Microsoft has spent the better half of the current generation fighting tooth and nail to try and recover from its initial tumble. Frankly, it’s done a great job; the Xbox One is not the same console we first got in 2013, and that’s a great thing. But, Microsoft’s moves so far—while good—do show that the company is desperate to get in the good graces of gamers. This raises some questions: will its efforts really pay off and how does this affect the rest of the industry?
Since the original Xbox, Microsoft has pretty much been chasing after Sony’s shadow. Due to the way the PS2 eclipsed everything during its heyday, Sony got arrogant at the start of the 7th-generation, leading the PS3 to have a rough early life. The 360 had its own controversy due to the RROD situation, but the PS3’s weakened state gave Microsoft the leverage it needed to move ahead. But, that lead didn’t last forever.
While both consoles were ultimately beaten out big time by the Wii, the PS3 was the one that ended up being the runner-up despite its aforementioned launch woes and coming out a whole year after 360. Still, the battle between Sony and Microsoft during the 7th-gen was quite admirable, which is why the anticipation for the 8th-gen was so high (in addition to the fact that we had to wait a very long time for this generation to begin). Of course, the rest is history. Like Sony, Microsoft got arrogant and paid the price for it. Nintendo also got weirder than ever, which led to it falling on hard times too. Thus, Sony has been running well out in the lead since the very beginning of this generation. Both Microsoft and Nintendo have spent the last few years rebuilding and restructuring, and things are good now. But, it’s Microsoft’s moves that are particularly interesting.
The arrival of Xbox Game Pass caught a lot of folks by surprise. The value it offers is insanely good; access to over 100 games for just $10 a month, plus all first-party Xbox titles at launch. This Netflix-like service is essentially the precursor to the way the gaming industry seems to be moving: traditional physical and digital storefronts transforming into streaming and on-demand platforms. As great as the savings are for consumers, one has to wonder how much money Microsoft (and other publishers) are actually making off of it. $10 spread across over 100 games is a lot less of a revenue mine than $60 per title. Yet, it’s clearly been good enough to attract enough customers for Microsoft to be proud of it. Now, the company is embracing it even further by integrating it into an arguably even more drastic new service: Xbox All Access.
Modeled after the plans of cell phone carriers, Xbox All Access allows new Xbox customers to walk into a store and pick up a One S or One X + a 24-month Live and Game Pass memberships for either $22 or $34 (respectively). While this fee is charged monthly, it’s essentially like giving away an entire Xbox One starter collection for next to nothing. As YouTuber Spawn Wave pointed out in his video about the new service, a big obstacle for a lot of folks when it comes to getting into gaming is the price. Gaming is a pretty expensive hobby, seeing that you’re paying hundreds of dollars just for the hardware alone. A lot of folks tend to pick up only a handful of big new games per year due to the average $60 price tag, leaving extra pickups for discounted older titles, used games and the occasional big sale. Thus, a service like Xbox All Access totally alleviates all these major financial hurdles. Again, it makes you wonder how much money Microsoft is losing by doing this. But, that’s just the thing—it probably doesn’t really care.
Xbox All Access and Game Pass are the equivalent of Microsoft throwing out content for next to nothing, but it has the cash to burn in order to make the Xbox brand look good.
The introduction of these new services, along with all the restructuring that Phil Spencer’s revamped Xbox team has been doing over the years, clearly shows that Microsoft’s goal at this point is to stop playing second-best to Sony. While the company may try to act sheepish when it comes to competition (aside from the all the bragging surrounding the One X’s marketing), it’s clear that Microsoft is trying to get around Sony’s dominance by using the “desperate times calls for desperate measures” approach. Even putting all the R&D into a powerhouse like the One X only for it to be a short-term upgrade is evidence of this new “no holds barred” approach. Being the multi-billion dollar worldwide juggernaut that it is, Microsoft can more or less afford to turn a blind eye to the all the money the Xbox division must be burning with these moves, which is exactly why the team is being allowed to do it. Essentially, it seems like Microsoft is doing what SEGA did, albeit in a much smarter way and with the financial backing to actually do it. Xbox wants to look as pleasing to consumers as possible, and it’s clearly doing a great job at selling itself nowadays.
If the Xbox Scarlett rumors are to be believed, then the introduction of a streaming-only system next-gen will take these drastic measures to a whole new level. Now, this is the factor of the equation that I’m most in fear of because game-streaming still hasn’t really proven itself yet. But, it still goes back to the main point: Microsoft is trying to cover all of its bases. The runaway success of the PS4 is nothing to scoff at; Microsoft lost a good chunk of its fanbase because of it. So, these are its marketing moves to try and get them back.
All of these new services cannot yet be found on the other platforms. Not only does that give Xbox leverage, but it will make Nintendo and Sony look like copycats when and if they introduce their own options. And that’s the thing—don’t expect either of the two not to try and emulate Microsoft here. It’s happened already: the rise of the subscription-based gaming networks. While Xbox Live wasn’t the first of its kind, it was the first to do it correctly. Thus, Sony (and now after many, many moons Nintendo too) have followed-up with their own. Who’s to say it can’t or won’t happen again? The arrival of Xbox Live, PSN and now Switch Online have changed the console landscape. One can only imagine how all the platforms having the equivalent of Game Pass, All Access, and streaming consoles will shake things up. Don’t doubt Microsoft’s influence. Remember, it’s the owner of the most widely-used computer OS out there (Windows). It knows exactly how to get into people’s tech lives, and now it seems to be using that experience with Xbox. Will it pay off? Well, the next generation is just around the corner. If these new services stay the course until then, Microsoft just might be in a position to be the console market leader for the very first time.
The Xbox team’s extreme efforts this generation is clearly preparation to try and lead the pack in the next.
Having been introduced to video games at the age of 3 via a Nintendo 64, A.K has grown up in the culture. A fan of simulators and racers, with a soft spot for Nintendo! But, he has a great respect for the entire video game world and enjoys watching it all expand as a whole.