Is this bump in the road for Game Pass or something more significant? (Picture: Microsoft)
There’s a new Xbox Developer_Direct tonight and as far as anyone knows it’s going to be used solely to talk about upcoming new Xbox exclusives, such as Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2, Avowed, and Indiana Jones.
It’s tempting to imagine that the Direct might also discuss rumours of bringing current Xbox exclusives, such as Hi-Fi Rush and Sea Of Thieves, to PlayStation 5 and/or Nintendo Switch, but so far there’s nothing to suggest that will happen this week.
So many insiders seem convinced that the rumours are true though, that it’s beginning to seem like an inevitability. That’s certainly the opinion of a number of the industry’s top analysts, who recently got together to discuss the possibility of Xbox changing its policy on exclusives.
The discussion was organised by IGN and we recommend reading it in full here, but it presupposes that the multiformat rumours are real and that this is part of a major shift in strategy for Microsoft, as hinted at by some of its execs.
One interesting question, amongst many, is when this decision to change their approach might have happened. Back in 2021, when Microsoft made the decision to make all Bethesda games exclusives, they clearly still thought that would make a major difference to their Xbox business, but it appears their point of view has changed since then.
Presumably it was the poor sales of the Xbox Series X/S which suggested to them that the console was already incapable of challenging the PlayStation 5, no matter what games it had exclusive to it – something which Phil Spencer himself talked about last year.
‘Xbox has redrawn the games industry landscape. Where historically the market was made-up of insular walled gardens, Xbox’ current strategy proposes a device-agnostic, cross-platform roadmap,’ says NYU Professor Joost van Dreunen.
Call Of Duty is not an Xbox exclusive (Picture: Activision)
It’s suggested that this is happening because despite now owning Activision Blizzard, Call Of Duty is going to remain multiformat and so will not necessarily help in terms of convincing more people to buy Xbox consoles.
‘There are signs that Hi-Fi Rush underperformed relative to Microsoft’s expectations in terms of its impact on Game Pass subscriptions growth and engagement and full game downloads,’ says Omdia senior games analyst James McWhirter.
‘Releasing a late port to, say, the Switch, makes continued development of titles like it more sustainable while securing timed exclusivity on Xbox while adding value to Game Pass.’
The Xbox Series X/S has been any more successful than the Xbox One (Picture: Microsoft)
It’s been clear for some time that Xbox console sales are struggling but the bigger concern for Microsoft will be the slow adoption rate for Game Pass, something they never acknowledge publicly – no doubt because it was so supposed to be the solution to the console problem.
‘We’re seeing slowing adoption of Xbox Game Pass even though Microsoft will claim otherwise thanks to the repositioning of Xbox Live Gold as Xbox Game Pass Core,’ said McWhirter.
‘Our forecast estimates total Xbox Game Pass subscriptions (excluding Core/Live Gold) to be at 33.3 million at the end of 2023, which represents subscriber growth of just 13% – down from 15% in 2022. Notably, over half (55%) are currently on the device-agnostic [i.e. Xbox and PC] Ultimate tier.’
Previous rumours have suggested that PS Plus is suffering the same problems and that gaming subscriptions are not catching on the same way they have for TV.
Either way, Xbox game sales continue to disappoint, with more PlayStation 4 games being sold in Europe last year than Xbox Series X/S titles, according to GamesIndustry.biz.
Microsoft has a great advantage over Sony in terms of streaming technology but while in theory that is the perfect way to circumvent the need for consoles it is dependent on Wi-Fi speeds and reliability that does not yet exist for much of the world.
Even without streaming though, Professor van Dreunen expects Xbox, ‘will try to launch a mobile Game Pass service to reach billions of mobile gamers and deliver on its ambition to reach 100 million subscribers for its Game Pass service.’ Which is something Microsoft has already hinted at.
Despite being the most valuable company in the world, success has not come easily to Microsoft, when it comes to video games, and it’s still uncertain how they will proceed in the future.
What is certain is that they’re not giving up any time soon and tonight’s Developer_Direct will focus on what will always be the most important thing for any games company: the games themselves.
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