I can’t believe this. I am in shock. I’m shaken. I’m… I’m shook, fam. Microsoft just blew the lid off the whole thing. Maybe. But seriously, never would I have imagined that a big, giant, money sponge of a video game company would do something so aggressively disruptive. In one move, Microsoft has made Xbox Game Pass not only an essential service for Xbox One owners, but if it takes off the way Microsoft is hoping, it could change the gaming industry as we know it now.
Here's the situation. Xbox Game Pass launched in 2017 to some pretty solid buzz. It’s not the first subscription service with access to games, but it’s the first on a console that comprises on-demand downloads from a range of first and third-party publishers. There’s EA Access, which is exactly what it sounds like, but Xbox Game Pass draws from publishers like 2K, Capcom, various indies, and more. It’s a direct competitor to PlayStation Now, which is a streaming service.
Many gamers prefer the idea of downloads over streaming, because it circumvents the latency issue. The game is yours as long as the licensing agreement is in place, which of course varies by game, or the membership is cancelled. It’s a lot like Netflix, albeit on a much smaller scale for now – Xbox Game Pass sticks at 100 games at any given time. Game Pass also has neat things like Quests, which reward players with free goodies for reaching certain themed milestones every month.
In January 2018, Phil Spencer announced that Xbox Game Pass will now host first-party Xbox One exclusives, those published by Microsoft Studios, day and date with the global launch in the usual markets. That’s insane. It’s starting with Sea of Thieves, which will either be sixty dollars to own it, or ten dollars a month to have access to it and a bunch of other games. This move is unheard of, and feels like a new line in the sand for a newly aggressive Xbox.
This of course, is a huge risk. Not many examples of this kind of thing happening exist out there. Sure Netflix and other services have original programming, but you won’t find major Hollywood films showing up on the same day as they’re in theaters. The one parallel that immediately comes to mind is the WWE Network, which has abandoned the PPV market almost entirely in favor of its $9.99 streaming service. Combined with other efforts in marketing and media deals, WWE is making more money than ever.
If Microsoft pulls this off, everyone else will notice. More publishers could be inclined to jump on board, and, while a longshot, the other tentpole console makers could also find themselves needing to respond. Nintendo has already shown the inklings of similar shrewdness with its online service plans, although we have yet to see that come into play. Sony has invested greatly in its streaming tech, but what if?
Xbox Game Pass could very well be the emergence of a new precedent in the games industry, where the slow crawl to digital sales goes even further to the on-demand model so many people know and love for their movies, TV, music, and even books. It’s happening everywhere, and the gaming industry has been the slowest due to the intense financial risk and demands of how things currently work. But Microsoft may very well have taken the first step to pushing things in that direction.