Things in gaming evolve pretty fast. There was a time when Bungie was considered a “second party” studio for Microsoft, which meant they were building video games exclusively for Xbox and specifically for one series (Halo). Then, they asked for more creative freedom, which the Redmond platform holder refused to offer, and they went multiplatform thanks to a partnership with a new publisher – Activision. Curiously enough, that led to a brand new path for Bungie, as they found in a totally different position of supporting PlayStation more than Xbox, the platform they contributed – with Combat Evolved – to bring to the mass audience back in the days.
Indeed, with Destiny, a PS3/PS4 timed the exclusive agreement was built with Sony, which allows the latter to have specific content like maps and weapons at least 1 year before anyone else. Where “anyone else” used to mean Xbox 360 and Xbox One, and now with Destiny 2 it’s PC as well. For sure, when Destiny was born things looked pretty different, and Xbox was much more relevant than it’s now in term of first party studios and third party deals. Look at what’s happened in the last few years: Call of Duty is not a partner anymore, and just couple weeks ago they also lost FIFA. So, one could say Destiny was just the beginning of the end, a clear signal of what was happening in Microsoft when it comes to partnerships. It looks like, and it already looked like, the house Bill Gates built is now only working internally on three-four IP they consider relevant financially, focusing on the platform (services like Xbox Live, Xbox Game Pass, Xbox Play Anywhere, Windows kernel, and stuff) and limiting itself to offer a powerful enough console for third party devs to bring their titles on. In this landscape, it was pretty curious to see Electronic Arts – the one that just signed the FIFA agreement away from Xbox in favor of PlayStation – go and offer a gameplay reveal of Anthem at Xbox E3 media briefing.
What could this mean?
Currently, it doesn’t mean anything in particular, and probably it will keep meaning anything until pre-orders start offering more details. It’ll be at that specific time that we’ll learn if Microsoft has really asked and obtained a timed exclusivity on additional content for Anthem. At this stage, I don’t see this as a concrete possibility, but sure enough, it would mean that Microsoft still cares at signing new agreements with external partners, especially now that they have very few internal teams and intellectual properties at their disposal. On top of that, this is the first Destiny-like effort, a territory where Ubisoft has already moved into with The Division and where Microsoft has already shown to have a certain interest, with the first two expansions of Season 1 release first on Xbox. It could also depend on that experience: has Microsoft received good feedback, financially, from that cooperation? Would it be meaningful for them to get back to anything similar, even with a different partner (both publisher and game)? Sure enough, the pre-E3 and E3 conferences have displayed the American platform holder could have some interest back in the field of third party partnerships, which is kind of surprising since they just let expire the latest agreements in this business, as said with Call of Duty and FIFA. Also, differently from Call of Duty, Anthem is not focusing on PvP, apparently, as it is a third-person role playing game online with a heavy concentration on cooperation – so, yes, that wouldn’t make the game a good fit for an eSports effort like in the Call of Duty Championship presented by Xbox. On the other hand, talking about services, Microsoft is surely impressed by EA Access and has indeed tried something similar with Xbox Game Pass – a place where you can get lots of games paying a small monthly subscription. This means that the partnership with Electronic Arts is just fine and something Anthem-based shouldn’t be ruled out completely, too.
Could Destiny/PS4 Be Harmed By An Anthem/Xbox Partnership?
Honestly, I don’t see a situation where Destiny could be harmed by Anthem. Unless they don’t completely screw up with Destiny 2, Bungie has a too much loyal userbase, that even resisted the initial The Division exploit during the last couple years, so I think Electronic Arts and BioWare could look into a totally different public (which is also something the third person visual should suggest, considering Destiny is a more frantic first person shooter). Of course, that is not enough – it wasn’t for The Division -, but it must be noted that both EA and the Canadian developer have a 10+ year plan for Anthem, so at the very least the project is pretty ambitious. In this situation, it is more obvious that the developer and the publisher look into some kind of partnership with a platform holder, mainly to have more visibility during events both real (like E3) and in-game. So bringing additional content on Xbox first would be, at least in an initial phase, something that would be more helpful for Anthem rather than for Xbox One, and it would also be the sole path EA could be crossing considering that PS4 has already signed Activision’s Destiny and won’t probably be allowed/interested in bringing in such similarly crafted title. From this perspective, it’s not impossible that Anthem could be Xbox’s Destiny, and this could give its contribution to both Electronic Arts and Microsoft rather than simply “harm” Destiny – which is set to be somehow for the shared world what World of Warcraft is for MMORPGs.