Failure breeds success. WD-40 is called WD-40 because they failed at what they were trying to do 39 times. Viagra was a failed treatment for hypertension before discovering a rather unexpected (but profitable) side effect. And the Nintendo Switch would not exist if not for the disaster that was the WiiU. Failure is not something to be feared but rather an opportunity to learn and evolve.
The reveal of the Xbox One during E3 2013 wasn’t just a failure, it was an embarrassment. It didn’t seem like a disaster at the time, they showed a ton of great games after all, but the high price point and restrictive policies behind game usage rubbed many the wrong way. There wasn’t a huge backlash at first though because most people assumed that those policies and high prices were going to be the norm for that generation of gaming. Then Sony held their press conference.
The reveal of the PlayStation 4 was such a monumental slam dunk that Microsoft had essentially conceded the so called “console war” before it had even begun. A cheaper price, more powerful console, and none of the restrictions behind game ownership gave them a running head start that they would never let up on. As we approach the end of this generation, the PlayStation 4 has broken sales records and sold roughly twice as many hardware units as the Xbox One.
In the years since that infamous Xbox One reveal though, Microsoft hasn’t just been licking their wounds and planning a traditional follow up to that console. The defeat that they suffered at the hands of Sony was so thorough and overwhelming, that they were forced to not only rethink what that next hardware would look like, but they had to re-imagine their entire philosophy behind the business of video games. And the ideas behind that new philosophy could change the way that we all play games.
When you look at the visions behind the upcoming PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, it’s clear that they are approaching things very differently. Sony for the most part is doing what market leaders do, keep things simple, don’t rock the boat, steady as she goes. Microsoft on the other hand has been building a portfolio of programs and services in an attempt to stand out from the rest of the gaming world. Things like accessibility, affordability, and consumer friendly options are at the forefront of their new mission statement. And leading the way for this new mission is Xbox Game Pass.
Subscription services are nothing new in today’s world, whether you’re talking about music, television, or even the clothes that you wear and the food that you eat. Chances are that every one of us is subscribed to at least a few of these services. But up until recently nobody had really made a serious push for such a service in the video game space. Game Pass is hoping to be that definitive experience for those looking to get the most value for their gaming dollar.
Right now for $15 per month you can get access to over 100 games on both console and PC, as well as every single 1st party Xbox title on day one. Many 3rd party and indie game developers have also launched their new games on Game Pass on day one and from most accounts it does wonders for their business, giving them exposure and a built in audience. Microsoft has made it clear that this is the focus of their business model moving forward. The success or failure of the Xbox brand will largely be told in subscription numbers as opposed to hardware or software sales.
Starting next month, the Game Pass service will also be available to all Android users as part of Xbox’s xCloud streaming service. That means that for the first time ever, you won’t even need an Xbox to enjoy a huge library of Xbox games. Something that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. The potential for the service here can’t be overstated. With nearly 75% of the global mobile market and over 2.5 billion devices worldwide, Android provides Xbox an opportunity to reach an audience unheard of in console gaming.
While Game Pass is undoubtedly the headliner for Xbox moving forward, it’s far from the only thing Microsoft is doing to try and differentiate themselves from either PlayStation or Nintendo. They’re also attempting to make the transition between console generations as easy and affordable as possible with a series of consumer friendly policies.
Not only are they continuing their popular backwards compatibility program, which ensures that every single Xbox One title and hundreds of games from previous generations move forward with you to the next piece of hardware, but they’re also promising that nearly every accessory that you spent your money on during the Xbox One era will be fully compatible on the Series X. That means that your Elite and Design Lab controllers, Rock Band instruments, or Adaptive Controllers will all work. With as expensive as these devices can be, it’s nice to know that they won’t be collecting dust after the Series X arrives/
Xbox is also giving gamers unprecedented options when it comes to where you play their games. In addition to the already mentioned Android partnership, they are also continuing their practice of bringing all of their 1st party titles to PC and have stated that for the first couple of years, all 1st party games will also be playable on your Xbox One. So you won’t feel left out if you can’t afford to jump into the next generation of gaming quite yet. Microsoft no longer cares about how or where you’re playing their games, just as long as you’re playing them.
If you are ready to invest in a Series X though to take advantage of all the perks of next gen, then they have a program to make that easier with Xbox All Access. For a monthly price (paid over two years) you can get the console, plus 2 years of Game Pass and Xbox Live Gold. This cell phone type of sales model is sure to help those who can’t just drop hundreds of dollars up front for a console.
I realize now that I’m starting to sound like I’m making an Xbox infomercial, but even the most die hard of Xbox critics have to admit that these decisions that they’re making are good for their customers. At the core of all of these policies is the idea that they want to give you plenty of options on how you want to play, and make it as easy as possible to get into their ecosystem. This evolution of how they do business is so bold and aggressive, that it makes the way their competition does business look antiquated in comparison.
All of this consumer good will won’t mean anything though if the players don’t get behind it, and that’s where I think Xbox still has an uphill battle to fight. Microsoft has to show that they have amazing games that you can only play on an Xbox device or service, and I don’t think they’re there yet. As improved as their upcoming 1st party lineup is, I don’t think we’ve seen that “must play” title that will convert all of the naysayers. And that needs to happen if they’re going to find success.
Many people have made the point that they don’t think Xbox would be making these consumer friendly changes to the business if it wasn’t for how far behind they fell this generation, and that’s probably true. But it isn’t about what happened to get them here, it’s about what they do now with the opportunity they have. If they find great success with this new philosophy, others will be forced to react and adopt similar practices which will be great for all players. But if they falter here, and if consumers don’t get behind this new subscription based future, then I’m not sure what cards they have left to play.