Mass Debate – Xbox Game Pass & Solving Microsoft’s Exclusivity Problem

Microsoft and Xbox have had an unsettled few years. Their latest console has struggled to keep up with its main rival, ceding the title of most powerful console for far too long, and to make things worse, they’ve struggled to deliver the kinds of broad and engaging first party titles that a platform typically needs in order to bring people through the door.

It makes sense that they’re experimenting with business models and different ideas during this low ebb, and that’s why we’ve seen initiatives like Xbox Play Anywhere bringing first party exclusives to PC, Xbox Game Pass as a subscription service, and now the most recent announcement that all future first party games will head straight into Xbox Game Pass. There’s already been some minor fallout from that decision.

However, this doesn’t really solve the fundamental problem that there are just three major first party exclusives announced for release this year: Sea of Thieves, Crackdown 3 and Dead State 2. Amid rumours of a major purchase on the horizon, this sparked a conversation in our Slack chat, with TC having the bright idea of editing it a little bit and sharing it with you lot.

Tuffcub: According to Polygon, Microsoft are going to buy EA, Valve or Bluehole.

Teflon: Bluehole would make a great buy from the tech standpoint. They really, really know their stuff with platform hopping.

Tuffcub: Really? I thought the XB1 version was a hot mess?

Teflon: Ugh. I got confused with names. It’s Bluepoint that just did Shadow of the Colossus.

Tuffcub: Schoolboy error.

Teflon: It’s like Quantic Break and Quantum Dreams all over again. Bleh.

Tuffcub: I can’t see them buying EA. FIFA, Disney and the NFL would never let games based on FIFA, Star Wars, and Madden go console exclusive. And Valve, like Apple, have money to burn. They don’t need to be bought out and Valve don’t seem to like MS anyway.

Teflon: Unless they hive off EA Sports and/or let EA run similarly to Mojang and release cross platform, EA can’t exist under Microsoft, and that really doesn’t solve the exclusives problem. Would be crazy to have Battlefield suddenly be an Xbox exclusive though.

Tuffcub: Yeah, the Polygon report was about getting exclusives and there’s no real way they could make EA games exclusives. The sales are like 60:30 in PS4’s favour, so Disney, FIFA etc. would be losing millions in royalties. I would expect they are clauses in those deals that say EA must sell X amount of games to keep the license. That’s standard.

Dom: Can you imagine? The next FIFA only on Xbox, and free on Game Pass?! The internet would explode!

Jim: The Game Pass thing was a dumb move.

Dom: It’s a great thing for X1 owners though. And if you’re subbed all year that’s what, £100?

Jim: Aye, great for gamers, though plenty will pay for one month and cram in all the exclusive content. That’s what I plan on doing. I’m not gonna pay £40 a game when I can wait a few months and blitz a few of them for a fraction of the cost.

Dom: £96, and I bet the majority just let their subs run through to catch Sea of Thieves, State of Decay 2 and Crackdown, plus something else at the close of the year. Sea of Thievesyou’ll want to get on at launch I reckon; I wonder how long its (sea) legs will be.

Jim: That’s the thing. MS is expecting people to forget about their sub and let it run like Netflix or Amazon Prime. Game Pass is weird though, especially when you try and figure out how DLC will work.

Dom: The other question will be how long those big exclusives stay in there. Could end up that they’re only there for a short amount of time. People play stuff, but three months down the line they get cycled out, with a nice discount to buy it for Game Pass subscribers.

Jim: This has the potential to be a confusing mess. It’s no substitute for having a solid lineup of exclusives either.

Dom: It’s not! They still need some serious work on that front.

Tuffcub: Oops: Some independent retailers will no longer stock Xbox products due to Game Pass.

Aran: I can definitely see trade in prices for Xbox games dropping significantly since they could be a lot harder to shift.

Kris: The cull’s been coming for a long time, this is just the beginning. Microsoft probably want to kill the high street.

Teflon: Game Pass is still a very good idea for Microsoft. The business model is not far removed from Netflix, who also had the cloud of fear over temporary subscribers for a long, long time. Thing is that with regular new content drops, that one month becomes 3 months, becomes a year. Additionally, all the people that would have waited until games were on sale are brought in much earlier, where the potential to turn them into regular revenue through microtransactions and DLC is increased.

Tuffcub: Regular content drops are the problem though. Ain’t got no games, have they?

