardware by developing for rival platforms.

If Microsoft believes in the transition to cloud gaming, it should not be planning to release a next-generation console. Why keep losing a console war you believe is about to end? Stepping back from its competition with Sony and focusing on making the best games for the largest audience would put the Xbox division in the strongest position to capitalize on the post-console future. Publishers like Ubisoft and EA already sell subscriptions on the PlayStation store, and Microsoft could, too — a subscription with every Call of Duty and Bethesda game would probably go down well with PlayStation gamers.

While Microsoft waits for cloud gaming to become viable for the billions of active players around the world, the best place for its games, and Game Pass, might be PlayStation, Switch and PC.

Jessica Conditt contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/microsoft-should-exit-the-console-business-160023834.html?src=rss

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Xbox Game Pass subscriptions have begun to taper off

Game Pass, Microsoft’s subscription service for games, has 34 million subscribers as of February 2024. Microsoft revealed the number in a blog post where it shared its plan about the future of the Xbox business.

The latest number reveals that Game Pass growth has slowed down drastically. It took Microsoft three years since Game Pass launched in 2017 to get to 10 million subscribers in April 2020. In the next five months, the company added five million subscribers, and hit 18 million subscribers by January 2021, a growth rate of nearly 90 percent per year. A year later, the company announced that Game Pass had 25 million subscribers. Over the last two years, Game Pass has added nine million subscribers, which would be an average annual increase of just 18 percent.

Game Pass lets players pay a monthly fee to Microsoft for unlimited access to an evolving library of games that they can play on their consoles or PCs. In an announcement on Thursday, the brand’s leaders revealed plans to bring Xbox games to more platforms including the PlayStation 5 and the Nintendo Switch, both of which have far more users than Xbox. There are currently no plans to offer Game Pass on either Sony or Nintendo's platforms.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/xbox-game-pass-subscriptions-have-begun-to-taper-off-225335361.html?src=rss

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Diablo IV will be the first Activision Blizzard title on Xbox Game Pass

The first Activision Blizzard game to join Xbox Game Pass will be Diablo IV, and it's due to land on March 28. The move means Diablo IV will be playable on Xbox and PC at no extra charge to Game Pass members — of which there are 34 million, Xbox announced today

This is just the first step in Xbox's broader plan to offer Activision Blizzard titles in its monthly subscription service, now that Microsoft fully owns the studio.

"There will be even more to play as we begin to fulfill our commitment to offer Activision and Blizzard games with Game Pass, both new releases and classic games from its legendary catalog," the Xbox Wire reads. Xbox plans to share more information about additional Activision Blizzard titles hitting Game Pass "soon."

Diablo IV is a big get for Game Pass, and there are plenty of other popular franchises in Activision Blizzard's roster, including Call of Duty, Overwatch, Crash Bandicoot, Spyro, Tony Hawk, World of Warcraft and Starcraft.

Microsoft acquired Activision Blizzard in October 2023, after nearly two years of antitrust investigations from authorities in the United States and abroad. The deal was worth nearly $69 billion, the largest in Microsoft's history. As part of negotiations with regulators, Microsoft agreed to offload the streaming rights for Activision Blizzard games onto Ubisoft, opening the door for their inclusion in Game Pass, Ubisoft+ and other cloud services. That deal lasts for 15 years, and Microsoft signed similar 10-year agreements with Nintendo and a few other streaming hubs.

In the US, the FTC is continuing to investigate the acquisition and recently accused Microsoft of misrepresenting its plans for Activision Blizzard following layoffs in January that affected 1,900 employees across the company's gaming segments. In the process, at least one Blizzard game was canceled and Skylanders studio Toys for Bob was gutted.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/diablo-iv-will-be-the-first-activision-blizzard-title-on-xbox-game-pass-204734655.html?src=rss

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