We have a good overview of what the next generation of consoles will look like now, at least in terms of hardware. We even know what most companies will be focusing on to beat the competition: Sony is relying on coveted third-party exclusives for the PS5, while Nintendo is hoping for broad appeal and many indies will keep the Switch attractive.
But surprisingly, it̵
No, Microsoft is committed to changing the way people pay for their entertainment. And they could just win anything.
The “Netflix for Games” has arrived
It was a few years ago de rigueur mark a new service as “Netflix of ____”. This is now out of fashion, if only because it has proven much more difficult to replicate the success of Netflix than it seems. But the Xbox Game Pass did it.
Game Pass is Microsoft’s offering on a subscription game service. It’s not unique: Sony has oneNintendo has one, mega publishers like EA and Ubisoft have one. Even Apple and Google each have one. However, Game Pass is superior to the competition as the emphasis is on getting brand new, desirable games to the library as soon as they are released and targeting both Xbox and PC gamers.
Game Pass started with the Xbox One, but with the Xbox Series X and Series S, Microsoft wants to make the service and hardware nearly indistinguishable. If you’ve got a new Xbox, you’ll want Game Pass Ultimate, if only because it offers phenomenal value. For a few dollars more than Xbox Live (the online multiplayer component that has been around since the original Xbox), you get access to a library of 100+ full games that you can download and play at your leisure. Oh, and you get the multiplayer component too.
You also get access to some of these games on a PC (assuming your game is powerful enough to play them), and starting this month you’ll have access to all of the games that are streamed on Android phones and tablets. It’s an incredible sale, especially now that you don’t even need an Xbox to play the games in the first place. There are other tiers of Game Pass ($ 15 for everything, $ 10 for the Xbox only with a few perks removed, $ 10 for the PC only), but Ultimate is the clear winner.
Microsoft is doubling the Game Pass. The pass currently includes AAA titles such as Halo, Resident Evil, Forza, war gear, Minecraft, Sea of Thieves, and Minecraft, and popular indie games like Ori and the blind forest, don’t starve, Hollow Knight, Subnautica, and Dead cells. But the pass also gets at least some brand new high profile games: I’ve played The outer worlds on the day there was an almost free Game Pass trial.
During Microsoft’s big presentation for the Xbox Series X (and thus also for the Series S) in July, 20 new titles were presented, including Halo Infinite, Forza Motorsport, Psychonauts 2, a new fableand extended content for The outer worlds, destiny 2, and Phantasy Star Online 2. And all of them will be on the Game Pass on the first day, available to subscribers without paying a cent extra.
That is a serious value. The fact that all games in the EA Play subscription (formerly known as EA Access and Origin Access) come with the Game Pass at no extra charge is just the icing on the cake.
The right price at the right time
Improving Game Pass, however, is only half of Microsoft’s strategy. Regardless of mobile streaming (especially because it’s limited to Android), you need to give people the hardware to actually play all of these games. And depending on whether you have powerful gaming PCs, this isn’t an egalitarian approach.
Microsoft’s one-two ties the Xbox hardware and Xbox Game Pass subscription together. Starting with the launch of the Xbox Series X and Series S, you can pay a monthly fee for your console and game subscription together. It has the same two-year term and interest-free pricing that consumers have become used to with high-end phones running into the four digits.
For Game Pass Ultimate and the flagship Xbox Series X, you pay $ 35 a month for two years. For the cheaper, discless Xbox Series S (which can play all games with lower visual fidelity), it’s only $ 25 a month. While it was certainly possible to buy a game console on credit or in absentia, offering a combination subscription and interest-free financing like this is unprecedented.
And it’s good business too. The Xbox Series X is $ 500, the Xbox Series S is $ 300, and Game Pass Ultimate would cost $ 360 for two years. At $ 35 or $ 25 per month, players who choose this combination will actually save $ 20 and $ 60, respectively. There’s no reason unless you don’t like paying monthly, or you think your new Xbox will be tired in less than two years Not to choose the combo subscription option.
With several years of experience selling surfaces through the Microsoft Store (including funding options), Microsoft was ideally positioned to offer some of the same offerings to its gaming customers. So I tend to believe that this subscription model for both games and the hardware to play them has long been on the agenda.
And while the coronavirus pandemic isn’t pretty, people have more time and less money than usual. That makes the allure of a subscription of $ 25 a month to more games than you could play in 10 years incredibly attractive. For Microsoft, it’s a coincidence: you have exactly the right plan at exactly the right time.
A bet on the future
Sony is still at the forefront of the world as it dominates the console landscape with the PS4, and the Switch remains the most popular console for more mainstream gamers and kids. To say that Microsoft’s subscription strategy for the new Xboxes has already “won the console war” would be incredibly short-sighted.
But make no mistake: the Xbox is in a fantastic position at the dawn of the new generation. We have yet to see the rumored 4K upgrade for the Switch, and the future of streaming games is still very much in flux. But if I were a bettor I would bet on Xbox to get a very big lead in 2021.