Source: Xbox has considered bringing hit Sea of Thieves to PlayStation
Plus: An important new game industry layoff stat and an update on Netflix’s interactive shows
Microsoft has looked into launching its hit Xbox and PC multiplayer pirate game Sea of Thieves on PlayStation, a source familiar with plans for the port tells Game File.
While Microsoft has released some of its first-party published games on rival platforms before, this would be the first time the company ports one of its marquee Xbox/PC games to its most direct competitor, Sony.
Microsoft previously released two externally developed games in the Ori series on Nintendo’s Switch some time after their original release on Xbox and PC. And the company regularly releases games in its Minecraft franchise simultaneously across Xbox, PC, PlayStation and Switch.
Over the weekend, an Xbox rep declined to comment when I asked about Sea of Thieves and PlayStation. Since Friday, rumors have been swirling about Microsoft considering taking more exclusive games to other platforms (Reporter Jeff Grubb also mentioned this morning that he’d heard about Sea Of Thieves to PS5 and Switch; I’d only heard about PlayStation, possibly for an early 2024 release, and have been trying to source it more extensively since then).
I am unable to verify if Sea of Thieves to PlayStation is still an active plan for Microsoft.
Sea of Thieves, developed by Microsoft studio Rare, has been exclusive to Microsoft’s console and Windows PCs since its 2018 debut. Microsoft has treated it like a marquee exclusive, along the lines of its hit Halo, Gears of War and Forza games, which, for the last several years, have shipped on its consoles and PC. Sea of Thieves, which Rare regularly expands with new content updates, has drawn more than 30 million players, according to Microsoft.
PlayStation is an obvious new platform for Sea of Thieves in terms of audience expansion. Games with extensive post-launch support perform best when they reach a maximum number of players who might be tempted to spend money in them.
But Sea of Thieves arriving on PlayStation would also be a significant plot twist in the colorful relationship between two gaming giants.
Sony spent much of 2023 publicly opposing Microsoft’s $69 billion bid to buy Activision Blizzard, arguing that Microsoft would be incentivized to cease offering Activision’s flagship series Call of Duty on PlayStation. Microsoft denied this and eventually signed a 10-year deal with Sony to keep the series on PlayStation.
Microsoft has already thrived as a game publisher on PlayStation, thanks to the success of Minecraft on that platform. The likely success of future Activision Blizzard games on PlayStation is bound to make Microsoft an even bigger part of PlayStation’s business. It also continues to sell its own Xbox consoles and offer its games on PC and through phones and tablets via Xbox’s cloud-gaming service.
Sony has been the industry leader in consoles this generation. Its PlayStation 5 has significantly outsold Microsoft’s Xbox Series devices, and many of its single-player internally developed games, such as last fall’s Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, are multi-million-selling hits. But the company has tried to redirect some of its development efforts to make live service games, along the lines of Sea of Thieves. Those efforts included the $3.6 billion purchase of Destiny maker Bungie in 2022.
Sony’s live service plans have yet to produce a hit. One major internal Sony game studio, Naughty Dog, announced last month that it was abandoning efforts to make an online game tied to The Last Of Us, saying it needed to choose between being a studio that made premium single-player or live service titles. It chose the former.
A key question regarding any Xbox hits appearing on PlayStation is whether a PlayStation version would be tethered to Microsoft’s game services.
In November, Xbox chief financial officer Tim Stuart said the company’s goal is to get Game Pass, Microsoft’s popular all-you-can-play subscription service, onto “every screen that can play games.” But in December, Microsoft’s head of gaming, Phil Spencer, said the company has “no plans to bring Xbox Game Pass to PlayStation or Nintendo.”
In 2019, Spencer told me that Xbox games arriving on competing platforms would ideally be part of a “connected ecosystem.” In that regard, he cited Xbox Live, not necessarily Game Pass.
Correction: 1:52pm ET - Sea of Thieves is a live-service game, but is not free to play, as I’d erroneously stated. Apologies for the error.
Gaming layoffs in 2023 vs. 2022
One key stat has been missing from coverage of last year’s widespread layoffs in the video game industry: how many people were laid off from the field in 2022.
