What future does the Game Pass hold? - article

What future does the Game Pass hold? - article
Now that the next-gen has taken shape in front of our eyes, it is clear that the Game Pass represents one of the futures of gaming. Not the future itself, but certainly Microsoft's. On the opposite side we have Nintendo and Sony, companies anchored to the increasingly expensive retail sale. In such a multifaceted market, it is important to read between the lines of marketing strategies, and understand where the path that will guarantee greater stability and sustainability to the entire industry lies.

Game Pass breaks through the hearts of many users, after all, it sounds too good to be true. It offers a rich subscription catalog, with the promise of day one exclusives. There is already talk of Halo Infinite, Fable and The Elder Scrolls VI. It is an inexpensive service that interconnects various devices and is in favor of the consumer. Born in 2017, from 2018 it introduced the titles of Microsoft Studios and now, thanks to an alliance with EA Play, it has further implemented the offer. As of September 21, 2020, there were over 15 million subscribers.

Anyone comparing this success to that of streaming services like Netflix has only caught half of the question. Something more akin to the rise of Blockbuster in the mid 90s is happening. In fact, streaming is secondary, it is an accessory called xCloud. With Game Pass, you rent games, and you don't need a stable and ultra-fast connection: this means that the audience is wider and less fearful than those who approached Google Stadia one speedtest after another.

Halo Infinite, coming to Game Pass, according to Phil Spencer could be released in stages. Microsoft offers over a hundred games, to be downloaded at your own pace, which can invariably run on PC or Xbox. It does not offer anything futuristic, just something very comfortable and within everyone's reach.

It is not surprising that Series S, the least convincing of the new generation, takes on a completely different light if inserted in the perspective of global savings. Let's pull the sum of the elements of the Pass that point in this direction, they will serve to show the lights and shadows of an offer that is undoubtedly attractive, but which hides some problems.

First of all Game Pass has a competitive price, at the moment on 12.99 euros per month in the Ultimate version. Although Phil Spencer guaranteed on the stability of the costs of the service, thanks to Microsoft to cover his shoulders, on PC there has already been an increase from 3.99 to 9.99 euros. In a similar way to what is happening with Netflix subscriptions abroad, it is reasonable to expect further increases.

Secondly, the new Xboxes allow Quick Resume. The ability to quickly switch from one title to another, with acceptable loading times. It entices you to binge gaming: an approach to the game that avoids boredom and fossilization on the same game. Binge gaming aims to keep glued to the platform and to the benefit of Microsoft, not indies that will serve to disconnect from the slower rhythms of an open world.

Thanks to the alliance with EA Play, Jedi Fallen Order will arrive on Game Pass Ultimate. A deterrent for retail buyers? Finally Phil Spencer expressed the desire to add more casual video games to the "portfolio". That means shallower, faster, party-like experiences with microtransactions. Although, says Matty Booty (head of Xbox Game Studios), the opposite is also true: thanks to the Game Pass you can bet on courageous and experimental titles, such as Tell Me Why. Not that certain studies, tested as Dontnod, need safety nets to launch politically committed games.

The other side of sustainability is therefore a world that is based on the frequency and duration of the gaming sessions; on earnings through DLC and microtransactions (we're also talking about EA Play after all); on the preference for game as a service; on the acquisition of user data in order to support Microsoft as Microsoft, and not Microsoft as a gaming platform.

This is because developers are paid on the basis of advances, downloads and use by players. In order not to stop the sales, Microsoft is offering subscribers a 20% discount to buy those out of print games. But who would risk buying a Jedi Fallen Order, knowing that it could later end up, as it did, in the Pass?

It is up to the user to accept or not all these counterpoints, because it is from demand that the market is reshaped. The merits, it is true, can balance and are there for all to see. With games in the Pass that take advantage of the Smart Delivery function, for example, Microsoft aims at the birth of a permanent service, capable of overcoming the challenge of time and interconnecting multiple generations of consoles.

With Project xCloud the Microsoft ecosystem is versatile and suitable for everyone. Game Pass also gives greater visibility to indies, despite the risk of abandoning the catalog in case of failure. There is a consumer protection never seen before, because each game is a demo in itself, and must strongly withstand the judgment of the players. The risk of running into expensive but disappointing purchases is reduced. And you have the opportunity to test and discover new series, an opportunity for publishers to retain a new audience. From trying Resident Evil 7 to buying RE: Village, it's a short step.

Sony's Jim Ryan has admitted that releasing a subscription game on day-one is not sustainable. It is obviously not sustainable for the developers and the company. Users would rejoice but the average price of a triple A production is, when it does not exceed them, around 100 million dollars. Even Karl Slatoff, president of Take Two (which holds 2K and Rockstar in its orbit), considers the price of $ 70 per video game low, while keeping in mind the wishes of consumers.

Such prohibitive prices damage the sector: with the price increase customers decrease and at the same time all those free-to-play games that are easier to access, but with predatory mechanics of various settings, proliferate. It is therefore believed that the most effective solution, to achieve sustainability, is the coexistence of excellent exclusives, to be sold at retail, and excellent subscription systems, to be considered as secondary support. Microsoft is not entirely in agreement, because it has reversed the paradigm: the exclusives are part of the pass and the subscription comes first.

On the one hand the power of Series X, on the other the convenience of Series S. Several developers are satisfied with the benefits obtained with Game Pass. Mike Rose of No More Robots told GameDaily that sales of multiplayer Descenders quadrupled, as if it had a second life. Chris Wright, of Fellow Traveler, saw in Game Pass an excellent complementary system, to reinforce the success of Genesis Noir, Orwell and Stillness of the Wind. Dan Da Rocha of Jaw Drop Games found the advance from Microsoft useful, while Simon Byron of Curve Digital notes that players who tried Human: Fall Flat were not used to the puzzle genre.

Finally a question arises. Can free access to all these games make the user a passive consumer? It doesn't happen in a library. Talking about a flattening of the market is unrealistic, because it is not Game Pass that invented DLCs and GaaS, and because indies are struggling to get noticed precisely for their nature of independent products. Indeed, a user who is not used to detaching himself from triple A, could do so and flesh out the gaming market as a whole.

Experiences generally seem positive but we must not stop wondering what happens to those who stay outside the Pass. What are one hundred, two hundred games, if compared to the genres, the adventures, the sagas released for our medium? Logic has it that everything else would bounce from one unsustainable system to another, in order to cope with a wall of games that are too cheap and distributed all together. The impression is therefore that Game Pass would be sustainable if it became hegemonic, so as to exclude microtransactions and variants, but a market without competition does not exist and would not be sustainable by its very nature.

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Fable, another exclusive for subscription. In other words, Game Pass seems like a good alternative to what we're used to, and it's hardly a deal with the devil. But that's not the solution. It's something incredible for the user, but a neutron star for the industry - small but dense, too dense to live around. Game Pass is and will be Microsoft's ace, its "killer app", but the competition will continue to be the usual competition. It could bend, for example by enhancing Ps Now, but it will have its usual strengths, in the usual Far West. Once again, exclusives versus services.

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