Xbox Game Pass could literally change the way we play games. It could be Microsoft’s answer to carving out a niche within the console wars. It could end up being just as big in gaming, as Netflix is for television. These are definitely bold claims to make but work with me. Because it actually makes a lot of sense.
Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft, as the three juggernauts of gaming hardware, have been fighting head to head for years. Each company releases consoles, on which you can play games. They all have online services, exclusive I.P.’s and diehard fan boys. However, they are all rather samey. Each one streamlined in their design to be a similar product. Each of these three companies has attempted to differentiate themselves through peripherals and gimmicks in the past. From VR to motion controls to second screen experiences. Sometimes these attempts at uniqueness pay off and sometimes they don’t. The Wii U’s second screen, tablet experience, was viewed as a monumental failure, while the Xbox One’s always online, multimedia box branding, could be viewed as Microsoft’s downfall this generation.
But I believe these three companies have finally found their niches. Finally found a way to stand out from one another. PlayStation, being the current frontrunner in the console race, has the least intention of changing. A console, simpler to use than a PC, but chock full of first party exclusives and third party exclusivity deals. PlayStation will continue down the traditional console route, as long as they continue to see the overwhelming success they have so far.
Nintendo has already reinvented themselves. Realizing, that to find success, all they need to do is merge their insanely popular handheld hardware and their nostalgia filled line up of I.P.’s. And there you have it, the Switch is born. It doesn’t need to be a more powerful console than the PS4 and Xbox One. It doesn’t need the breadth of third party games the other two consoles have. Nintendo created a console that carved out a niche and worked out what it is. A portable device that delivers console quality Nintendo franchises and indie titles.
So if you have a PS4 and a Switch, then why do you need an Xbox One? It’s virtually the same as the PS4, hardware wise. And sure there are exclusives like Gears of War and Halo, but they’re also on PC. So there really doesn’t seem much point in buying an Xbox One. But if Microsoft is smart, (and they’re definitely a lot smarter than me), they will have realized that Xbox Game Pass is their answer, their opportunity to stand out. But how?
Xbox has been second best since E3 2013. After the monumental success of the Xbox 360, they got cocky. Demanding gamers accept ‘features,’ such as always having to be online. A fiasco that led to the departure of leading figures from Xbox and the consoles lack of success in this current generation. People have also criticized Microsoft for its lack of exclusives compared to Sony and Nintendo, and for relying too heavily on declining franchises like Gears of War and Halo. Microsoft seemed to seal the deal when they recently launched their ‘Play Anywhere’ initiative. The program which launched September 13th, 2016, meaning that once you purchased an Xbox exclusive, you also owned it on PC. Microsoft in an attempt to push Windows 10 stated that all future Xbox exclusives would also release on PC. So there really doesn’t seem to be any reason to buy an Xbox One.
But that’s because Microsoft doesn’t want you to buy their hardware. The Xbox One and the incoming Scorpio are just conduits for you to play games through, just like a PC. Microsoft’s real product is Xbox Game Pass.
Xbox Game Pass releases June 1st and offers subscribers access to over 100 games across the Xbox One and 360 catalogs. Subscribers can download the games, or purchase them outright at a discounted price. Similarly to Netflix, titles will roll in and out as the months go by, ensuring you always have something to play. Sure this may seem like a simple premise, but all you have to do is look at the overwhelming success of Netflix. Netflix is an incredibly successful business, and creates award winning television exclusively for their platform, while also satiating fans with various films and shows they acquired the rights to. So what if Xbox did the same. What if, instead of Xbox One exclusives, we got Xbox Game Pass exclusives?
Imagine Telltale like story games, exclusively for Xbox Game Pass. Releasing over the course of the year, you have a new story experience every month. Or small chunks of games like the episodic Hitman. This could be the future of episodic games. You’d also get one or two big budget exclusives each year. You might still have to purchase them on top of your subscription fee, but possibly at a discounted price. Perhaps Game Pass becomes so big that it can afford to produce new Halo and Gears of War titles, at no extra charge for subscribers. And of course, on top of exclusives, we would see a litany of third party games spanning all three generations of Xbox. You could still buy an Xbox console but you wouldn’t need it to buy the Game Pass, which would also be available on PC. Although games don’t have the same reach as television, just by looking at Netflix, we can see the possibilities unfold for Xbox Game Pass.
Is this Xbox’s way of standing out? A way to create a niche market. Depending on the success of Xbox Game Pass, could we see a future where you buy a PlayStation, a Switch and pay a monthly fee to get access to Microsoft’s catalog? Only time will tell.