Teflon: Yeah, that’s one problem, but Game Pass helps make the platform more attractive as a whole and there’s all the exclusives up until this point that are included. If you’ve missed out on Halo 5, Gears 4, Forza, etc. etc. those things are either there already or likely to be added in the near future.

Exclusives are often a bit of a loss leader anyway. The real money is made from the licensing fees third parties have to pay and the cut that’s taken from digital sales.

Jim: Do you need Gold as well to play those games online. Also, won’t MS be pushed to try and get both games for Game Pass and (other) free games for Games For Gold?

Teflon: To play online, yeah, you need Live. I don’t know how MS want to balance the free games, but they obviously can.

Jim: Could work well for them but we’ll have to see. I’m probably a rare case, but this has stopped me from preordering any of their big three exclusives this year. Will wait till the last of the three launches then play though all of them on a month’s sub.

Tuffcub: I can see a lot of people doing that. I don’t get this whole idea of “forgetting” about your subscription. Unless you are loaded you know exactly where your money is going each month. Sure, some people will forget but not that many.

Jim: It’s easy with Netflix. I don’t have a TV license so it’s my only way of watching shows.

Teflon: It’ll be balanced out by all the people who only had a passing interest in those games and pick up a sub seeing the value it offers, and those who decide to pick up an Xbox One knowing that you can then get a ton of games for £8 a month.

Kris: I think you are not factoring in how awful people are with money TC. Loads of people have subscriptions they forget about, or remember but can’t be arsed to cancel, or “Oh I might use it, so I’ll keep it.” Once you get them in the door it’s easy to keep them.

Tuffcub: They need to advertise that part though. It’s not like it’s been slapped in an ad break in the middle of Dancing on Ice.

Just because the parent company is rich doesn’t meant they keep the parts of them that can’t generate profit. If Xbox doesn’t make money it will be canned, no question, and the idea that because Microsoft has lots of money that Xbox has access to isn’t realistic.

Teflon: Microsoft will know that these things can and do go in cycles. 360 was very successful because they invested in making it a success. They messed up for XBO, but knowing that they don’t have the exclusives, they are now back to trying to invest in the future by looking for new studios.

One thing Microsoft have mastered is making it absolutely horrendous to turn off a rolling subscription. You can’t do it on the console and have to go online. It’s pretty horrid.

Tuffcub: New studios I agree, but buying a whole publisher is a big gamble, unless it is Bluehole who have one game.

Insomniac would have been a great buy for MS a few years ago, and it feels to me like Sony chucked them Spider-man to stop that happening.

Teflon: Insomniac would be great, but comes with a lot of hatred from the PlayStation fans they’d be trying to court.

Crytek would be a good buy, actually. Take them away from the awful management they’ve been under.

Tuffcub: Are they still alive, Crytek? They seem to have been on the verge of going bust for about three years.

Teflon: Yeah. The risk is coming in now that a lot of the talent has sought jobs elsewhere.

Tuffcub: Supermassive would have been another good one for MS, but again they’re busy with Sony now. There’s not that many big AAA studios they could buy really.

Kris: The problem is I’m not sure MS really have any ideas for games at the moment.

Tuffcub: Well – and please feel to say fanboy – I don’t think thats a new problem. Xbox to me has always been about shooty guns and race cars. You don’t get the depth and breadth you get on PlayStation – your Until Dawns, your Heavy Rains, your The Last Guardians, that sort of thing. MS simply have never had that market consistently.

Kris: Sony had that problem for a little while in my opinion, but they swung away from it. Microsoft never quite got past it, although they’ve tried to rebrand via indie games. As good as they are, Ori and Cuphead aren’t quite enough. I do agree that Microsoft’s AAA focus is on guns and cars, but they’ve run out of ideas there as well. Since the first Forza Horizon in my opinion.

I think Sony went a bit guns and cars around PS3 launch (Killzone, Resistance, MotorStorm, a few other things), but the industry was kinda there for a good chunk of the generation. The rest of the industry has re-diversified now, but Microsoft hasn’t.

Teflon: They’ve helped build Playground Games up quite successfully. I think they need to create two or three teams from scratch. Get a few big names, give them relatively blank cheques to build a 150-200 man studio.

Tuffcub: Yeah that does seem like the best bet.

Teflon: They can get in on the Montreal game dev strip mine and steal people away from Ubisoft; Amy Hennig doesn’t have much going on right now either.

Tuffcub: Poor Amy.

