Phantasy Star Online 2 PC launch in last minute Windows Store exclusivity Switcheroo

Was previously announced for Steam, but Sega and Microsoft have for some reason changed their mind

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The official English language release of Sega’s online RPG Phantasy Star Online 2 has been 8 years in the making, and a release date has finally been set, and whilst fans have been eagerly waiting, it looks like there’s one fly in the ointment that might be a disappointment for some.

The game is made and published by Sega but left to their own devices, they had planned to just keep it as a Japan-only release. Somewhat understandable, since it’s a more popular series in Sega’s homeland, but it does have somewhat of a cult following internationally. 

Thankfully Microsoft intervened, and as part of a deal with Sega announced at E3 2019, they agreed to fund the localization and English language release, in exchange for some degree of console exclusivity, so Sega would either delay or perhaps even outright cancel any plans to release it on rival Playstation or Nintendo systems. Not ideal, but given the alternative of not getting any kind of English language release, it was a pill that many would be willing to swallow.

It’s not just a console game though, it’s on PC too. In a previous, but curiously now deleted, announcement, Sega had said that the game would be hitting both the Windows App Store and Steam. But it seems that this is no longer the case.

Today the launch has been announced as “late May”, although a precise date hasn’t been narrowed down yet, but Sega is saying that this game is now going to be exclusively available on the Windows App Store, with mentions of Steam nowhere to be seen in any of the official announcements.

Not the end of the world, but a real disappointment. I’ve had serious problems even getting the Windows App Store to download, install and let me play games. It limits functionality for things like mods and other tweaks, and it’s missing a whole host of player-centric features that make Steam many player’s first choice. I think it would be great to offer players as many options as possible for where to get this game, so it’s a real shame to see choices limited to just one flawed and unpopular store. At the very least, perhaps it could have been announced as a Windows App Store exclusive from the start, instead of giving players false hope.

It’s somewhat curious how this change could even happen. Sega releases plenty of their games on Steam, and haven’t even shown any signs of wanting to pull their games from Steam. I can’t actually recall the last time any of their PC games were not available on Steam.

From Microsoft’s end, too, it seems confusing. Microsoft’s support of Steam has wavered over the years, for a time preferring to keep their own first-party games exclusive to their unpopular and often maligned storefront, but they appear to be passed that now. Xbox heavy hitters like Halo and Gears of war are all releasing on Steam these days, along with plenty of other Microsoft published games. Back when they made the announcement of Halo coming to Steam, along with all upcoming Microsoft Game Studio titles, Microsoft had this to say:

“We believe you should have a choice in where you buy your PC games”

So who is responsible for limiting choice in this instance, and likely seriously harming this game’s chances of achieving a healthy player base? I can’t see any reason for Sega to be incentivized to cancel plans to release on Steam, since it’s in their best interest to have the largest number of players possible unless of course Microsoft requested it as part of the deal to fund this localization. But if it’s Microsoft who pushed for cancelling the Steam release, how exactly can they square that with their previous statement about believing in choice? If getting more players by releasing on Steam makes sense for titles like Halo and Gears of War, surely it makes even more sense for a niche 8-year-old game that’s already had enough barriers placed in front of it.

Perhaps Microsoft no longer believes in that kind of choice?

It’s a shame to have these kinds of business decisions leave a nasty taste in the mouth in what should be a cause for celebration. Microsoft tried pushing people to their store by paying to get games removed from competing stores, and it didn’t get them very far. From what I saw, plenty of people reacted positively towards their shift to openness and empowering players to choose where to buy their games. It’s confusing and disappointing to see this shift be undone for Phantasy Star Online 2, a game that already needs all the help it can get. It’s a niche title, and the increased visibility of being on the most popular PC game storefront would certainly help it to establish a consistent player base during the crucial launch period.

There’s still time for this to change between now and release, but for now, it seems that Microsoft and Sega have set their hearts on Windows App Store exclusivity for Phantasy Star Online 2.