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The Real Reason You Never Got An Xbox Handheld

While other publishers like Nintendo and PlayStation have filled the handheld market with successful and admittedly not-so-successful offerings, gamers may wonder why Microsoft never jumped into the handheld console arena.

A recent interview celebrating The New York Game Awards shed some light on the issue. The interview, led by Okaydrian, asked former game execs big questions about their time at their respective companies. Reggie Fils-Aime from Nintendo, Jack Tretton from Sony, and Robbie Bach from Microsoft may have had playful rivalries during their time in the gaming industry, but they were all smiles when they reconnected via Zoom. 

Bach, Microsoft's former "chief Xbox officer" had a hand in Xbox's development as a brand and felt largely responsible for the company's early adoption of online gaming; he event noted this as one of his proudest achievements. Bach shared his perspective on Microsoft's place within the world of handheld gaming, saying that even though he sat through at least three portable console presentations, he said no to all of them. Bach laughed at the fact that the portable Xbox always ended up with the moniker "Xboy," and noted that the name would have surely led to copyright problems. As far as the real reason behind Microsoft's lack of handheld options? Bach said the prospect of starting an entirely new team seemed too overwhelming for a young company. 

Bach commented on his respect for Nintendo and Sony for entering the handheld market, and explained that industry experts always say there's not much of a difference between the handheld market and the console market. Bach disagreed, stating "And I think they're actually, at the time — Switch has changed all of that, I suppose — but at the time they were pretty different. And it would have meant starting up another team. It would have been like starting Xbox except creating a handheld. And we just didn't have the bandwidth to do that." Because Microsoft was such a new company, focusing on its online components and games were "more than enough" to keep Bach busy.

Just as Bach pointed out, the Nintendo Switch, which just enjoyed a very lucrative 2020, changed the landscape of the handheld market and reimagined what consoles look like at home and on the go. Considering the long lasting interest in an Xbox handheld, and the multiple denied proposals for what that handheld could look like, fans might get to see how Microsoft does handhelds sometime in the future — but not just yet.