Microsoft and Bethesda brought a ton to show during their press conferences last night. But no story felt more important (in the broad view) than Microsoft's continued support of Xbox Game Pass, the company's subscription based service. With the announcement of the company's new service featuring a catalog of games especially curated for the PC, Game Pass has become a hard-to-deny value. In our second E3 2019 episode of Waypoint Radio, we dig deep into the service, plus chat about Cyberpunk 2077, Outer Worlds, Doom: Eternal, Keanu Reeves, and so much more.
I’m very pro library, but mine doesnt have video games. We don’t even have blu ray copies of movies yet. Despite being in an economically rich city the library here is a very working class and below sort of situation. The city doesnt give it the funding to do things like buy enough current video games at library prices to provide enough for the system’s 100k plus users. Same with upgrading the movies from DVD to blu ray. Also, most of the users still use DVDs.
I chose to be extremely glib, which means I had to miss out on a ton of nuance. Of course access varies by municipality and local politics.
Netflix isn’t an alternative to buying and owning physical movies in the same way as games. There’s still a healthy physical market that digital distribution has diminished but hasn’t killed, and groups that are extremely dedicated to archival and restoration. But games? No. They already have a problem with ownership of and access to digital games being extremely nebulous, as Scott Pilgrim, PT, and Telltale’s entire library have shown. This looks like a next step where the extremely nebulous concept of digital ownership takes the next step of paying more in the long-run to have the privilege to not own anything.
From there, Netflix isn’t nearly as akin to what this is. Netflix existed first as a distributor (it has gotten a bit more muddy with them stepping into a production company and investor roles as well). These subscription services are vertical integration where developers and publishers are now also trying to really force their way into distribution as a way to provide access primarily to first party titles. Games aren’t getting a Netflix. Games are getting a bunch of HBO Go’s.
Of course, Microsoft can cross companies to some regard, but only because they make the console and OS and are the most vertically integrated. So now the question is when they tell the indie company “hey, your game will be available to this many subscribers so your game should be on here”, how many pennies is that indie company getting compared to the dollars Microsoft is making?
I see the Scott Pilgrim and PT examples come up with regards to digital distribution, and while I do think they are valid demonstrations of the flaws of digital ownership, I’m not sure they completely negate the concept. For one, I have Scott Pilgrim sitting on my PS3’s hard drive, and many people still have PT on their PS4s. Is that a great option, given that hard drives fail or can get damaged? Nope, but it’s about as stable as having an out of print game on disc. And another thing, these games would not get made at all if digital distribution wasn’t around. Do the economics and environmental impact really make sense to press discs for a retro beat-em-up that costs $10? What about a promo demo given out for free?
I don’t know exactly how developers are getting compensated with Game Pass, but I do know that a lot of indie games are getting a spotlight they would otherwise not have. Patrick makes a great point on the podcast that Void Bastards would have been sent out to die if it just debuted on Steam’s weekly deluge of crap. Instead, it got a marketing push on Xbox that got more people to try it. I imagine the developers are happy with that trade.
I’ve been a consistent Game Pass subscriber since last summer and have paid up to summer of next year. For those 2 years’ worth of subscription, I’ve paid about $150 CAD. There is simply nothing else that can match that value and convenience. And I do think that it’s a far better deal than renting from the library, especially when there is no guarantee that it will even have the games I want to play on the platform I want to play.
I just want to chime in and say that it was cool to (unless it happened before and I missed it?) hear Nicole on the pod! She’s been putting out good articles which I didn’t notice before the Waypoint -> Vice Games transition.
(I started writing this comment before the previous one, I swear it’s not a cheeky response!)
You’re arguing for digital distribution and the way it allows indie people to get into the market on the whole.
It’s neat, but I’m still not all that convinced that the democratization of game making justifies Microsoft, EA, and Ubisoft all having 10-15 USD per month subscription services. I’m just extremely uncomfortable with increasing amounts of vertical integration as it all looks like a way for the largest companies to get even larger off the backs of smaller developers.
Humble has problems, but it’s the only subscription service I really trust of them all because it gives you digital copies that are yours and also Humble exists solely as a distributor.
I don’t think I was, at least not entirely. I mean, my Void Bastards example shows that these services offer value to developers trying to stand out in a crowded marketplace. As a customer, I can definitely attest to Game Pass letting me get more experimental with my game tastes and more willing to try different things.
I don’t know if this is true for anyone else, but I get pangs of anxiety when I spend money on anything not deemed “essential”. That leads me to buying very few games on the whole because I hate wasting money on a game that I end up disliking. Subscription services allow me to sidestep that anxiety and actually try things that aren’t surefire hits (I.e. the 2-3 AAA games from franchises that I know). Personally, that’s a great feature for me, and I would wager that there are others like me out there. For people like us, it’s not a difference between paying a subscription or buying indie games, but paying a sub or not buying indie games at all. Your points about large corps getting larger off this is well taken, but I do think there are other factors in the benefits/drawbacks scale that do make these services appealing.
As someone who makes small games and occasionally wants to sell them, I find the prospect of game subscription services taking off pretty scary?
Considering that it costs about 10$ to subscribe to games pass and you immediately get access to a whole bunch of games, how am I supposed convince anyone to spend 5$ on some game that I spend a year+ working on?
I mean it was already a pretty tough sell, consedering how incredibly hard it is to even get a some amount of attention for your work, but I’m feeling pretty grim about the chances for smaller gamedevs to even earn a little bit of money with their work.
I’m scared if this format will work for Devs making money but as a single consumer just trying to save money I can’t control the market.
So in the mean time I signed up for a month of Xbox on my PC and am going to see how many games I can get though.
I signed up for Xbox and see they have Crosscode, I’d been waiting for a PS4 release but I guess I’ll just try to beat it in the next month now.
Okay I’m still making my way through this podcast. and they’re talking about GRRM right now, and all I can think is how I can’t wait to see From’s take on the inevitable writhing mass of savage black bodies that Mr. Martin has in his lore. Can’t wait. And I’ve read a lot of Martin’s work other than ASOIAF and I don’t think any of it is good and I don’t think any of it treats black bodies as more than an afterthought unless it’s written by someone else (like some of w.i.l.d.c.a.r.d.s. or shit like that, and even then it’s mediocre at best).