One of the biggest mistakes Microsoft’s Xbox team ever made involved them taking the knee-jerk reactions of fans to heart.
See, Microsoft originally wanted the Xbox One to be a console for the digital future of gaming. In exchange for limiting your ability to play used games via your Xbox One – and share them with others – Microsoft was going to allow you to trade and resell digital copies of games with multiple people. They envisioned a world where digital games can be treated like physical ones in the sense that you’re able to digitally grab them, share them, and take them with you.
These policies attracted an immediate overwhelmingly negative response. Fans were worried that this always online world of Microsoft’s dreams would crumble the moment their internet connection dropped. They were especially vocal about how this would affect people in areas with no or poor internet connection. Finally, they couldn’t imagine not being able to buy used games from retail stores and play them without limits.
Microsoft backed away from these policies, but even their apology statement reeked of regret. The line “While we believe that the majority of people will play games online and access the cloud for both games and entertainment, we will give consumers the choice of both physical and digital content,” has always stuck out from that apology. It was Microsoft’s way of saying, “We’ve looked at the numbers, we know we’re right, but we’re willing to back off.”
Now, small video game retail owners across the world are saying that Microsoft’s $9.99 Game Pass subscription policy is going to put them out of business. They’re even threatening to stop stocking Xbox products over the service. To that, we say, “good.” Microsoft is absolutely in the right on this one yet again.
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Things like net neutrality, internet throttling, and arguments over licensing rights are causing people to cling on to the physical game industry. It’s fear, and not necessarily preference, that inspires consumers to defend the fledgling retail games industry. For anyone who lives in an area with even a respectable internet connection, though, the idea of getting in your car – or on a bus/train – going to a store, spending full price on a title, installing it on your system, then changing that disc in and out whenever you want to play it is madness.
One of the retailers who spoke out against Game Pass even stated that it’s hard enough to justify to customers that they should spend $59.99 on a new game as it is. They say that Game Pass makes that all the more difficult. However, the fact is that it is hard to justify spending $60 on a new game and that justification is the driving force behind some negative trends in the video game industry (microtransactions, the disappearance of narrative-driven experiences, etc.). Developers are struggling to convince a significant number of casual gamers to spend six months worth of a Netflix subscription on a game that may only last them a handful of hours.
What if Game Pass can become the idea that allows developers to just focus on creating the kind of games that they want because they know that the market is going to be there? Even if it doesn’t, how much longer can we as consumers justify forcing developers to endure the additional costs of manufacturing physical discs and cartridges when that very concept is in its dying days.
It’s never easy to jump into the future with both feet because doing so often requires you to ignore the people who will be left behind. However, owners of all systems should be thankful that Microsoft is willing to take that hit in the present in order to lay the groundwork for a future where digital games are cheaper, readily available, and far more versatile.