The PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds hit off in March 2017 in Steam Early Access. Currently, there are over 13 million copies owned, making PUBG crawl its way up into the list of the best-selling games of all time. And thanks to this towering success, Chang Byung-gyu, the owner of Bluehole — the studio behind one of the biggest Steam products of this year — is now reportedly a billionaire (at least, with only simple math in play). The list of the battle royal wipeout’s achievements goes on and on, and it hasn’t even been officially released yet. The closest we’ve got so far to a set date is the end of this year.
As this milestone approaches, Bluehole is actively seeking to expand the game’s reach. Breaking last week’s newsfeeds with confirmation of talks with Tencent regarding the game’s release in the Chinese market, the korean developer spilled some information about negotiations with Sony too. And while there is apparently a vaguely outlined deal with Xbox to make it home for PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds in the console domain, the PlayStation’s involvement is disturbing news for Microsoft.
Bloomberg managed to get some details from the sources ‘familiar with the matter’, and it seems like Microsoft strives for making PUBG their exclusive for as long as possible. In all the fairness, the company did make a coup with getting Cuphead for PC and Xbox; they already store a somewhat-close-to-PlayerUnknown’s… title The Culling, which is even similarly ranked on Steam (6/10). However, if we take a closer look, it is quite obvious that Microsoft is better keep Sony at bay this time — for good.
Of course, there is little point in investing in gaming hardware if there are no experiences to channel through the upgraded gear. Especially those only available to dive in with it specifically. The list of Sony’s exclusives for this year is substantially longer. Microsoft has a strong lineup of indie trinkets and gems, but Sony put more prominent titles on the shelf — mind that I’m talking ‘consoles and maybe a PC port’ here. There are Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy and Wipeout Omega Collection for those with a nostalgic itch, the narratives of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice and What Remains of Edith Finch unraveling in their disturbing beauty, and oddity is all over the spectre, starting with Loot Rascals and ending with Everything. That’s along with Nier: Automata, Detroit: Become Human, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, Horizon: Zero Dawn (a lot of colons here, people) and Persona 5. Sony has also taken over the 2017 Golden Joystick nominees list, bolstering their image as a publisher with a taste for good, diverse games and talent. Should you look at it searching for the Xbox assortment outside the dedicated category, you will see Cuphead, Thimbleweed Park and Tacoma. And possibly hear crickets’ awkward chirping somewhere in the distance.
Not only are some big console titles bound to PlayStation, there is unique in-game content as well. Bungie’s latest creation, Destiny 2, features the Lake of Shadows strike, a City Apex ship, and exotic weapon and a PvP map Retribution — all available for PS4 users solely. These may make it to Xbox (or Project Scorpio) after all, however, not before next autumn. And given that the original game’s PlayStation-only treats had only been introduced to Microsoft’s nextgen console yesterday, it will probably take even longer.
As you can see, Sony’s spider web covers all the needed areas. Which doesn’t mean Microsoft hasn’t had good moments of its own.
Bright future shining through foggy present
Looking at the hardware situation, Microsoft had also made brave and important steps forward. It was clear a year ago already that the company is planning some serious investments in mixed reality. In March 2016 a group of researchers showed their ‘holoportation’ system, which was developed and presented with Microsoft’s direct involvement. Take a look at it:
But when was the last time when we saw a Halo title as we know it, an FPS about camaraderie, duty and dealing with whatever consequences the Forerunners’ deeds had. That’s right, 2 years ago. Halo 5: Guardians received mixed feedback for its single-player campaign, and while not completely abandoning the franchise, 343 Industries switched to the genre of strategies with the Halo Wars series. Yet again, these ‘classic’ Halo games have always been the shiny diamond in the Xbox crown, and there does not seem to be a worthy successor to that. Quantum Break was kind of the last year’s system seller, and there is Forza Motorsport 7 being released in a couple of weeks. The latter, however, is not targeted at an average gamer, and the perspective of it becoming the driving force of Xbox One X is, well, dubious.
A ghost of exclusive past
Problem is, if Microsoft puts out a fantastic must-buy adventure, there is no guarantee that it will prosper on their platforms. Sure, the reverse ‘losses’ occurred, Nioh being the latest one of them, but let’s rewind to 2015. Rise of the Tomb Raider treated players with a story glowing with danger and mystery, picturesque landscapes, twisted and eerie tombs and puzzles exploiting the same mechanics in diverse ways. Sadly, the precision of aiming was unsatisfactory, performance issues — intrusive and boggling, and the cinematics were delivered at an unconventional 1440x1080p. The moment this game was released on PlayStation 4, it got tremendously richer in terms of content (the Sony adepts got a full 20 Years Celebration edition) and its delivery, with VR elements introduced to the series. So much for holding onto an exclusive.
With that in mind, Microsoft still desperately needs PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. It falls into general directions that Xbox is taking neatly: the game is cross-play friendly, it features microtransactions (i.e. the latest gamedev hit — loot boxes) and has already built up massive user engagement. Cooperation with Sony is tempting though, as their nextgen console is selling roughly twice as much as Xbox One, which means greater reach and marketing possibilities for Bluehole. Will Brendan Greene yield to Microsoft’s offer, whatever it is? This remains to be seen. Right now sealing this deal seems the best bet — until the company’s gaming division grasps a new opportunity or comes up with a best-seller of their own.