E3 is always a wonderland of video game goodness with the freshest games and designs dominating the spotlight. This year the clear winner is not any one game or franchise but rather the radical plans Microsoft has for future video game delivery via Xbox Game Pass.
Through blog posts, news releases and live-stream announcements, Microsoft has slowly revealed a bold plan that goes against previous console generation expectations. Xbox Game Pass and xCloud will be made far more accessible for loyal subscribers, with next-gen content being made available to previous-gen console owners.
What’s new with Xbox Game Pass?
Since launching in 2017 the premium, cross-platform subscription service has been a smashing success. Offering flexible reimbursement options for developers – be that up-front production cost coverage or a more standard revenue sharing arrangement based on usage – Xbox Game Pass now has a whopping 23 million subscribers (as of April this year) across the basic and Ultimate packages.
The cross-platform accessibility across PC, Xbox One, Series X│S and android devices was already a massive draw for the service, with recent news outlining even broader accessibility.
Tucked away in a recent community address, Microsoft has announced that they are working with global television manufacturers to embed Xbox Game Pass access into television sets with internet access, with no additional hardware required (though a Bluetooth enabled controller seems very necessary). This option will circumvent the need for consoles entirely, a bold move in the face of their own interests but one grounded in a philosophy that prioritises access for all gamers. There is no current date set for the release of this application for TV’s.
Games, Games Games!
On top of increasing customer reach, Microsoft has made it abundantly clear Xbox Game Pass is a priority going forward. Via the E3 showcase, Microsoft announced nearly every upcoming title would be available day one on Xbox Game Pass. This includes key titles such as Halo: Infinity, Psychonauts 2 and A Plague Tale Requiem which would have safely sold an excessive amount of digital and physical copies outside of Xbox Game Pass.
While titles come and go, over 300 games are usually available on Xbox Game Pass. With this new roadmap of upcoming games being an addition to the usual monthly roll over of new titles, coupled with the release of the entire mainline Yakuza saga – dropped at the same time as the E3 showcase. Microsoft also announced a virtual claw game to play via the Xbox Game Pass information portal to snag some free subscriptions and discounts, bringing old and new gameplay together in a novel marketing strategy.
Don’t forget about xCloud!
Project xCloud is Microsoft’s attempt to land cloud-based video game streaming. Removing the need for consoles entirely. Project xCloud has slowly been worked on in a limited preview capacity for various individuals and regions and is now available to any Xbox Game Pass Ultimate as Xbox Cloud Gaming.
While there is still some regions without full access to Xbox Cloud Gaming and not all optimised Series X│S games are currently supported, cloud-based streaming has opened up gaming opportunities for people as they travel or find a break in their day. Previously, only the Nintendo Switch or mobile games were an option in these dull moments without video games. Available via PC and android devices, bandwidth is now the only real obstacle between the player and their beloved console games.
In a recent announcement Microsoft made clear that all the hard work into cloud gaming will be used to ensure the viability of the Xbox One even in the age of the Series X│S. Through Xbox Cloud Gaming, previous-gen console owners will be able stream next-gen exclusive titles as all the hard processing is done by remote servers. This is yet another move that undermines X│S sales and yet ensures customer loyalty and accessibility. Xbox Cloud Gaming is also the critical element for Microsoft to distribute Game Pass to internet enabled televisions mentioned above.
Changing the Game
Following the marketing choices from Microsoft has been nothing short of a rollercoaster ride. From January of this year when it was announced that Xbox Live Gold costs would be increasing, to a radical backtrack undoing said change due to customer backlash, a promise to make Free-to-Play games actually free, a rebranding of Xbox Live to Xbox Network and all the wonderful streaming and Game Pass choices above.
As of April, Microsoft held true to the promise of Free-to-Play games requiring no extra cost or subscription, an even more generous decision now that Halo: Infinity’s multiplayer has been confirmed to be Free-to-Play.
At every turn Microsoft seems to be pushing for greater accessibility and the reasonable financing of video games and services, even to the detriment of it’s own profit margins. However, when you consider how unmatched Microsoft has become in terms of this delivery method for console owners, perhaps it’s less about winning the battle of this console generation, but changing the rules entirely to be the only option left standing in the future.
Slowly and pervasively, Microsoft has developed as system of free games, an extensive backlog of gaming legacy, day one access to new titles and streaming to handheld devices. All while competitors remain largely idle. The awkward PS Now service from Sony has struggled to keep up in versatility and streaming access and Nintendo Switch Online remains as disappointing as it was launched.
If the tactics listed above and the sneaky distribution of Xbox Game Pass to internet enabled televisions helps make Xbox as approachable as “Netflix and chill,” the future of console wars may already be won!