Jake: Microsoft has no games right now. AAA’s are better on PC, so why bother owning an Xbox for anything other than an entertainment system at this point? It’s basically a subscription box.

Teflon: AAA’s might be “better” on PC, but that PC costs at least twice as much as a One X.

Kris: That’s a bad argument. AAA games are better on PC, but that’s not why people are picking a console over a PC. A PC is still more hassle, just look at TC having to reinstall Windows this week.

It certainly costs them a portion of the market, but compared to the big picture the amount of people who won’t get an Xbox, but will get a console and have a gaming PC is small.

Tuffcub: Oh god, don’t even go there. Stupid PCs!

Jake: Sorry, I just feel a bit let down as a consumer. I bought every exclusive while I owned an Xbox One, but the state of AAA’s on the platform hasn’t improved at all. PUBG is great fun and a great addition to the line-up, but it still falls in the same “shooty or racing” category Microsoft is known for overdoing.

Microsoft could easily get 3rd parties to make exclusive titles – I still want Sunset Overdrive 2. Cuphead is a recent exception here, but it hardly pushes the Xbox to its limits. Sea of Thieves looks fun and is probably one of the more different titles we’ve seen, but isn’t there a pirate ship game from Ubi coming out?

Tuffcub: Which has the better porn? That probably swings it.

Teflon: HTC Vive. Room Scale Porn?

Tuffcub: No. I tried VR porn. It was not pleasant.

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  1. I think, we all think the game pass was a nice idea, but not pointin’ any fingers (pause), it could’ve been done better, so how about no game pass this time, but next time, we do the game pass right? And then we go full regalia!

    • I’m assuming this is a reference I’m not getting, but at the same time, what could have been done better with Game Pass?

      • Have you not seen Django Unchained? Most hilarious scene in a movie ever :D

      • Don’t worry, I get the reference. I’ve only watched the film over 40 times. :)

  2. Great read btw :D

    One game I am thankful to have owned an XB1 for was Sunset Overdrive. A real shame it will never come to PlayStation, where I think it would probably do quite well.

    Other than that, there’s been nothing of interest since and I don’t regret selling my XB1 one bit. Well, maybe Ori… but it’s just not enough. Especially when Sony is reaping the benefits of their many investments at the moment.

    Sometimes I do wonder if MS even have any interest in the gaming industry anymore? It feels very much like ‘just another business’ for them, which is important I guess. But where’s the passion? The excitement? The confidence? I mean, what will the XB1 be remembered for in years to come, other than having the worst reveal of all time?

    They need to get their act together and create some new studios. They should have done this years ago but instead they wasted time and resources on the XB1X, so they could boast that they have the most powerful console ever. That’s great, but what’s the point if there are no games to play on it? The worlds most powerful Netflix streaming box. Sort it out MS.

    • Never say never. Insomniac Games has suggested they would happily create a second game if they had a publisher. The original was a one-time exclusive deal with Microsoft to help the Xbox One in its first year and they haven’t been approached for a sequel.

  3. Great read, a fascinating fapping! I thought I agreed about not getting forgetting about subscriptions, I’m luckily not hard up but I’m not loaded either so I’m always mindful how much I’m using my Netflix, Spotify and Plus subs. But then I remembered that I’ve had Sky since 2010, I’m crap at getting discounts or freebies and weve hardly watched telly or recorded stuff since having little ones so that’s £25ish a month I could save. I think it’s easy to get used to paying for something whose worth comes and goes, especially when there’s an element of brand loyalty. The worth of these subs come and go in the long term, sorry to be a fence-sitting arse but I think it’s good that these questionable services exist, the big companies are trying something new, competing and giving us a hit of veriety. However, I should really cancel Sky now, it’s just an expensive dust magnet and the basic package has no veriety!

  4. Made me realise having exclusives release through the year rather than mostly at Xmas like usual will help keep people subbed to game pass all year round. At least Microsoft are trying new things rather than admitting defeat and selling it off. I could see Sony copying this with a tiered plus subscription.

  5. So…. does this game pass as digital games only? If that is the case wI’ll I still have this digital ganes for keeps and to replay them again say in 20 years time? Because if I can’t keep them or the store from Xbox is discontinued due to poor server (in case they upgrade it or moved to a better server) again not an expert on how this works. But I’d be pissed off! If I can’t re-download Sea of Thieves in 20 years time. It is why I always prefer physical because I bought it and it is mine to keep!

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