This week an announcement made by head of Xbox Phil Spencer should have turned the games industry upside down. I believe many media outlets really failed to underline the importance of this story to the industry at all levels.
Xbox Games Pass, launched last June, is a Netflix-style monthly subscription service. The clever thing about the service rests in the delivery method. There have been many game streaming services in the past that have failed to get out of the blocks, mainly due to the “streaming” part not being suited to such large files. Games Pass avoids all of that by utilising downloads. Subscribers can download titles in the Xbox Games Pass library and play in full fidelity, no compromises. The service essentially lends the player a licence for each game.
Over 100 games are available for €9.99 a month, some cycle in and cycle out from time to time. If I am honest there are only a small handful of games that I wanted to keep the service for but ultimately I dropped my subscription after two months. Now however, I am back on board. All Microsoft Studios titles will now launch in Xbox Games Pass day and date with the retail version. This starts on March 20th with Sea Of Thieves and continues with State Of Decay 2 and Crackdown 3 later this year. Those three games will benefit hugely from this move, especially Sea Of Thieves which needs to find a large player base quickly.
Having a new multiplayer-only game and lesser releases like Crackdown 3 and State Of Decay 2 is one thing but what about the bread and butter Triple As? Microsoft are sticking by the mantra, all Microsoft Studios titles will appear in Games Pass. This means future Forza, Halo and Gears Of War releases will also land in the service day and date with the retail version.
This is a huge problem for brick and mortar retailers. Take me for example. I was going to buy Sea Of Thieves, I can take or leave the other two. I would’ve dropped the €60 for this release even though I am a bit skeptical, it intrigues me. Now I have a no risk option. I can re-subscribe to Xbox Games Pass for a month and even if I don’t end up jiving with Rare’s new release all it will cost me is the price of a takeaway. If I hate Sea Of Thieves I have a multitude of other games in the service to soften the blow. I’m sure I can justify the €9.99 that month with 100 other games to fall back on.
There are stories of retailer unrest already cropping up. They should be worried. The games focused media should be reporting on this as the enormous story that it is. There is a disconnect there, getting review code for new releases has become the norm I would imagine. Nothing really changes for them. While I don’t believe the sky is falling I do think that it sets a precedent.
We know Nintendo won’t ever do this but PlayStation have already tried a ham-fisted streaming version of this. Who’s to say that they couldn’t launch a similar service? Sure, they would need to keep PSN online for more than 12 minutes at a time but could you imagine Sony pulling the trigger on a PlayStation Games Pass? 2018 could see them include God Of War, Detroit Become Human, Days Gone, Shadow Of The Colossus and the highly anticipated Spiderman game. Then, if that wasn’t enough you could have a back catalogue including all four Uncharted games, Horizon Zero Dawn, Ratchet and Clank, No Man’s Sky, Gran Turismo Sport and The Last Of Us to name just a few.
The less bombastic Microsoft Studios releases this year needed something like this. The Sony ones above don’t, I get that, but don’t be surprised to see some huge changes to the delivery model of video games in the next 12 months. This is a game changer. What happens to your local game shop? If major retailers struggle what will become of Indie games retail?