As we head into the strangest console generation ever with both consoles STILL not announcing a price point, Microsoft proceed without the heavy hitter of Halo: Infinite to sell consoles. However, with this comes the prevailing change in Microsoft’s strategy to get customers – going all in with Xbox Game Pass.
The general consensus is it’s one of the most exceptional services currently on offer and Microsoft clearly knows what they’ve got on their hands with it. The service takes inspiration from most TV and film streaming services of course, with some dubbing it the ‘Netflix of Gaming’ rather reductively. But with the mass proliferation of services in that market, it does raise a question. As Microsoft seeks to secure Game Pass as the lynchpin and basis of their gaming strategy going forward, what can they learn from the industry that they seek to replicate next generation?
Do invest in new IP
This is obvious and is integral to any new console. If you want to shift the thing, you put cool stuff on it that you can’t get elsewhere. Netflix realised this when they shifted their business model and started with producing the poorly aged House of Cards. From there, they were off to the races and established themselves as a producer of varied and interesting new series. Think of the gargantuan amount of great original shows under the Netflix Originals banner: Stranger Things, GLOW, Mindhunter, Orange Is The New Black and many more are produced or distributed on Netflix, who solidified themselves as the industry leader in the 2010s.
Of course, Microsoft have taken a similar approach with their first-party IP all coming to Game Pass on day one, an excellent move to get players using the service (if not necessarily buying a Series X or Series S). But the inherent issue here lies in the lack of new IP coming out of Xbox Game Studios. Don’t get me wrong, the studios will be working on great stuff, but aside from Rare’s glorious-looking Everwild, what actual new worlds are Xbox promoting? Hopefully going forward, studios like Double Fine and Ninja Theory can get a crack at a new IP (that isn’t Bleeding Edge), but doing so is a must for Xbox Game Pass. In a similar way to David Fincher producing Mindhunter for Netflix, building original content could see the greats of gaming developing for Xbox Game Pass, which can only be a boon for Microsoft.
Don’t just put everything on there
All that said, Netflix is great to look at in the sense of developing new content, but also a prime example of content curation. For all of the greats on streaming services, some of them have a penchant for looking at quantity over quality, and this includes Netflix. Take films like Tall Girl, 365 Days and similar poor efforts that illustrate a lack of curation. Investing in so many projects has seen the company raise the price gradually of their subscriptions over time to cope with their own higher production costs.
Now, granted, this is a bit of a harsher point. After all, i’m essentially arguing that Microsoft shouldn’t accept everything and limit creativity. In addition, in the streaming business this point isn’t as valid. Of course a service having more films and TV on it is generally greater for a platform’s library, but in the gaming industry, we have seen how a lack of proper curation and management can hurt a library. Consider Steam. As much as you can get great content through the platform, it has given way to some poisonous and awful games in amongst classic indies and huge triple-A experiences. If Game Pass grows, all we need is some diligence to make sure the library is sound and not allowing gross content.
Do great third-party support
So once Microsoft has established Game Pass as delivering great exclusive content, it’s worth making considerations on supporting great third-party experiences. Luckily, Microsoft has been on the ball with us in the last few months. At the time of writing, Game Pass is flooded with some recent successes (The Witcher 3, Nier Automata, the Yakuza series), underlooked or excellent indie titles (CrossCode, Enter The Gungeon, Outer Wilds, The Gardens Between) and reliable multiplayer entries (Dead By Daylight, Halo MCC, Rocket League).
On top of this, one can find some excellent examples elsewhere, most recently in the form of Disney+ securing musical history lesson Hamilton for streaming. Whilst Disney have been quiet uptown on the performance of the musical over the summer, it seems like it will have been enticing enough to push Disney+ to the 60m+ subscriber count reported during a earnings call with chief executive Bob Chepak. They should be wary though. Third-party support doesn’t mean enforcing exclusivity on these titles, instead merely ensuring that they are included in the service unlike Disney’s acquisition of Hamilton. Speaking of Disney and Disney+…
Don’t do a Mulan
Now this is a big don’t that could happen in the gaming industry where triple-A game development costs are increasing rapidly, with talk of next-gen games increasing to $70. For those unaware, Disney’s live-action remake of beloved animated film Mulan was due to be heading to cinemas this summer. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic, the release of their latest movie was shifted further and further until the announcement that it would premiere on Disney+ but with the additional fee of $29.99 on top of the monthly subscription.
Aside from the damage to international cinemas who could screen it but won’t be able to due to Disney’s prioritisation of the US market over the international audience, the other intrinsic problem lies in the price point. Most consumers are likely investing in multiple subscriptions and paying $30 for a film on top can be fairly seen as egregious to some. Locking these releases behind this large paywall that is somehow even more expensive than the $9.16 average cost of a cinema ticket in the US, without the booming audio or IMAX screening on offer, ultimately limits the film’s reach. Here’s hoping Microsoft doesn’t follow the example of Disney+ in the future for any of their releases.
Do more to enforce accessibility
One of the greater movements we’ve observed in the gaming industry as of late with releases like The Last of Us Part 2, amongst others, is the ever-growing accessibility options for gamers. For an industry that historically has struggled in this department, it’s a welcome adaptation to see studios proactively pursuing these options in their games. The streaming industry has also been catching up, with Netflix having recently introduced new playback speed options to aid blind and deaf consumers, an option praised by advocates for those groups.
However, some streaming services feel a little bit behind. Take the BFI Player – an excellent service for arthouse cinema but some options like audio description are only available on PC and Mac, limiting viewing options for those affected with a disability. However, the signs are good on the Game Pass front. Consider Grounded, Obsidian’s garden variety survival game, which supported strong accessibility options in conjunction with its well-publicized arachnophobia slider, including a large text mode and audio descriptive mode. Couple these kind of ideas with the Xbox Adaptive Controller, and Microsoft have a great opportunity to reach gamers where other studios may struggle by reducing the physical barriers to play.
Don’t get absurd with tiered pricing
To close out this list, a quick note on tiered pricing. Of course, this is something already done by Microsoft, with Game Pass for Console, Game Pass for PC and Game Pass Ultimate encompassing the various offerings for different versions, all with differing price points and Ultimate coming with the oncoming xCloud service. The current offerings all seem to work for the different types of Xbox gamer. Interested in cloud gaming? Ultimate works. Only really interested in the Series X? The basic console package will do nicely.
The method is analogous to Now TV’s various different packages, where each has distinct offerings for different players. It’s a riskier approach to other services offering one flat price for the whole package (BFI Player, Amazon Prime, Disney+) but as long as the benefits don’t force customers to pay higher prices for basic implements then generally the service should be fine. This is something where Netflix could be ignored, after all aside from their steadily increasing costs, the different packages feel rather odd. Whilst the standard and premium tiers (at £8.99 and £11.99 each) have strong offerings, the basic £5.99 package feels completely redundant in comparison, only allowing one screen at a time and not even having HD playback, making it ultimately pointless for a family or even tech-savvy users used to high definition as a minimum. This is the kind of the thing Microsoft should look to avoid going forward.
So anyway, there are some of my thoughts in regards how Microsoft should move forward with Xbox Game Pass, detailing what they could learn from the other streaming services already in place. But what do you think? Do you agree? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.