Is Xbox winning the console war with developers? Looking up slightly at an Xbox Series X console with a controller leaning against the front.

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For as long as Xbox and PlayStation continue to compete as rivals, so too will the console wars rage on. Fans on either side will celebrate their favorite hardware’s successes and highlight even the slightest misstep by the competition. Gaming is more than its often tribalistic fans, though, and while players might still have a lot to debate, it sounds like Xbox is steaming ahead in the eyes of some developers.

The latest creatives to join the Xbox camp are Avalanche Studios, the developer behind the beloved Just Cause series. At this year’s Xbox and Bethesda showcase, which took place at E3 2021 in June, one of the most surprising reveals was that of the exclusive title Contraband – and like most games at the showcase, it will also launch on Xbox Game Pass on day one.

Speaking with GamesIndustry.biz, Avalanche’s CEO Pim Holfve explained the draw of working with Xbox isn’t just about cash, but entertainment. “We’re entertaining vast numbers of people,” Holfve said, and Avalanche, it seems, already knows how powerful Xbox Game Pass can be.

Four years ago, the company released theHunter: Call of the Wild, and to this day it still has around one million active users, a big chunk of which comes from Game Pass. “Xbox Game Pass was fantastic because we were able to reach so many more players. It’s a good way for people to try [the game].”

Cash still will play a part, though – not just in revenue from the Games Pass service, but DLC payments too. Holfve goes on to say that Game Pass gets people interested in the game, and then tempts them to try out the vast catalog of DLC expansions and add-ons, adding that: “the business model really works to our advantage.”

One developer isn’t enough to win a war 

No matter how much Avalanche wants to celebrate its new partner, one studio isn’t enough to put Xbox’s army ahead of PlayStation. Avalanche isn’t alone in preferring how Microsoft leads its charge with Xbox Game Pass at the front, and if some reports are to be believed, smaller developers may find it easier to join Xbox’s ranks too.

As reported by PushSquare, multiple independent creators have been dissatisfied by Sony’s approach to running its PlayStation Store. In general, Sony’s marketplace seems to favor AAA mega hits, an approach that can apparently lead to delays in getting sales figures and can make discounting your games near impossible if you aren’t a household name.

But that’s all once you’re actually listed on the PlayStation Store, a task that itself can require you to jump through multiple hoops with complicated approval processes. As one anonymous developer explains, “In time, you begin to understand where everything is, but that’s probably just from repetition — or in our case, internal documentation that we notate for ourselves to act as a reference for other members of our team.

“The difficult thing that comes up is just having to jump between all the different portals to achieve the common goal of what you might be working on.”

The developer went on to explain that this same convoluted approach persists when you just want to patch your game. “You go to one portal to submit the patch, you open up a program on your computer to upload the patched build for Sony to check, you then need to go to a separate portal for the next steps to continue the process, you then jump back to that original portal for additional steps, back to the previous portal to then set your approved patch live.”

The Chicory protagonist (a dog) sat on a bench next to a large paintbrush while surrounded by flowers

Indies like Chicory: A Colorful Tale are a great boost for a platform (Image credit: Greg Lobanov / Finji)

If it really is this complicated, it’s surprising that developers would continue to support the PlayStation platform. Especially when, for comparison, on Xbox the same is all done in just one portal. 

Indie games almost certainly don’t sell as well as AAA games, but they shouldn’t be ignored. The studios behind these titles offer new and experimental experiences that you likely won’t find from blockbuster studios (would EA or Activision have ever released Chicory: A Colorful Tale or Celeste?), and they also do well to fill in the gaps between larger releases.

If Microsoft builds up a stronger working relationship with these developers thanks to simpler processes, Sony’s infantry of smaller games could soon defect.

The players caught in the crossfire 

Unless you are a developer, you’re probably wondering what impact this has on your gaming experience? Sure, developers have an easier time on one console, but does it impact the end experience enough to trade your PS5 for an Xbox Series X?

Well, if you’re a fan of independent games and play on a Sony machine, then it’s possible that you might have to pay more and wait longer for patches than on rival hardware because of the difficulties some developers have with the platform (such as not being able to upload patches simply or finding it difficult to be included in sales). 

Players of larger, blockbuster games on PlayStation could also end up feeling short-changed compared to those on Xbox, who can pay a fraction of a game’s cost each month to enjoy a massive library of new and old titles through Game Pass. If more developers see the benefits Avalanche has and join the Xbox service, that could mean fewer games on your PS5 too.

Xbox fans have reasons to fear Microsoft’s dominance with developers, too. If their camp takes too great a lead, there’s a chance it could lead to a monopoly that will stifle creativity and increase costs to gamers. The only thing standing in the way of that is Sony putting up a fight and driving competition.

These reports of developers preferring the Xbox system, combined with recent player outrage at PlayStation’s approach to PS5 exclusives and the Ghost of Tsushima next-gen upgrade might not tip the balance of power immediately. But if they continue, Sony might lose ground.

Hopefully the tech giant can shed any complacency that may have developed from the PS4’s dominance, as it’s impacting the whole gaming ecosystem. If Sony keeps losing the battles, it could eventually lose the war.

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