What the All-Digital Future of Games Might Look Like

Last week, amongst the news of the Xbox Series S and X price dropping, Microsoft also confirmed that they would be revisiting their Xbox All Access plan for this next generation. For $25 or $35 a month (depending on the Xbox model you choose) you can essentially lease-to-own a next gen Xbox with an included subscription to Xbox Game Pass. Alongside the fact that the cheaper Xbox Series S doesn’t have a disc drive, Microsoft seems to be shifting more and more away from a physical media model towards an all-digital future. We discuss the appeal of this model, potential pitfalls, and more on this episode of Waypoint Radio.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/k7qj7m/what-the-all-digital-future-of-games-might-look-like-waypoint-radio

If games really move full-on to a Netflix model, I’m guessing one big change will be a return to exclusives. They’ve really fallen out of fashion these last few years.

But if you’re Sony, a key point of your brand is “we got the Games, Microsoft doesn’t”. Sony wants to be the platform for major narrative experiences. MS doesn’t have that identity. What keeps Netflix competitive is the brand recognition that they have the best original movies or shows. (At least for now, HBO Max is kinda killing it lately.)

In a more positive view, if games don’t need to sell themselves, maybe they won’t all have to be 30-100 hours long. It definitely would have helped Avengers if it was just an 8 hour game, or shorter, whose point was to dominate the “water cooler” for a week with a really solid campaign. Imagine Last of Us 2 at half it’s length.

But I think we’re years away from that happening.

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I think we’re going to see a greater diversity in types of games with a subscription model. Like, I don’t think Sea of Thieves survives if it isn’t on Game Pass, nor do games like Grounded get a green light without the guaranteed revenue. Of course, there will be single player story stuff like Tell Me Why and whatever The Initiative is working on, but it’s not all going to be prestige.

I do hope that with more people getting into the Xbox ecosystem we start to see more diverse tastes enter the greater gaming discourse. Like, if I had to guess what type of game would win IGN’s game of the year for the past 20 years, it’s likely a first or third person character action game that is narratively focused. Flight Simulator, Ori, or Forza Horizon would never enter that conversation because a lot of people aren’t willing to buy sims, “indies”, or racing games. Perhaps with the lower barrier to entry we will start to see traditionally overlooked genres get their due.

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This won’t be anything earth shattering but it feels like Microsoft buying all these studios is specifically for preparing for the Netflix of games. I’m curious and fearful what the “Netflix of Games” moniker means though.

On the podcast, the address how TV has been so fundamentally altered. Less seasons (to prevent cost inflation) and less episodes (no need to boost the number for syndication). The later maybe a win for the format and the former being a resounding negative. What could the issues be? There is less worries about “less games in a working series” because they would own the production. It is going to impact game size, is that going to be where there needs to be a certain amount of Live games, do some games that would have been full experiences get divided into “episodes”? Do we just get a lot more smaller projects from internal studios because they allow more content? Will there be a greater priority on DLC and microtransactions that exist outside the platform?

The view right now is pleasant, more games at a lower overall price with developers seemingly doing well. I have no reason to be mad. Gaming rarely makes me feel like I am part of a “win-win-win” circle but that’s what it feels like right now. That is specifically with Microsoft though and with Apple and Sony entering the mix, I don’t know how long the good feels will last.

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Netflix is pretty different since it seems that their decisions are mostly data driven at this point: for instance, Netflix has figured that 2-3 seasons are the most optimal because they won’t have to pay the bump in salaries/bonuses that comes with seasons 3 and beyond, and just adding more seasons to an existing show won’t bring new subscribers unless it’s already a hugely popular series aka Stranger Things or The Crown.

With Microsoft I could see it go well for triple A or “B games” (which seems to be the case right now with Flight Simulator, CK3, Wasteland 3 etc) but whenever they go all in with this model and bringing new subscribers becomes the top priority, I can’t help but be cynical and see them invest and showcase the safer bets while leaving indies in the dust…

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