Xbox Game Pass could foreshadow the future of games distribution

Netflix changed the way people consume film and television when it shifted its focus from an internet DVD rental service to offering a vast library of on-demand streaming content for a monthly subscription price. Since then, many of these buffet-like services have cropped up to shake up their respective industries, and Xbox Game Pass is just one example.

Digital distribution of games, versus purchasing physical copies from retail outlets, has become the norm with the latest generation of consoles, across Microsoft’s Xbox One, Sony’s Playstation 4, and Nintendo’s  Switch.

Sony pioneered the concept of having a “Netflix-like” service for games in 2014 with Playstation Now, a service that allowed players to stream specific games from all incarnations of the Playstation for a set monthly price.

Currently, the service has over 700 titles on offer, with new games being added each month. However, the service failed to gain much traction due to a number of issues. For one, being unable to download the games directly to the player’s console, and instead having to stream over the internet, affected the performance of the game, with potentially lower resolution and frame rate. The price was also deemed to be a bit steep, running $19.99 per month, or $44.99 for three months.

Sony has since allowed a small number of titles to be downloaded to the console for better performance, but the service still seems to remain unsuccessful.

With the rise of digital games sales, less people are buying … games from retail, and many … journalists have been theorizing … the next generation of consoles … may not support physical games at all.

It was not until Microsoft launched its Xbox Game Pass service in 2017 that gamers got an idea of what a proper on-demand games service could look like. At launch, there were over a 100 titles, all available to download directly to the console, for only $9.99 per month. New games are added to the library every month, with a small number of titles being shuffled out over time.

Initially, the service was met with positivity, but in 2018, Microsoft expanded the service to a significant degree. On Feb. 23, 2018, it was announced that all first-party games on Xbox would be released on Game Pass, on release day. In 2018, Sea of Thieves, State of Decay 2, and Forza Horizon 4, and a number of exclusive indie games made their premiere on the platform, and helped make a name for Xbox Game Pass as a service that should not be ignored.

As it stands, Xbox Game Pass is an innovative consumer-friendly option for Xbox console owners, but its current model could foreshadow the future of games distribution. With the rise of digital games sales, less people are buying their games from retail, and many gaming journalists have been theorizing that the next generation of consoles from Sony and Microsoft may not support physical games at all.

Microsoft seemed to be encouraging an all-digital future with the initial release of the Xbox One, which, upon being announced, was supposed to have features such as downloading a game from the disc, and no longer needing to have the disc in the console. The game disc would be linked to that user from that point, however, which would make selling or loaning the game impossible.

These bold, innovative moves were shot down by serious gamers, for fear that this would remove the ability to share a game with a friend by simply handing it to them. Xbox did have plans to incorporate extensive sharing of the digital copy of a game with friends, but ultimately, these innovations were removed entirely by the time the console released.

Since such efforts of innovation failed before, it can be hard to imagine them working now, if Sony and Microsoft do decide to go in a fully digital direction. But, services like Xbox Game Pass and Playstation Now make a case for how positive innovation can make the games industry more friendly for consumers, and there is no doubt that these “Netflix-like” services will play a big role in the future of gaming.

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