The next big Xbox game you play could be a game you are on the fence with today. An indie game you have never heard of or something that plays well on your phone over lunch breaks. It could be a 20-year-old game you have never played. Or even a short five-hour prologue of the most anticipated game coming next year. Now that Xbox is all in on Game Pass they are no longer beholden to three to four-year development cycles and AAA price tags. This will allow them the flexibility moving forward to come up with creative ways to publish or partner on their next big game.
A Whole New Measuring Stick
With that, it does not mean that Xbox is going to shift to smaller episodic content for all of their IPs. It means they can if they want to. Just as they can shift to long-term projects. Xbox can put out a five-hour game in two years or, they can spend the next decade turning Minecraft, Forza, Fallout 76, and The Elder Scrolls Online into ongoing platforms. Maybe the next big Xbox game is already in Game Pass, one major content update away.
The subscription model changes what Xbox has as its primary goal. Which is now just to ensure quality content in Game Pass. Prior to Game Pass, a publisher would put out a game, ride a short wave and then move on to the next game. Xbox now has the motivation and the financial flexibility to continually build upon their games. The goal is no longer to sell the $60 copy of a game and move on to the next one. It’s to ensure value in that $15 per month fee. Look at the types of games getting free next-gen patches. Games with external content that is not free. Games like Borderlands 3, Mortal Kombat 11 and, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege. There is a financial motivation for publishers to get these games in the hands of as many gamers as they can so that you spend on content updates.
Updates As A Service
Look at a game like Death Stranding. There is no motivation for Sony to spend millions of dollars bringing that game to the PS5. Even with the visual improvements already being complete on the PC version of the game. Games like Death Stranding and The Last of Us 2 are most likely going to get significant content updates if and when they come to the PS5, enticing existing players to double-dip. Which would allow Sony to recoup the development costs of these upgrades.
It is not a predatory practice. Not one single company is going to publish their games at a loss and Sony needs to ensure consumers will cover that somehow. With the new price tag of Xbox games being the $15 subscription, Microsoft is not worried about that. Today your subscription is paying for Halo Infinite. Next month your subscription is going to pay for visual enhancements to Skyrim, a 10-year-old game. Newfound flexibility in the Xbox ecosystem allows them to pivot. We saw an early example of this with Halo: The Master Chief Collection. The eight years Xbox has spent working on the game could be done under no other pricing structure. Any other publisher would have most likely laid the team off.
Anything Netflix Has Done For TV, Xbox Can Do For Games
In the very early days of Netflix, as it was transitioning from mailing physical discs to a streaming option, cult classic TV show Arrested Development found new life. Netflix knew something nobody else on the planet knew. A show that had been canceled for five years, had become one of the most popular shows on the planet. The show’s revival on Netflix was a significant moment in history as Netflix turned to create original content. This thought process can open so many doors for Xbox. Maybe The Initiative is making Perfect Dark because of its popularity as a backward compatibility title? Just like I will never get the Animal Crossing-like Viva Pinata I always wanted because I am the only person playing the game.
Think about this scenario, an outlet like DigitalFoundry does a video on how amazing Splinter Cell is on the Series X with HDR enabled. It goes viral and the game sells millions of copies from mom-and-pop retro shops. Xbox could call Ubisoft the next day and fully fund a new game under the IP. Likewise just as Xbox can figure out what’s not popular and pivot. This works for both third-party and first-party IPs. Xbox has the flexibility here to point teams to these old IPs.
A Second Life
Every year there are countless games that are released to tempered enthusiasm. As well as games that begin to lose their player base. Some games like Fall Guys and Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege require these player bases to even function as a game. A service like Game Pass can inject new life into these titles. Allowing them to live again or even just a little bit longer. This brings an audience that is more open to spending money on cosmetics or microtransactions given that they will not pay the full retail price for the game.
Then you have the addition of Outriders to Game Pass. The late spring is beginning to become crowded with more significant titles like MLB The Show, Mass Effect, and Resident Evil Village. In addition to having to compete with other similar games like Destiny, Marvel’s Avengers, and The Division 2. All of which have new free meaningful content updates. Outriders will not get a fair chance to be a successful title. Now the more than 18 million Game Pass subscribers will have access to the game day and date. An unprecedented move of sending a AAA game a life raft prior to release. A signal to every publisher in the industry that Game Pass has given the flexibility to Xbox that allows for these second chances.
Indie Games As A Service
Game Pass is going to be a fantastic home for Indie developers. Just because their game costs $20 does not make them safe from what Outriders is experiencing. In fact, I have personally taken up the new motto, “Games are going to be $70 and the Indies are going to pay for it.” Even the most hardcore gaming enthusiast is going to be limited by both time and money. Publishers charging $70 for AAA games will not magically add another $10 into all of our gaming budgets. Gamers are just going to buy fewer games at retail.
Plus the more games lean on live service features the longer they are going to last for the casual audience. The next game the casual gamer buys is getting further and further away. Over the next 10 years, Indie developers and publishers are going to have to become more aggressive with their messaging. With the dozens of games coming out each week fighting for less of our time and less of our money. Game Pass is going to be able to supplement these things for Indies. As long as Xbox can cover the costs of their expected retail sales, it’s an easy way to ensure a wide audience.
Automate The Xbox Mobile Platform
The mobile gaming industry will hit the $100 billion US dollar mark by 2023. Xbox’s competition has almost nothing invested into the mobile market, leaving the door open for new revenue streams. Sure the Switch is a handheld device and Nintendo has a small handful of mobile games. Yet their impact in the mobile market has not been substantial at all. Also, PlayStation does give you the ability to remote play from your console but, that’s not the same as xCloud. There are significant barriers and inconveniences. Calling the transition from your Xbox console to your phone seamless is an understatement. Playing a huge bulk of Game Pass games with cloud saves on mobile hardware is just the first big step Xbox has taken.
The Game Pass service gives them the flexibility to fund the cost of xCloud as well as populate it with meaningful games. What they are offering isn’t even in the same ballpark as Super Mario Run and Mario Kart Tour. Not to mention that a $15 subscription allows them to offer “mobile games” at no extra cost. Plus the games are not loaded with “gotcha” mechanics that push towards microtransactions like typical mobile games. Their game like Skyrim, Yakuza 0, and Halo. Creating a healthier type of game that as soon as casual games overseas discover, will open the floodgates of mobile-centric subscribers. Plus it will be interesting to see if Xbox leverages the mobile team at Bethesda to create something in a console-mobile hybrid space.
Game Pass Flexibility Gives Xbox A Bright Future
Xbox has shown over the past year that they are aware of the phrase, “if you build it, they will come.” If Xbox can convert their 90 million Xbox Live subscribers to Game Pass it will be one of the largest subscription services on the planet. With that giving them a yearly revenue stream that would more than double what they spent acquiring Bethesda. Opening doors for Xbox to bring thousands of games, new and old to Game Pass. Giving Microsoft tremendous flexibility for the next big Xbox game. Head of Xbox, Phil Spencer, has done a fantastic job showing he is the right guy to lead the conversations on how to build the platform inside of Microsoft.