Today, Microsoft has made a major announcement regarding its Game Pass subscription service.
Going forward, all Microsoft Studios titles will enter the service the same day they're released at retail. That means for £7.99/$9.99 a month you'll be able to play titles like Sea of Thieves, Crackdown 3 and State of Decay 2 on the day of their release without spending an extra penny. And when the next Halo game releases that'll be available too. And Gears of War. And Forza. If you're an Xbox One owner, that's a pretty compelling reason to go and subscribe to Xbox Game Pass right now, isn't it?
It's undoubtedly a bold move by Microsoft, and one that will certainly shift a few Xbox Ones in the coming months. But what are the possible industry implications of this bolstering of the Xbox Game Pass service?
Brick and Mortar Stores
Brick and mortar game stores are likely to see Microsoft's new Xbox Game Pass announcement as a threat. With Microsoft Studios' titles included in the Xbox Game Pass service, physical game sales will undoubtedly decrease, and as a result so will footfall. In the consumer's eyes, why pay £50/$60 for a game when you can play it, and many others, for a flat rate of £7.99/$9.99 a month?
But that thought process is going to hurt retailers. In a move made to possibly soften the blow, Microsoft has announced that it is working with GameStop in the US to sell 6-month Xbox Game Pass subscription cards, but only time will tell if sales of those cards are enough to replace the deficit created by the loss of sales of new releases.
Third Party Concerns
Third parties will no doubt be keen to see how the Xbox Game Pass performs in light of the new announcement. On one hand, it could negatively affect the sales of third party games, with Xbox Game Pass subscribers being too busy playing their library of over 100 games or simply waiting for new games to be added into the service rather than buying them. On the other hand, however, some third parties may be interested in starting their own subscription service, similar to EA with EA Access. Soon, we might be able to subscribe to all our favourite publishers, being able to play their games upon release for one monthly fee.
While Microsoft will want to make a concerted effort to heavily market the Xbox Game Pass in the coming months to make people aware of its benefits, in the long run, they may find that they no longer have to aggressively market their new releases. It's hard work selling a £50/$60 release to Joe Public, but if the majority of Xbox users are already subscribed to the Xbox Game Pass service, marketing isn't as important. They'll have access to the latest games on day one, why wouldn't they try them? And it they make a positive impact, word of mouth will garner more purchases and downloads.
Press and media outlets are likely to see a shift in the content that their readers consume following Microsoft's Xbox Game Pass announcement. If you're an Xbox Game Pass subscriber and are going to be able to play Sea of Thieves on day one, are you going to be as interested as before to read a review of the game? What's the point when you can just try the game yourself? Some outlets will possibly be more picky about the titles they review as a result. With more Xbox One gamers possibly playing the latest games, however, guides and opinion pieces may receive more traffic.
Microsoft's Xbox Game Pass is a big win for consumers no matter how you look at it. For the price of one major release you can now enjoy six months of Xbox Game Pass, which gives you access to over 100 downloadable titles including Microsoft Studios releases on day one of their release. That's amazing value for money.
The Xbox Game Pass changing the perception of the value of games may be an issue, however, with consumers becoming reluctant to pay full price for third party games and first party games on competing formats. Sony and Nintendo may find themselves forced to copy Microsoft's subscription strategy if the general public accepts it as the new norm.
The Games Themselves
It has been reported that Halo 5's microtransactions brought in huge sums of money for Microsoft; that's why they find their way into many AAA games. A cynical thinker may ponder the prospect of Microsoft adding yet more microtransactions into their games to counter any loss of sales. Let's not forget that it will more than likely be the standard edition of Microsoft Studios games entering the Xbox Game Pass service, so if you want to experience everything that the next Forza Horizon has to offer you're going to have to buy the season pass and the car pass etc. By including its latest releases in the Xbox Game Pass, Microsoft is getting its hooks in you, hoping that you'll fork out for additional content that you otherwise might not have purchased.
Overall, it's clear to see that the Xbox Game Pass is a terrific service - it has been so since day one of its launch. But Microsoft's announcement makes it more than that. By including Microsoft Studios games on the day of their release it has become a business model; a way to bring gamers to the Xbox One platform and keep them there. The Xbox Game Pass seems like a bargain - and it is - but Microsoft will be hoping that subscribers buy digital content to supplement the games included in the service. We'll have to wait and see if that happens, but either way, there'll be a lot of eyes watching the progress of the Xbox Game Pass over the next year.