Xbox have finally done it. After the seeming frivolity of Xbox Game Pass, and the shift earlier this year to include every first party game Microsoft have on their release schedule, it was clear that Microsoft were eyeing up subscription services as the future. With the announcement of Xbox All Access – one relatively low monthly payment that includes an Xbox console, Xbox Live and Xbox Game Pass – they’ve set a precedent for what could well be the future of gaming. If it works.
People aren’t exactly unfamiliar with having subscriptions. Many of us have got Spotify accounts and Netflix subscriptions, maybe with got Amazon Prime or NowTV on top. The way we access content has utterly changed in recent years, and it’s a model that people have merrily jumped on board with. Give us enough stuff to watch for a set amount that we don’t really have to think too hard about and everybody’s vaguely happy. It doesn’t even have to be the greatest stuff in the world – have you seen Bright? – but if it’s just there then we can’t be too offended by it because we haven’t directly paid for it. Oh, except we have directly paid for it.
When Xbox Game Pass came out it was a pleasingly familiar, if safe, concept. Pay your money each month and get access to a library of games that cycle in and out of the service, and you can get a discount on any games you want to keep if they get taken off the roster. It wasn’t quite the all-conquering idea some might have hoped for, but that was to come. Microsoft added in one hell of a sweetener when they brought in access to every first party release, on launch day, as part of the subscription. In essence, for £8.99 a month players were able to get their hands on Sea of Thieves and then State of Decay 2 in quick succession, both of which are definitely better than Bright.
So All Access is the next step, albeit one that’s only being taken in the US to start with. An Xbox One S with Live and Game Pass is $21.99 a month, while a One X bumps the price to $34.99, spread across twenty four months, at the end of which you own the machine. It’s 0% interest, and while I’m starting to sound like an infomercial, it’s a great deal, especially if you simply can’t stump up the cash all at once for a new console. It’s the same business model that keep so many people tied in with mobile phone contracts and a new phone every other year.
Let’s face it, this isn’t for most major game fans. Most serious gamers have likely had a PS4, an Xbox One, or even both for years, and been enjoying all those amazing games to boot. In the here and now this is perfect as a jumping-on point for casual fans who’ve been happily getting by with Xbox 360s or PS3s, or as a more financially viable way to grab a One S or make the jump to the sublime Xbox One X.
Alongside that new tech you’re getting an instant gaming library to wallow in, including big hitters like Gears 4, Halo 5, The Master Chief Collection, Quantum Break and plenty more. The fact you get Forza Horizon 4 in a couple of months as part of the deal should give you even more to think about. Playing that on an Xbox One X in 4K with HDR will be great, right?
It’s a brilliant move by MS to get people on board with their ecosystem, primed for the next generation. For lapsed 360 owners, many of whom jumped ship to PlayStation 4 this generation, it might tempt them back into the fold with a system full of games alongside access to a bunch of their old games through backward compatibility.
It’s a limited offer to begin with, and currently only available in the US. Microsoft are definitely dipping their toe in the water here, not just presumably to see the uptake, but also to see if they can handle the infrastructure required to do so. Given the size of the company there seems little reason why it won’t work, or that they couldn’t cope with it, but perhaps this is less about this generation and more about the next – many people expect the next gen to start in 2020, after all.
If Microsoft were to unleash whatever their next console is upon the public, not just as a whopping single payment, but as something that nearly anyone could jump onboard with, it feels as though the console war impetus could swing back towards greener pastures. The company know all too well that they lost this generation before it even started thanks to an array of anti-consumer plans, but revolutionising the way people can access their consoles shows that this is a Microsoft that are willing to learn, and willing to try more or less anything in order to find their way back in.
I hope it does work. I can see myself at least being tempted to hand over a monthly subscription to Xbox for a couple of years rather than shell out close to half a grand all at once, and there are people for whom a new console would become affordable where it simply wouldn’t be under the traditional business model. There’s ways to do this yourself of course, but few of them are interest free, and presumably being part of whatever Microsoft’s plans for its consoles is going to have some kind of advantage, even if it’s just that you don’t have to think too hard about where those payments are going.
The question will be whether people are willing to shift across to this new approach, but these days if there’s a way to make things simpler and easier people are often willing to go for it without too much thought. It’ll be interesting to see whether PlayStation begin eyeing something similar up as there’s a real opportunity here to bring people in who’ve otherwise been missing out. While that’s true today, if both companies are looking for a leg-up on the next generation then Xbox might have been the first to crack it.