As the current console generation draws to a close, the time of the Xbox One can be explained with multiple narratives. On one hand, the early days were defined by poor messaging and failure. The Xbox One was less powerful than the competition, included a peripheral device most players didn’t want, and the brand was simply not in tune with the needs and wants of its fan base. On the other hand, the latter years of the generation were ones of learning and innovating. Central to this was listening to fan feedback and committing to a strategy of putting players first.
Executing this strategy has taken time and patience, and it wasn’t done without missteps. Xbox has had a clear goal of building towards the next generation of consoles since about 2017, and that has come at the expense of the current generation in some cases. First-party AAA game releases between 2017 and 2020 were few and far between. This was especially true when compared to the PlayStation 4’s seemingly yearly Game of the Year contenders. Xbox fans were seemingly asked repeatedly to wait just a little bit longer.
Now, in 2020, the wait appears to have paid off. We know that the tone and messaging from Xbox has been different, but what is Microsoft’s exact strategy for the Xbox Series X/S and why is it the right one? In essence, the clear messaging from Microsoft can be broken down into a few simple values.
Make Games as Accessible as Possible for Everyone
Throughout the past decade and a half, the transition from physical media to digital media has been at the forefront of the entertainment industry. First, people traded in their binders full of CDs for iPods and now get their music through services like Spotify on their smartphones. Next, physical copies of DVDs and Blu-Rays turned into digital copies. Having a physical cable box turned into subscriptions to Netflix and Hulu for many consumers. Even PC gamers have long been accustomed to installing games without ever seeing a disc.
Console gaming was bound to trend in this direction too. In June 2019, PlayStation reported that digital game sales surpassed physical sales for the first time. Xbox launched the Xbox One S All-Digital edition in what was likely a test to gauge consumer interest in a disc-less console. The price point of the All-Digital console wasn’t ideal for consumers, but the intent was clear. Xbox wanted to provide as many ways as possible to play.
Nothing is a better example of that commitment than Xbox Game Pass, which was introduced in June 2017. Essentially, it is the video game version of Netflix. Pay a flat monthly fee and have access to over 100 games on your Xbox! It’s a great deal for many gamers that don’t have the disposable income to afford many different games. It’s also greatly beneficial to smaller developers, who are able to get their game in front of many more players. Ideally, those players will turn around and purchase the sequel, or the next game the developer makes.
Game Pass has its detractors, though. There are some who decry the model where you don’t own the license to any of the games offered. It’s true that games come and go from the service. It’s also true that AAA third-party titles tend to have the shortest stay on the service. What often gets left out of the conversation is that being a Game Pass member gets you a discount off of any game on the service, should you choose to buy it. Movies and TV shows come and go from Netflix monthly too – it’s just newer to gaming so it feels a little more strange to a small but vocal minority.
Opponents also say that services like Game Pass open the door for that model to be the only way to play games in the future. In truth, the slippery slope argument has been a favorite weapon of choice for stubborn gamers peddling little more than a fanboy narrative for the past decade. The facts just don’t support the slippery slope argument. Digital game sales have exploded in the past six years – both Xbox and PlayStation are still offering consoles with disc drives in the upcoming generation. Last I checked, Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Gamestop, and more still sell physical games too.
Gaming is for Everyone
Likewise, Xbox Game Pass isn’t creating a world where you’re forced to buy into the idea of gaming as a service. Want to pay $60 or $70 for every new AAA game? Go for it. Microsoft certainly won’t stop you. Game Pass isn’t about Microsoft making you change the way you experience games. It’s about giving you more choice about how you do and more ways to become part of the Xbox community.
Getting the console is only one step in overcoming the barrier to entry to playing video games. Playing games on a strict budget is no easy feat when every AAA game costs $60, or now $70. Services like Game Pass offer gamers with tighter budgets the opportunity to have a large selection of games at their disposal at all times. Again, it is about choice. Services like Game Pass offer more players the opportunity to engage with the medium in the way that works best for them.
It’s not only players that benefit from this model. Smaller developers have often sung the praises of Game Pass. Why? It gets their game out in front of millions of players that might have never considered buying it. Players play it, and those who like it are much more likely to invest in the sequel or next game from that developer.
The formula is simple: place AAA games on the service to get people to buy into the service, then fill out the lineup with smaller, independent games from different genres. This provides something to play for every type of gamer. It benefits the developers of AAA games by getting more people to buy the DLC or microtransactions in the game. It benefits smaller developers by getting their game into people’s hands and letting word of mouth promote it. Everyone wins.
Xbox All-Access Makes Playing Games Easier for Everyone
Game Pass makes it easy to get access to more games, but you still have to
have a console. Microsoft has sought to make getting your hands on an Xbox console easier and more convenient in the past few years. Sure, you can go to a store and buy an Xbox One X or Xbox Series X. You can pay $500 for a Series X, head home, and own the console. That option is still, as it always was, there.
Or, you can choose another option with Xbox All-Access. Back in 2008, you’d
have to pay for a new phone up front if you wanted one. You might get a $200 credit for upgrading your device, but the rest was to be paid in a lump sum. Clearly, that model has changed. Providers now offer you the newest iPhone or Android with a monthly payment that just becomes part of your bill. Microsoft is seeking to accomplish the same thing with Xbox All-Access.
Xbox All-Access allows you to pay $25 per month for a Series S or $35 for a
Series X. On top of getting the brand new console, the price also includes Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, meaning you have Xbox Live and Game Pass the moment you open the box. All-Access gives players flexibility to get the console they want the way they want.
The drawback to Xbox All Access is that it requires a credit check. We’re not about providing the “that’s just the way it is” defense, but the All-Access model does present some risk to Microsoft. It’s in their best interest to know that the people using the program tend to pay off their debts. It is, however, unfortunate that people with less than ideal credit won’t be able to have that option.
A Better Future For Xbox
With the successful additions of Xbox Game Pass and Xbox All-Access to their platform, Xbox has positioned itself as being incredibly consumer friendly heading into the next generation. Add to that the many developer acquisitions, culminating with the acquisition of Bethesda this week. Xbox has made Xbox Game Pass not only a great deal, but a must-have if you’re an Xbox fan.
Having access to Halo, Gears, Avowed, Fable, Fallout, DOOM, Elder Scrolls, and many more on day one on Xbox Game Pass is an awfully compelling case to subscribe. That, along with the accessibility Xbox is providing gamers for the next generation, is the best reason to own an Xbox in quite some time.