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Weekend Musings #14: Damn It, Microsoft

Yesterday, Microsoft announced it has laid off just under 2,000 members of staff from across its gaming teams. That means people from Xbox, Bethesda and Activision. Along with the news comes the cancellation of an as-yet unannounced survival game from Blizzard. That’s not all, though. Rumours suggest Microsoft has laid off the entire customer services teams of Activision Blizzard, and internal departments dedicated to bringing games to physical media have also been shuttered. Yeesh, it’s not a good start to the year, is it?

There’s an awful lot to unpack there. And honestly, one of the main reasons I don’t report on this stuff in an official capacity is that often, I genuinely don’t know what to say. Outside of the facts, of course. And well, there are already dozens upon dozens of outlets you can read them on. The endless layoffs across the industry are nothing short of devastating. I’m heartbroken for everyone who’s lost a job, be it from an indie studio or a AAA — but somehow, Xbox laying off around 8% of its staff feels much more significant. It’s not a great sign for things to come, that’s for sure.

What is Weekend Musings?

Weekend Musings is a weekly feature about, well, anything and everything. It’s where we’ll muse about things that have happened over the last week, including the joys of running a website, general life stuff and of course, plenty of video game chatter. You’ll also find a round-up of news and content from over the last week. Stay up to date with Weekend Musings here.

Jez Corden’s reports of physical media departments getting closed, too, is also alarming. It’s not confirmed, but along with reports earlier this week of Microsoft pulling Starfield from shelves and rumours of the next Xbox model having no disc drive whatsoever, it makes sense. Makes sense from an everything-adds-up standpoint, I should say, not from a logical, consumerist, or just-about-anything-else-ist point of view. It’s, frankly, a ridiculous idea if, in the near future, there exists no physical Xbox media.

Imagine this: someone with little knowledge of games walks into GAME, or a similar shop, wanting to buy a console for a relative. They can have an Xbox, PlayStation or a Switch. The shelves are stacked with PlayStation games and Switch games, but there’s little-to-no Xbox branding on the shelves to be seen. Have a guess at what they might choose to buy. Answer: probably not Xbox.

Maybe this is all a bit doomsday prophesying, and Xbox will continue to publish physical media through a third party. Or at the very least, third party games, like those from Square or Ubisoft, will still have physical releases. Sure, it’s likely. But it’s still a kick in the teeth. People buy boxed games because they like to have a physical collection. If there are always going to be some notable games you can’t have physically on a particular platform, it’s going to be a bit of a turn-off.

Yes, we’ve seen the likes of Alan Wake 2 release recently without a physical edition – and Baldur’s Gate 3’s physical edition has yet to arrive. It’s not out of the ordinary these days. But if a platform holder is saying, hey, we don’t really care about discs anymore, why should third party publishers care either?

I find it hard to imagine many Xbox gamers buy digital goods. To me, the vast majority of players will either be Game Pass subscribers, or the type of person who buys physically. Maybe both. But why would anyone pay £60 or more to own a measly digital edition when you can subscribe to Game Pass? It’s cheaper (if you pay monthly), and you get hundreds of games rather than just one. Without physical games on shelves, I can’t help but feel like Microsoft has just put the final nail in the coffin of its games sales.

Damn it, Microsoft. I really don’t know what else to say. For the 1,900 people without a job today: I’m so sorry, and I hope you land on your feet, and soon. The games industry really sucks lately.

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