Ever since the lineup of Microsoft (MSFT) Xbox One games was first announced, gamers have been standing by for Titanfall.
Titanfall is a first-person shooter in the style of Halo and Call of Duty, with a sci-fi element that adds gigantic mechs (Titans) to the battle. The gameplay focuses on strategic use of Titans to obliterate puny human opponents while also defending against their own Titans.
There’s no traditional single-player campaign; instead, plot elements are woven into each battle, adding a depth that has traditionally been absent in multiplayer battles for first-person shooters.
Yesterday’s release of Titanfall comes at a crucial time for Microsoft. The game is an Xbox One exclusive, which means it won’t be appearing on Sony’s (SNE) PlayStation 4. Console-exclusives are the heart of the console wars, which Microsoft is presently losing.
The PS4 has sold an impressive 6 million units so far, and Microsoft hasn’t reported Xbox One sales since January, when it crossed the 3 million mark. (The PS4 was a million units ahead at that point.) The fact that Microsoft hasn’t updated that figure doesn’t speak well for Xbox One sales.
However, Titanfall could swing the battle for Microsoft. Most of the games available for the PS4 or Xbox One are cross-platform games, like Call of Duty: Ghosts, which runs the same on a Sony device as it does on a Microsoft console. Those games don’t invite allegiances from gamers who are thinking about buying a next-generation system. Console-exclusives, on the other hand, demand that the consumer choose one over the other — Xbox One games or PlayStation 4 games. (That assumes, of course, the person isn’t willing to shell out nearly $1,000 for both systems.)
If Titanfall earns enough buzz from gamers, it could spur Xbox One sales by attracting last-gen gamers who have been waiting for a must-have game before upgrading to the current console generation. In fact, Microsoft is pushing the game pretty aggressively, offering free copies with new Xbox One purchases.
It won’t be enough to completely close the gap, but it should bring overall Xbox One sales closer to its rival’s count.
Early buzz about Titanfall has been largely positive, which is good news for Microsoft. And, according to Fizzology, social media activity suggests that the game could actually rival the latest Call of Duty entry in sales. That would go a long way toward boosting the Xbox One’s success.
The fate of Titanfall lies with the game’s cloud-computing infrastructure, dubbed Azure. When the Xbox One was announced, Azure was a key selling point: Microsoft claimed the raw computing power of Azure would yield gaming experiences that gamers had never dreamed of.
It sounds great, but the sting of recent online-only launch disasters (especially SimCity) casts doubt over how effective the service will be.
Plus, Microsoft has already stumbled: Core services for Xbox Live were down for about five hours last night. Microsoft insists that the outage wasn’t a Titanfall problem, but the timing could not have been worse.
All of this is hypothetical until we see some sales numbers for Titanfall. If the game posts even moderately good numbers, expect Microsoft to brag about it. If we don’t hear a peep from MSFT … well, that might be its own message.
But if it can overcome last night’s stumble, Titanfall would make the most compelling argument yet for the Xbox One.
Adam Benjamin is an Assistant Editor at InvestorPlace. As of this writing, he did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.