Microsoft and Rare's 'Sea of Thieves' is currently the #1 most preordered game on PlayStation

 Screenshot from Sea of Thieves Season 10 trailer.
Screenshot from Sea of Thieves Season 10 trailer.

What you need to know

  • Last month, Microsoft confirmed widespread rumors that it would start bringing more of its "exclusive" Xbox games to PlayStation and Nintendo Switch, in a quest for bigger profit margin growth.

  • The first batch includes Grounded, Pentiment, Hi-Fi Rush, and Sea of Thieves.

  • Sea of Thieves is by far the biggest of the bunch, and the service game arguably has the most potential.

  • It seems that that potential is already being realized, since the game has hit the top spot on the preorder chart on PlayStation consoles.

Last month, Microsoft confirmed during an "Xbox Business Update" podcast that it would be bringing some of its Xbox console exclusive games to PlayStation and Nintendo Switch. The first four games include Grounded, Pentiment, Hi-Fi Rush, and Sea of Thieves. Sea of Thieves is by far the biggest game of the bunch, given that the multiplayer sandbox pirate adventure has reached tens of millions of players across both Xbox consoles and PC.

Microsoft's decision to "dilute" the meaning of "Xbox exclusive" has been met with some fierce resistance in some quarters and quiet scepticism in others, lamenting the possibility of a collapse in Xbox console hardware sales. Microsoft and others have argued that the console industry is largely a static install base of around 200-250 million overlapping users, and the future of gaming is going to be more about targeting users where they are, rather than trying to absorb them into a closed ecosystem. At the same time, Microsoft said "not to expect" more than this initial pool of four ports for Nintendo Switch and PlayStation, but if the experiment is successful, it stands to reason to expect more to jump across.

To that end, Sea of Thieves will be among the first games to explore this new direction, and so far, it seems like it's paying off. Confirmed by industry analyst Benji-Sales and others, Sea of Thieves has hit the top spot on the preorder chart for PlayStation in the United States, as well as various other territories.

Microsoft is already a prolific publisher on PlayStation, owing to games like Minecraft, Minecraft Dungeons, and some of the acquired titles from studios like Bethesda. Microsoft can now also count Activision-Blizzard games like Call of Duty as part of that envious revenue stream, too.

Analyzing the plan

Sea of Thieves
Sea of Thieves

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What Microsoft will be monitoring closely is whether or not this experiment will lead to a decrease in monthly active users. Microsoft confirmed in its most recent investor call that Xbox console monthly active users are higher than ever, counting both Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S players in that stat. Xbox Series X|S sales might fall far behind PlayStation 5, but the implication here is that both "sides" are selling hardware to an existing user base, rather than an expanding one. Popular service games like EA Football (FIFA), Minecraft, and Fortnite remain actively updated on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, contributing to the long-tail of the previous console generation.

Microsoft might have given Xbox One users fewer reasons to upgrade to the new-gen consoles than Sony's PlayStation 5 has, but that doesn't seem to have contributed to a drop off in active, paying users. However, Microsoft will likely be interested to see if Sea of Thieves on PlayStation moves active Sea of Thieves users from Xbox to PlayStation, for those with both consoles. Ideally, Microsoft would want to see Sea of Thieves acquire new users here, rather than simply move existing players from other ecosystems. In the short term, the extra sales will undoubtedly be a boon, but this strategy is entirely about finding growth. If Microsoft finds that putting games like Sea of Thieves and so on leads to a decrease in monthly active Xbox users, or seeing Xbox One users opt for PlayStation 5 as their upgrade path, it's likely that they'd be a little more restrictive about how they proceed.

In any case, it'll be interesting to see how this strategy evolves over time. Microsoft has confirmed that new Xbox hardware is in the works for the next-generation, accompanied by widespread rumors that the firm is exploring its own Xbox handheld device, with native gameplay support akin to the Steam Deck or Nintendo Switch.

Sea of Thieves launches on April 30, 2024 for PlayStation 5, and is available right now on Xbox Series X|S and PC, also with Xbox Game Pass.