The Xbox Game Pass appears to be one of the best ideas in recent history. It is basically immediate access to all sorts of games, both when you are or aren’t connected to the internet. Most recently, Microsoft said all of its first-party games will be on there and part of the plan the moment they launch, with March 2018’s Sea of Thieves being the first game to do so. While most people are happy about this, one group of folks aren’t: independent game store owners.
In a recent interview with GamesIndustry.biz, independent game store owners had plenty of terrible things to say about the Xbox Game Pass. “For retail, it just kills us outright” is one of the choice quotes flying around the internet. Extreme Gamez’s Stuart Benson said, “Essentially, it's made [our Xbox business] worthless overnight.” And Nick Elliott of Barkman Computer said, “We will only support manufacturers and publishers who support us. If a customer comes into a retail store, and the retailer has a choice between selling an Xbox where they would never sell them anything again or a PS4 where they had a chance of some attach rate, they would surely sell them a PlayStation.” But all of this may sound to some like a petty attempt to stop progress.
While there is truth to the things these independent game stores are saying, some of it rings rather hollow. Many say they will no longer stock Xbox-related products. But won’t that hurt them even more? After all, the profit margin on a console, especially one that is $200 or $500, has to be attractive. The same can be said for those expensive controllers. The physical elements people will need, even if they do go with the Xbox Game Pass and avoid buying games, could still be valuable for a retailer. To suddenly cut everything off to perhaps show Microsoft what for would do more harm to themselves than the major company.
Especially since the Xbox Game Pass is not an all-encompassing thing. Yes, it is going to have all first-party games going forward right from launch. But we have no guarantees about how many third-party games will be there. We don’t know if it will end up being like Netflix, with titles coming and going. And some people are always going to prefer physical to digital. Making this sort of stand might be childish, given that not everyone is going to go with the Xbox Game Pass option and even trying to use it as an excuse not sell products is not going to make it disappear.
Because clearly, the Xbox Game Pass is a sign of progress. It is not a new concept. Sony has its PlayStation Now service. You do not see any of these indepedent game stores interviewed in the GamesIndustry.biz threatening to boycott Sony products over that. Another one of the people interviewed for that article, Chris Bowman of Console Connections, said, “If Sony and Nintendo were to follow suit, it's game over.” Except Sony not only followed suit, but already set this precedent with PlayStation Now. And the sky did not fall after that.
People are always going to deal in fearmongering when a new program or opportunity arises. But we can not be afraid of progress. We also should not expect it to immediately render the old ways obsolete. Yes, the Xbox Game Pass will probably cause a hit in sales of Xbox One games once it hits its stride. But, that does not mean the physical market will immediately disappear. Let’s give the two a chance to coexist before taking drastic measures in an attempt to force peoples’ hands.