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Microsoft Was Much Closer to a Genshin Exclusive Deal Than Everyone Realized

By Kongru
Oct. 27, 2022 updated 11:45

According to a recent report by Reuters, Microsoft regrets missing the opportunity to have Genshin Impact on its platforms, the insider source from Microsoft claims they “spoke to miHoYo early in the game's development but did not reach a deal”.

From our knowledge and experiences at Superpixel, we believe that the truth was much more complicated than “didn’t reach a deal”.

Back in 2019, Genshin Impact was one of XBOX China’s high priorities. The game was featured on ID@XBOX pages, a developer support program sponsored by Microsoft. XBOX China even hired local PR and advertising agencies to promote the very first Genshin Impact trailer that was published in June 2019.

However, things quickly turned sour after the overwhelmingly negative reception of the first Genshin Impact trailer. The game claimed to be a “Groundbreaking open-world RPG”, but after seeing the trailer, Chinese players began criticizing it for being an “obvious Zelda clone”.

In 2019, Honkai Impact 3rd was one of the most technically advanced 3D action RPGs on mobile platforms, but miHoYo was far from being considered on the same level as other tech giants such as Tencent and NetEase, let alone Nintendo. The promotional materials, the big promises of the game having “a development budget over 100 million US dollars”, and even the lead developers expressing their fascination with Zelda: Breath of the Wild were just wishful thinking and lunatic nonsense in Chinese gamers’ eyes. In the few months before Genshin Impact’s release, miHoYo was arguably the most controversial, if not hated, video game developer in China.

Worried about the media and community backlash, Microsoft cut all ties and canceled all promotional plans for Genshin Impact, leaving the door wide open for Sony. The latter didn’t waste any time in featuring Genshin Impact as their biggest star in a very special China Hero Project press event on July 17, 2019.

At the time, Sony was taking a big gamble, even putting its brand image and reputation on the line. Sony’s partnership with miHoYo was seen as a betrayal to Chinese console gaming communities, outraged protestors were seen giving the middle finger to the Genshin Impact booth at ChinaJoy 2019, and someone even went so far as to livestream himself destroying a PlayStation 4 at the convention.

Before the massive success of Genshin Impact, both Sony and Microsoft had their sponsor programs to grow their influence among Chinese developers, but they had never yielded results that could upset the consensus that Chinese developers are only good at making mobile games and MMOs. In the five-year span of ID@XBOX China from 2014 to 2019, only a handful of games had their chance to see the light. And its most promising feature, Unruly Heroes, went completely cold despite having a marketing campaign in 2017 and looking very close to a full release. It’s not difficult to imagine why Microsoft would give up their partnership with miHoYo back in 2019 – they were just walking away from another potential failure.

Currently, there are indeed serious talks between Microsoft and prominent Chinese developers, and there will be a game comparable to Genshin Impact featured as an XBOX exclusive soon. There’s no concrete evidence on which developer is going to be responsible for the Genshin-competitor, but current indications show that Perfect World, the developer of Tower of Fantasy, is the prime suspect after NetEase denied all rumors of a collaboration.