Besides the lack of gameplay demos and Banjo-Kazooie, perhaps the biggest story of E3 2019 has been Microsoft’s excellent Game Pass subscription. The platform holder pushed the package hard – as it has done for a couple of years now – with the vast majority of games on its stage scheduled to debut as part of the service. This means that anyone with an active membership will be able to play a large part of the Xbox One’s slate at no extra cost – including blockbusters like Gears 5 and Bleeding Edge.
It’s an extremely compelling pitch, and with subs frequently on sale, it means you can effectively get hundreds of new (and older) games for a few bucks. Now obviously there are some minor caveats: titles do occasionally rotate and you will “lose” the software should your subscription lapse. But when you’re paying less than £50 for annual access to almost the entirety of Microsoft Game Studios’ library and dozens of third-party titles on top, it’s hard to complain. This is an extremely compelling proposition, whichever way you slice it.
The thing is, it’s also one that would be fairly straightforward to copy, should Sony want to do it. As it stands, Game Pass is simply a secondary subscription on the Xbox One which runs concurrently with Xbox Live Gold. Obviously at E3 2019 it’s expanded to the PC as well, but if we just focus on the Xbox One edition, there’s nothing particularly complicated about what Microsoft’s put together: it’s a service that grants game licenses to users who’ve paid to subscribe. In pure technological terms, it’s something that PlayStation could probably have up and running overnight.
The discussion comes down to business model differences, then. The Japanese giant is selling more games than it ever has before, with its first-party titles breaking records with regularity this generation. Titles like God of War and Marvel’s Spider-Man were huge hits last year, and the publisher’s even had outstanding success with unestablished IP like Horizon: Zero Dawn and Days Gone. Perhaps more importantly, these are all single player-focused games, without the kind of recurring hooks that titles like Sea of Thieves and Forza Horizon 4 have.
This has to be taken into consideration, because Microsoft seems to be making games that will keep players engaged over a long period of time – and thus their subscriptions renewed. Titles like Detroit: Become Human can be beaten in a weekend, and if you could feasibly pay a few pounds for a monthly subscription, where’s the incentive to renew? Sony’s said that it wants to do better in the multiplayer space, and there are titles under its umbrella like Dreams which fit the service game model, but it’s always going to be focused on single player experiences.
To be fair, the team in green’s claimed that releasing games day-and-date on Game Pass increases their retail sales, but we’re not convinced by this. Obviously we don’t have access to the same kind of data as Redmond, but there’s no way Marvel’s Spider-Man sells 3.3 million copies in three days at full-price if it’s available day-and-date as part of a subscription service. As we alluded to above, the model changes, and it becomes more about recurring revenue – but does that also have an impact on the design of the game? These are all things that need to be considered.
And it’s something that we sincerely hope Sony is considering, because Game Pass does represent unprecedented value as it stands right now. We reckon that Microsoft is probably in loss-leader mode with this service – it almost reminds us of how PlayStation Plus was treated in the PlayStation 3 era. But with Xbox pouring more and more resources into the subscription, there’s a very real chance that its Japanese rival could get left behind. PlayStation Now, with its recently added downloads option, could become a natural competitor in time – but if that’s the case, then the company has a lot of catching up to do.
Would you subscribe to a hypothetical PlayStation Game Pass? Would it need to include all exclusives day-and-date for you to even consider paying for something like this? Do you prefer owning your games physically regardless? Shell out on another subscription in the comments section below.