E3 2021, albeit in this version made up of online conferences only, has more or less reached the halfway point: with the conference dedicated to the Xbox, the difference in approach between the 3 main players of everything that does not concern the gaming world has become more and more concrete, that is Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo.
Waiting to understand what the latter will do, that is if it really will feature a Switch Pro or not, if we look at Sony and Microsoft we see who has dominated the market (and continues to dominate it in terms of consoles sold) and who instead has chosen a completely new playing field where the main wealth lies in freeing the end user from every shopping anxiety.
On paper, the Xbox presentation didn’t surprise that much: the long-awaited Starfield he only showed up with a short gameplay footage that gave no clues as to the nature of the title; Halo Infinite he showed up with an introduction scene and some images of the multiplayer; many titles will be released in 2022 or later. So why was it an important moment? Because, in addition to officially celebrating the entry of the entire Bethesda catalog into the Game Pass, each announcement was followed by a very simple message: “You will be able to play it upon release on Game Pass”. No more decisions on what to buy, no more queues or waiting, for Microsoft the future is not so much the physical Xbox, but the Xbox as a concept, a space that can reside on a dedicated console such as the X and S Series or a platform with which to download all the titles of the catalog onto your computer simply with a subscription.
To stream video games
The concept is obviously not new: the idea of a “Netflix of video games” has been around for some time, but Game Pass at the moment seems to be the project with the most solid shoulders, shoulders that theoretically should also handle the weight of the profitability of a video game, downloading it from those of the developers, no longer forced to sell millions of copies from the first day in order not to immediately close the shop or be absorbed by a bigger fish, perhaps after months of development in conditions of very high stress.
The Game Pass debuted in 2017, initially it was a service that allowed you to download (after paying for a subscription) a series of Microsoft titles on Xbox; over time it has evolved, it has landed on computers, it has greatly increased the catalog and today includes more than a hundred titles ranging from thoughtful and intimate indie ones to games like Doom. In addition, XCloud is also included within Game Pass, which is Microsoft’s cloud gaming service that allows you to play on Android devices, and soon also on browsers and iOS. Microsoft has reported around 23 million subscribers and, according to internal surveys, users of the service are more prone to discovering titles that they otherwise would not have considered. playing multiplayer and, surprisingly, they would spend even more on video games. This is because, unloaded from the burden of purchasing the single game, they use the money in monetization services, additional content and so on. Then the Game Pass strategy is quite simple: with so many games there are always some that you haven’t played and with a subscription you don’t even feel guilty if you buy them and then ignore them.
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What Sony is doing
On the other hand, Sony continues a strategy that has paid off so far, but some things are changing: over time, the PlayStation a catalog of highly armored exclusives has been built that are no longer highly armored. The last of Us, Uncharted, Horizon, God of War and the recent Returnal they are all titles designed to continue the path of selling the console with the most interesting games, being very careful to keep close to the loyal audience. It is no coincidence that Fortnite it was particularly difficult to unlock the possibility to let users of all platforms play with each other and convinced Sony only by paying. Over time, the Japanese company has revised this dogma, but only in part.
Today it is possible play PlayStation exclusives even on computers and this will be even more likely in the future, given that the figures seem comforting: the subscription to PlayStation Plus offers free titles every month and by buying a PlayStation 5 (if you find it, of course) you already start with a base of titles that they can keep you busy for a long time. In a pandemic-free situation and with freely purchasable consoles, maybe Sony could be quieter, but just in recent weeks it has had to revise some statements of the past, moving to the following year already announced titles and bringing others to PlayStation 4 as well, to capitalize on the installed base. It seems that soon he will run for cover with an “anti-Game Pass” but for now everything is still in the world of indiscretions.
obviously there is no “right” way, because the last word remains with the market and it is absolutely probable that the two systems can coexist as they coexist with mobile platforms: on the one hand console with strong exclusives and some multi-platform products, on the other a hybrid system between computers and dedicated consoles where there is a continuous flow of games and experimentation.
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What will happen in the future
The other interesting perspective of this system is how the relationship between publisher, audience and press might change. To understand how, a comparison with what has already happened with music and TV series: on the one hand the review, perhaps on the day of its release, will become less and less advice for the purchase, since the purchase will no longer be there, and more a curation on how to use your time. Perhaps even the carousel of announcements, rumors and indiscriminate enthusiasm could diminish, as there would no longer be a need to push us to a purchase or a pre-order.
On the other hand, even if Netflix has inserted a button to also relieve us of the obligation to decide to make us continue to consume content, it is clear that these boundless catalogs need advice and an indexing that travels halfway between giving us what we like and offering us something we do not know still to love. In short, if the Game Pass becomes the norm, they will be even more important, so as not to fall into the so-called Fomo (Fear of Missing out, the fear of missing something), all those interpersonal relationships made of comparisons between friends or between the public and critics, without however the economic question in the middle.
On paper it looks like a desirable future, even if in the shadow of Microsoft. Of course, these platforms do not keep us safe from losing the game we like due to a contract that expires and makes it disappear from the platforms, but in that case for now there are still the classic games, which could soon become like the vinyls purchased after many passes on Spotify. Looking forward to understanding what it will do Nintendo and which way it will go.