Xbox’s secret weapon
On February 28, 2017, Microsoft officially announced the debut of the Xbox Game Pass, a subscription service that guaranteed players access to a digital library with over 100 titles to download, selected from the Xbox One and Xbox 360 catalogs. Defined by many as the “Netflix of video games“, the service quickly became one of the cornerstones of the Xbox offering, as well as one of the key nodes in the commercial strategy of the Microsoft gaming division.
Over the next two years, the stages of the Game Pass evolutionary path saw not only a continuous expansion of the software available to subscribers, but also the addition of two essential elements for the proposal of the American giant, both in terms of attractiveness and scope .
In January 2018, Microsoft surprised the public by declaring that all his first-party games would have been available, without additional costs and since day one, for users of the service, while in April of the following year the package was made official “Ultimate“, which also included the Xbox Live Gold subscription. An offer further enriched in June of the same year, when Phil Spencer announced that the Game Pass would also arrive on PC – with a dedicated catalog – both as a subscription in its own right (a reduced price), both as a “bonus” for holders of a subscription to the Ultimate service.
A step perfectly coherent with the project’s stated ambitions, carried forward with the intention of reaching an audience as wide and diverse as possible, even beyond the confines of the Microsoft console ecosystem. On the other hand, the company has never made any secret of the real scope of its ambitions, expressing the desire of open the doors of Game Pass to all gamers, regardless of the platform owned.
In this sense, Project xCloud represents a more than striking declaration of intent: the idea behind the game streaming service is in fact to allow users to take advantage of the Game Pass library without necessarily having to own a dedicated game machine. This means that in the future, according to the company’s plans, the offer will end up involving not the owners of mobile devices and PCs, but also those of smart TVs and perhaps even users of other console ecosystems.
This last node, as can be guessed, represents the greatest challenge for the technological giant, especially considering the obvious resistance of the other players on the market. If it is highly unlikely that xCloud will reach the PlayStation shores, the opening of Switch to Xbox Live (inaugurated with the arrival of Cuphead) could however have unexpected implications, although the hypothesis of a colonization of the hybrid is still quite daring .
Regardless of these unknowns, it is clear how Game Pass has become one of the flagships of Microsoft’s proposal over time, as well as an asset of fundamental importance for the company’s future strategies, especially in view of generation transition. A consideration that does not simply concern the attractiveness of the offer itself, but its ability to fuel extremely effective loyalty mechanisms, the success of which directly influences the perception of the Xbox brand and its attractiveness in the eyes of the gaming community.
Present and future of a winning bet
At this point, it is necessary to bring up a long debated topic among the ranks of the audience, that relating to the effective sustainability of Game Pass in a purely corporate perspective. In the absence of certain information about the earnings generated by the service, we can not help but give credit to the statements of Phil Spencer, who some time ago defined the Xbox proposal as “a good deal“, while expressing its intention not to alter its costs with the arrival of the next generation.
As always happens when we talk about new businesses, it is very likely that the implementation of the proposal, its progressive expansion and its transformation into a recognized attractor, has asked Microsoft for a substantial investment, both in monetary and fiduciary terms.
All the more considering that the third-party developers involved have repeatedly shown a considerable appreciation for the terms of the collaboration, both from an economic point of view and as regards the visibility guaranteed by the Xbox “showcase”. Regardless of the uncertainty of the beginning, however, it is clear that Game Pass represents the cornerstone of a long-term strategy designed to make the Xbox ecosystem more and more attractive, taking advantage of one of the key concepts of marketing: engagement , or the involvement of consumers. This is the cornerstone of a loyalty and expansion system that Microsoft defines “The Gamer Journey“, a path divided into stages that make up a sort of upward spiral. The starting point is the purchase of a device that allows access to the Xbox offer (catalog and services) and consequently to Game Pass, which as anticipated is now one of its pillars.
Reduced price promotions and offers of various kinds they serve precisely to make the proposal even more attractive, with the aim of transforming the service into an essential part of the players’ play routines. The quality of the experience, characterized by an excellent cost-benefit ratio, therefore triggers the engagement and leads users to express their satisfaction on social media, on streaming platforms, in conversations with their circle of friends and, more generally , ends up stirring up interest in the Xbox ecosystem.
Consequently, more and more people will want to take advantage of the service and therefore buy one of the supporting platforms, thus expanding the scope of this “virtuous circle“, which ends up favoring the interests of developers and publishers also reviving interest in their products.
To better outline the advantages of this system for the future of Microsoft, it is necessary to reiterate that the hardware (the consoles, so to speak) has never been a solid source of income for the giants of the industry, who generally accept to sell at a loss to expand its user base. Software and services are therefore the main sources of income for companies in the gaming sector, and in this sense “The Gamer Journey“represents the heart of a very well thought out strategy.
According to Microsoft data, Game Pass subscribers have game times practically doubled compared to other users, and also tend to make more purchases both on the digital store and in the retail circuits, both for the desire to definitively own the tested titles, and to support the evolution of their preferences, diversified thanks to a catalog full of productions of each kind. We must also consider the fact that none of the multiplayer titles in the package are playable (with good reason) without Xbox Live Gold, and that the affection for a certain game can push the public to buy separately DLC, seasonal passes and so on.
With 10 million active users (about a fifth of Xbox One owners), it is therefore clear how this investment in the future of the Xbox brand is destined to become increasingly profitable.
As mentioned, the official debut of xCloud promises to further increase the numbers of the service, so much so that the goal of the “two billion users” set by Phil Spencer does not seem so unattainable, especially because the game streaming is one “agnostic platform” released from a specific hardware. It is clear that, in order to touch these figures, the synergies put in place by the company must prove to be nothing less than perfect, but the goodness of the route taken is also evident. A route whose success, it is worth repeating, is closely linked to the satisfaction of an increasingly demanding user.
For this reason, it is easy to predict that the generational shift will not mark great qualitative fluctuations as regards the value of Game Pass, in order to prevent the circular path of “The Gamer Journey” from being interrupted. We know that all Xbox first party productions (Halo Infinite, first of all) will continue to be available for download from day one, and Microsoft has already confirmed the first roundup of third party productions arriving after the launch of Xbox Series X, or Scorn, The Medium and Call of Sea. Titles that will strengthen the appeal of one of the best Xbox weapons for the next generational battle, at the center of a clash that – in spite of the sides – already shows a clear winner: the gamers.