/Microsoft 2019 Report Card: Year In Review For Xbox One

Microsoft 2019 Report Card: Year In Review For Xbox One

In 2018, Microsoft made some big moves, such as acquiring seven different studios and launching an initiative to release all first-party titles on Xbox Game Pass. It painted a hopeful future for Xbox, one that seemed to promise the final years of the current console generation would be greater than a whimper for the Xbox One.

As 2019 comes to a close, Microsoft has largely met those expectations. There have been rough patches, of course–the year hasn’t been perfect for Xbox. But Microsoft continues to corner both subscription-based game services and backwards compatibility with Xbox One and has begun to deliver on the promise of more first-party titles. It all inspires a cautious optimism going into 2020, as Microsoft prepares to release its next-generation console–codenamed Project Scarlett.

So as we say goodbye to 2019, let’s look back at the type of year Microsoft and Xbox One had.

Game Pass Boosted Smaller Developers

When it comes to creating a subscription service for games, Microsoft is leaps and bounds ahead of both Sony and Nintendo with Game Pass. It certainly helps that Game Pass continues to deliver popular titles that arrive the same day they are released. The Outer Worlds is the most noteworthy of the lot, but Gears 5 and several others are solid additions as well. That said, the larger success in 2019 is in how Microsoft used Game Pass’s more noteworthy games to advertise the smaller ones.

Game Pass’s monthly fee essentially pays it forward–in terms of publicity–when it comes to indie games, marketing them by prominently featuring them on the service when they’re first added. Players may buy-in for the triple-A titles, but it allows them to download and try indie games for “free” so to speak as well.

This incidental marketing for indie games is the closest the Xbox One has come to featuring something akin to the Arcade section in the Xbox 360’s online store–a feature that helped catapult certain indie games to the popularity they have today. As more online stores (ranging from Xbox Live and PSN to the Nintendo Eshop and Steam) continue to clutter with a rapidly growing market of indie games, a more limited library of rotating titles is an excellent way of promoting select creators and ensuring specific indie games aren’t completely buried by major releases.

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The Outer Worlds Is The “Mini” RPG We Needed

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Additionally, in June 2019, Microsoft released Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, a service that packaged together Xbox Game Pass, PC Game Pass, and Xbox Live Gold into one, discounted subscription. It’s a wonderful bang for your buck if you play on both Xbox One and PC. And it’s only going to get better, as, during X019, Microsoft announced Project xCloud would be rolled into Xbox Game Pass Ultimate in 2020–allowing subscribers to try out Microsoft’s take on cloud gaming “for free.”

Recent Studio Acquisitions Are Paying Off

Microsoft acquired several studios in 2018 and acquired another, Double Fine, this year. As stated in GameSpot’s 2018 Microsoft report card, we didn’t expect first-party games to come from those studios in 2019. We did hope we’d at least get announcements–a guarantee, so to speak, that the future of Xbox would contain more first-party games than Microsoft has delivered in the past few years. And in this regard, Microsoft met expectations.

Microsoft is going into 2020 with 12 first-party titles scheduled: Battletoads, Bleeding Edge, Everwild, Flight Simulator, Gears Tactics, Grounded, Halo Infinite, Minecraft Dungeons, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Psychonauts 2, Tell Me Why, and Wasteland 3. At the very least, it’s a varied list, and that’s nearly as many first-party titles as Microsoft released between 2017 and 2019 (14 games within those three years).

It’s encouraging to see that Microsoft isn’t wasting the potential of its recent acquisitions–even more so that it’s allowing those studios to create games outside their relative comfort zone. Whether most of those investments pay off in 2020 remains to be seen, but this is the best Xbox’s future has looked in years.

First-Party Lineup Still Lacks Single-Player Experiences

That said, even though we expected it, Microsoft still struggled on the first-party front for Xbox One in 2019. Granted, 2019 saw a sequel to the Gears of War franchise, Gears 5, which transformed the linear, cover-based shooter and gave it a more open-world-like twist. It’s a good game; Phil Hornshaw wrote as much in GameSpot’s Gears 5 review. But the only other first-party game Xbox One got this year is Crackdown 3–described as mediocre by Chris Pereira in GameSpot’s Crackdown 3 review. So it’s disappointing that Gears 5 is the only positively received first-party game Microsoft released on Xbox One this year.

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Gears 5 Dares To Be Different

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