In a press release via Major Nelson, Phil Spencer, Head of Gaming at Xbox, went into detail about a major inclusion to Xbox’s Game Pass service: All future games from Microsoft Studios will be available on the program the same day as their retail launch. Their new graphic for the program highlights Crackdown 3 and State of Decay 2 as their feature titles while mentioning that “future unannounced games from Microsoft Studios including new iterations of our biggest Xbox One exclusive franchises such as Halo, Forza and Gears of War, [will be available] on the same day they launch.”
Their online library already boasts over 100 titles ready to download and play, all at a competitive $9.99 per month price point, and includes recent Xbox One offerings, Xbox 360 backwards compatible games, and a variety of stellar indie games. However, it’s the promise of future AAA releases at launch that elevates the value of Game Pass to a remarkable level.
What This Means For Xbox
Xbox has been widely criticized for the lack of first-party games, and the promise of Crackdown 3 and State of Decay 2 don’t necessarily make this program a must-buy by default, but this decision changes the conversation about Xbox and its upcoming releases. This marks a strategic move that sets Xbox on such a vastly different path than Sony that the two’s trajectories are becoming hard to compare. While Sony dominates with its first-party games, Xbox is doubling down on backward compatibility and its cheap, robust subscription library, two of PlayStation’s weaknesses. This move will be one of the most important steps in Xbox’s path this generation.
The State of Decay... of Xbox Exclusives
The first day-one addition to the Game Pass library will be Sea of Thieves, Rare’s intriguing new pirate-themed online multiplayer title, which releases on March 20. Of all the games in Xbox’s release schedule, this is the game that will benefit the most from the lowered cost and rush of good will about the Game Pass Program, saving it from what could’ve been a rough launch.
There has been a considerable amount of pressure on Sea of Thieves in the past few months. With the cancellation of PlatinumGames’ Scalebound and the substantial Crackdown 3 delay increasing the drought of Xbox exclusives, the importance of this quirky pirate game has grown. This has resulted in a lot of press conference screen time, especially for such an ambitious and potentially niche multiplayer game.
The fact that it is the landmark day-one Game Pass release will completely change its narrative. Instead of getting torn apart for not being a full $60 experience or indicative of why gamers shouldn’t own an Xbox One, it has the opportunity to be reviewed as a fun and ambitious game at an accessible price point. With such a low barrier of entry, Sea of Thieves will undoubtedly have a larger community attached and more buzz as a result. Its inclusion in the Game Pass program serves in reshaping expectations and amplifying its audience, and its the best thing that could’ve happened to Rare’s Xbox exclusive.
Xbox First-Party Moving Forward
This change shifts the entire dynamic of Xbox’s game sales. In terms of expectations, this Game Pass addition puts most of the pressure on third-party titles to sell well, while showcasing first-party titles as another reason to join the ecosystem. Without the burden of living up to the $60 price point, games like Sea of Thieves and State of Decay 2 are more likely to thrive and grow their player base. Expectations are far easier to exceed when customers are only paying $10 for a month of play rather than demanding justification for a AAA price tag.
Instead of topping the NPD charts, the responsibility of these games are to draw customers into the Game Pass Program and get them through the door. Since both Sea of Thieves and State of Decay 2 are open-world games, people are more likely to remain engaged longer than their first month, influencing them to either buy the games or remain enrolled with the Game Pass service. Once a customer feels the library is worth always having access to, they’ll likely remain enrolled for months. Much like gym memberships, the ideal customer is someone who pays every month and sings the praises of all the features included with the membership, even when they don’t end up using it for months at a time.
Overall, this unexpected change caught the industry by surprise and has drawn more eyes to Sea of Thieves and State of Decay 2 than any gameplay trailer could’ve done. The Game Pass Program is clearly an important and successful endeavor if Xbox is investing in it, and it could be the spark the company needed to pull new players into its ecosystem. It will be interesting to see how this influences its first-party games moving forward.
I’m curious to find out what else Xbox has in store for this year.