We now have an estimate: 8,500 video game industry jobs lost worldwide in 2022, compared to around 10,500 in 2023.
Noor tells me those 2022 cuts include a little over 1,000 developers in Russia impacted by sanctions against that country following its invasion of Ukraine. He also believes there were sizable cuts in China, but has had trouble finding reliable numbers.
“I think 2023 feels worse for many people reading this, because it hits closer to home,” Noor says. “I can empathize with that feeling, and the pressure from M&A strategies over the past couple of years, such as with Embracer Group's restructuring, can be felt in both 2022 and 2023.”
Noor hopes to eventually have a strong tally for 2021. He is also working on fleshing out his layoff-tracking website, as he’s heard interest from industry figures who want to use it to spot trends and potentially identify available pools of talent to hire.
Netflix’s interactive choice
Netflix isn’t making new interactive shows, but those programs are influencing the streaming giant’s efforts to craft video games that feel closely tied to some of its hit series.
The interactive shows, including the acclaimed 2018 “Black Mirror” movie “Bandersnatch,” were choose-your-own adventures that viewers could manipulate with a TV remote. The streamer still offers more than a dozen others.
“We're not building those specific experiences anymore,” Netflix’s head of gaming, Mike Verdu, told me in December after I asked how they related to the company’s gaming work (I was interviewing him for Axios but couldn’t fit this detail in at the time).
“The technology was very limiting and the potential for what we could do in that realm was kind of capped. But we learned a ton from that.”
“Where you're going to see that learning come to life is actually in these interactive narrative games,” he added, citing Netflix’s early efforts with games based on its shows "Love is Blind” and “Too Hot To Handle.” A new show tie-in game, Money Heist: Ultimate Choice (iOS, Android) launched last week.
The goal: “It will start to feel more and more like you really are playing the show,” Verdu said. “I think that's sort of the spiritual evolution of what you saw there. But we learned a ton. And Bandersnatch is a phenomenal experience.”
(In other Netflix news, the Wall Street Journal reports that the company is looking into alternate ways to monetize some of its games, including larger upcoming titles. No comment from Netflix, which currently offers games for free as part of a regular subscription. The company has boasted that its mobile gaming slate don’t have ads or in-game transactions).
👩🏻⚖️ Activision is facing a lawsuit from a former executive who says the company discriminated against older workers, citing a comment from former CEO Bobby Kotick about the company having “too many old white guys,” Law360 reports.
In response, an Activision rep referred a reporter to the company’s equal employment opportunity policy.
📺 “The Last Of Us” HBO series won eight Creative Arts Emmys (including one apiece for Outstanding Guest Actor/Actress) last weekend but got swept by “Succession” at the Golden Globes, VGC reports.
🤔 Riot Games is in talks to authorize an official League of Legends tournament at the 2024 Esports World Cup, which will be staged by the Savvy Games Group, the growing industry giant funded by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the company tells The Jacob Wolf Report.
Riot also recently announced the second season of its hit animated series “Arcane” will debut on Netflix in November.
🚫 Twitch’s clips feature is being used by sexual predators to record and share sexualized footage of children, Bloomberg reports. Twitch has removed the clips Bloomberg identified and told the outlet “we take this issue extremely seriously.”
🍎 Apple is launching its $3500 Vision Pro augmented reality headset on February 2, the company announced this morning. In terms of gaming, it’s only shown the device allowing users to play games on a virtual screen, stopping short of articulating a vision for native mixed-reality games.
💬 Katsuhiro Harada, longtime lead producer for Bandai Namco’s Tekken fighting game series, has publicly asked Native American Tekken fans for their opinions on the designs of Julia and Michelle, two Native American characters introduced in the ‘90s who both wear feathers in their hair. Harada says at least one fan has told him that the design choice promotes stereotypes.
In a lengthy post, Harada says that fighting games like Tekken, which began in the arcades, needed characters to have quickly identifiable traits. But he says the fan’s feedback had “distressed” him and he’s seeking feedback for the existing characters. He also asks for thoughts about how to indicate “at a glance” that a new character is Native Americans in a way that would avoid stereotypes.