Is Microsoft's Game Pass The Real Next Gen Winner?

Microsoft's recent showcase was, undoubtedly, a success compared to May's disastrous outing. Showing off Halo Infinite, Fable, Everwild, Forza Motorsport, Avowed, The Gunk, Psychonauts 2 and many more was a great move (even if most of the games shown were just trailers). 

Perhaps the biggest announcement (aside from THAT Halo Infinite gameplay) was the news that Halo Infinite and every other game at the event would be heading to Game Pass. 

This is a major move and indicates Microsoft is looking to go beyond merely manufacturing consoles to increase its share of the market. Hardware is expensive to research, design and manufacture, with thin margins. 

Software, as Microsoft knows well, can be incredibly lucrative. It makes more sense for Satya Nadella, therefore, to push its Xbox division away from hardware and towards the land of milk and honey found in software. I wouldn't be too surprised if the Xbox Series X and Series S were the last physical consoles the company makes.

In this blog post, I will look at the success of Game Pass, its use as a next gen game demo provider and two potential pitfalls in may encounter along the way. I will also briefly look at Sony's current Game Pass alternative and how it could respond. 

Game Pass: An Overwhelming Success

Xbox One and Games

Microsoft's Game Pass has been a fantastic success, with millions of subscribers using the service on a monthly basis. As Techradar notes: "So, how is Microsoft doing on the services front? Incredibly well, it turns out. It’s managed to amass over 10 million Xbox Game Pass subscribers and, unlike with a single game or hardware purchase, these subscribers bring in a consistent cash flow every single month."

Adding xCloud to Game Pass could potentially add many more. There are a lot of smartphones out there (Statista is predicting over 3.5 billion smartphone users worldwide in 2020) , with 269.44 million in the US alone (in 2019 according to Statista). 

Working with smartphone manufacturers such as Samsung to ensure Game Pass is preinstalled on new models is a good start to tap into this market and I wouldn't be surprised if other manufacturers jump on board. 

Other devices we could see Game Pass on include televisions. Kitguru recently reported on a new service called Samsung Access for TV, which includes Xbox Game Pass Ultimate: "According to the page, "“the option to choose one of the services for a limited time (up to a $120 value)”. Though there is no explicit mention of Microsoft’s project xCloud, smart TV’s would have the ability to stream games (thanks to its WIFI and Bluetooth capabilities)."

Game Pass: The Future of Demos

white Xbox one controllers

I grew up with demo discs for the PC, Mac and consoles. I loved browsing WHSmith for the latest issue of my favorite magazine and discovering what demos I could play that afternoon. 

Nowadays, all you need to do is download them from Steam or a console eShop and you're done. While I miss the nostalgia, I'm sometimes in awe of how much progress has happened over the last few decades. 

Perhaps one of the best things about Game Pass is that it can help consumers make better buying decisions. I signed up not long ago for a three month trial of Game Pass Ultimate for PC for only £1 ($1) and got a lot of value out of it. I played games like Halo: Reach, Metro Exodus and The Outer Worlds for a lot less than going to the movies. It was incredible

The experience gave me the confidence to say yes to buying these games on Steam later on. I knew they were worth buying after trying them first. If Microsoft had included a 'Buy Now' button I might have actually seriously bought them there and then. 

Including xCloud could help increase the sales of impulse buys. Using a free one day Game Pass trial, you could try out Halo Infinite and decide you like it but don't want the commitment of a 6 month Game Pass contract. A message pops up offering a limited offer for 30% off if you buy it this weekend. You click yes and happiness ensues. 

Everybody wins. 

Will Game Pass Suffer From Over-saturation?

Black Xbox controller

One of the problems Game Pass could suffer from is being over-saturated with content. Too many games, not enough gamers to play them. 

One way Game Pass could help ensure a balance and get smaller games an audience is through intelligent curation. Use machine learning to look at gamer patterns and behavior and curate alternative titles to them. 

xCloud will enable players to jump straight in and help determine whether the game is right for them. Don't like it? Exit and find something else. 

Could Third Parties Stop Their Games From Being On Game Pass?

Stop sign

One of the biggest risks Game Pass could face is with third parties not being happy with their games being on their service and taking them off. We've seen it already with GeForce Now and there's no reason why it couldn't happen to any other competing service. 

One of Stadia's most attractive reasons for publishers to come on board is that gamers have to buy their games again with the service. You can't play games you already own. While this is incredibly annoying for a lot of gamers who may be interested in the service, it can be extremely tempting for any developer or large publisher keen to reach new audiences. 

While I can't see this happening with Game Pass, I think there is an inherent risk that some developers and/or publishers could take their games off the service or demand more favorable terms to keep them there. 

What Game Pass has on its side is Microsoft's clout. This is a massive corporation with deep pockets and it has the size and influence to prevent this from happening. 

How Could Sony Respond?

PlayStation controller

Sony has PlayStation Now, enabling gamers to play a huge library of games from the PlayStation 2, 3 and 4 on a PlayStation 4 or PC. The service will be available on the PlayStation 5 according to a Gamesradar article

There is no reason why Sony couldn't take this further with apps on Google Play and the Apple App Store or make deals with smartphone manufacturers. 

Sony could aggressively pursue the service, too, but this remains to be seen. The PlayStation 5 seems to be, so far, all about exclusive games you can't find anywhere else. Whether it would want these games to be played on a range of different platforms remains to be seen. 

Closing Thoughts

Game Pass could be well be the winner of the next generation if it extends its reach to other devices and reaches an entire new audience. There will be challenges along the way and I can't wait to see how the service responds and innovates in the years to come. 

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