In case you missed it, Microsoft just announced a pretty enticing new service. Xbox Games Pass is coming this Spring, offering access to a cycling catalogue of over 100 games for a very tidy $9.99 per month. That should equate to about £38.72 in our post-Brexit economy, or 1/6th the price of a retail game (gulp). As a keen advocate of EA Access, it is easy for me to say that this is great news. Even with the absence of publishing heavyweights EA, Activition, and Ubisoft, it looks like the Game Pass will offer great value.
There are still questions about the quality of content, how frequently it will cycle out, and so on. But there are much bigger questions here as well. So let’s look at this service, and speculate about where it is going and how it can impact us.
With Sony recently down-scaling Playstation Now, it is little wonder that the service is part of the discussion. A lot of people are jumping to compare the services, either to rub salt into fresh wounds or to cast doubt on the proposed service. However, Playstation Now is the wrong service for the comparison. The closest thing to the Game Pass that Sony have is not their cloud streaming rental service; it is PS Plus. Or more accurately, it was PS Plus. Nowadays Playstation Plus is a direct parallel to Games with Gold, offering multiplayer gaming, discounts, and free games cycled on a monthly basis that are yours to play for as long as you keep up the sub. Frankly the multiplayer element of Plus should not be behind a paywall, but if you’ve been keeping up with your free game downloads then you potentially have hundreds of games available across your PS4, PS3, and may even your PS Vita. Those games you installed to your hard drive and/or added to your library are in fact rentals.
Games With Gold was only introduced as a direct counter to Sony
Scratch at the glossy veneer of the surface of Microsoft’s Game Pass, and you realise that it isn’t actually that far away from the service Sony have been offering for a long time. The one that is almost identical to Xbox Live Gold. The terms of the Game Pass are different: it is front loaded with content, and you don’t get to continue the rental of games when they are cycled out. When you look closely it is clear that the services are actually very alike.
What about Games With Gold?
So if the Game Pass has a lot in common with PS Plus then clearly it will encroach on Games With Gold as well. Unlike Plus, Microsoft started their “Gold” subscription as a supposedly premium online gaming offering. No free games, you paid for access to multiplayer gaming on XBox Live with Party Chat and warm feelings. Games With Gold was only introduced as a direct counter to Sony’s maneuvering. With the Game Pass in place, the Gold service offering must surely lean back towards it’s roots; pay to play multiplayer.
Take a step back for a moment and look at Microsoft’s broader moves with the Xbox brand. The console business is ticking away and Microsoft are clutching their “2nd place” ribbon, but that isn’t all that Xbox is any more. Xbox is a service offering, available on phones and PCs. In fact, with the Play Anywhere initiative, you can play the big Xbox games on a PC. You can even play them online on Xbox Live, with Xbox console gamers. Console gamers that have to pay a subscription… to play on the same service you enjoy free of charge…
Do you see a problem? I do. Microsoft have tried and failed in the past to entice PC gamers to pay for Live, and they are smart enough that they won’t dive into the same situation expecting a different result. However, even the most loyal Xbox fan should question why they are paying for a service and their opponent/team mate enjoys the same uncompromised service for nothing. It has been clear for a while that the Gold service is a poor fit for Microsoft’s new multi-device ecosystem, but what hasn’t been clear is if or how Microsoft will reconcile the glaring discrepancy. Cutting Gold entirely would be turning down sustained revenue. Transitioning away from the multiplayer element that seems so redundant, and emphasising the games and discounts element was the likely answer I arrived at, but that is still likely to yield a net loss in subscriber numbers.
Games For Windows Live? Groovey
Cue the Xbox Game Pass. A new subscription service, available Xbox, Windows Phones, and Windows PCs. Microsoft are not going to attempt to heinously impose Gold subscriptions on PC gamers this time. Instead they will craft a new service, and make it available on all their platforms for those that want to subscribe. A nice optional Game subscription service, as harmless as Groove Music is to music lovers. Suddenly we’re looking at a potential net gain, even if the Gold service is discontinued.
And that brings us back to Sony, and the Playstation Plus subscription model. With the dawn of the PS4, Sony adopted the multiplayer paywall approach from Microsoft. Wouldn’t it have been a great counter-punch if Microsoft had moved in the opposite direction? They could even have put out a piffy video like the old game sharing skit Sony levelled at them. OK, 3 years is after the event is going to dilute the impact of a counter substantially, but if Microsoft have the finese and timing right they can definitely score some positive PR here. In my opinion it would be the right move, but then I’m not the one looking at the monthly Gold subs and pondering whether I really want to stop pocketing those.
As I said at the start, I’m a big advocate for EA Access. What does the Game Pass mean for EA? The ommission of EA from the list of publishers on Microsoft’s announcement is a clear indication that they will continue on their own, at least for now. Activision and Ubisoft are also missing from the list, and time will tell what they are planning.
This is just my thoughts on the announcement, I may be completely off the mark. Still, hopefully it’s given you food for thought, and we’d love to collect your own thought-vomit on what Microsoft are doing and how this will shape up in the future! Leave a comment below. No registration necessary.