Game passes: unexpected item in the bagging area

At an IT industry event last month, there was a presentation called Shaping Self-Service for the Future. This described one company’s journey towards implementing an online portal where their customers could go to make support requests and all the factors that had to be considered at the start of the project.

The desire for these self-service channels, along with artificial intelligence (AI) and chatbots has been taking the IT world by storm for the past year or so. The speaker compared this current trend to the self-checkouts frequently found in supermarkets nowadays and explained that the just-in-time stock management followed by such companies inspired the creation of the Lean principles in the 1990s. (It might be for IT but it’s also pretty good at keeping your video game backlog in check.)

self-checkouts, Tesco, tills, store, supermarket, cashier

The part of the presentation I found most interesting was the section comparing the benefits shouted about by businesses to how self-checkouts are viewed by customers. We may be told they give us more choice, convenience and speed, and have been put into stores to ‘improve our shopping experience’, but is that really what we believe? Not at all: a 2014 poll found that 93% of us dislike the machines and see them as a cost-cutting method used by supermarkets to boost their profits.

It struck me after the event just how similar self-service channels and game passes are. You log into an online portal, select the product or service you require, receive it and are asked for your feedback. Everything you need is contained within a standard monthly fee which can be increased depending on the level of service you’d like. And right now consumers view these subscriptions with a large amount of cynicism: do the supermarkets and publishers have our best interests at heart or are they looking to make a quick buck?

During their briefing at E3 last month, Microsoft employees took every opportunity to tell us about Project XCloud and the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. They’re apparently going to revolutionise the way we purchase video games. They’re going to give us unlimited access to over 100 high-quality titles from well-known developers. They’ll bring us together to create a shared community regardless of where we play. All great benefits for gamers, certainly – but by the end of the show I was sick of hearing about the products.

Although I could see the truth in what was being said when thinking rationally, I was curious to realise it was a totally different matter emotionally. The high number of mentions about XCloud and the Game Pass somehow made it seem suspicious; surely it was all about the company and not the consumer? Microsoft can look forward to a regular and reliable source of income, instead of hoping we’ll shell out £50 to £60 for a new game several times a year and having to get sequels out as quickly as possible to keep the cash coming in.

There’s also the fact that cost-savings can be achieved through the potential to focus on a single marketing effort. Rather than having to constantly promote individual titles, stick them together in a single game pass, throw all your marketing weight behind one product and occasionally offer a free month of service to draw in new customers! It’s an attractive proposal for shareholders: a guaranteed monthly income for the business through subscriptions plus a few extra consolidation tricks on the side to increase those profits even further.

The rational side of my brain then kicked in and wanted to argue for those benefits the Microsoft representatives had put forward during their E3 briefing. How could paying for unlimited access to a library of video games not be a good thing? You’re betting a chunk of money that you’re actually going to enjoy the title you’re buying if you do so at full price, and a game pass removes this risk as you can try as many as you like for a much lower monthly fee. There’s also no more having to wait for payday to get your hands on that new release.

But what if you don’t have a lot of free time to play, or if the games you want aren’t available in the library? Is it still good value then? And what if one you’re halfway through is dropped from the service? So many questions, all of them leading back to the ultimate: are game passes just a way for corporations to make money? It’s no wonder customers are suspicious. It appears every company we encounter through our hobby wants to push at least one subscription, whether it be a game pass, access to their network, or season pass for new content.

When do all of these become too much? Let’s turn to television for an example. Now that companies have seen just how successful Netflix has been, they all want a slice of the subscription pie and are removing their content from the platform so it can be placed behind their own paywalls. Viewers will therefore be locked out of certain shows if they can’t afford yet another monthly fee, and it could mean we have to make some difficult choices about which platforms we pay for in the future.

E3, Xbox briefing, stage, lights

Is this where the video game world is heading too? Not according to Microsoft. Head of Gaming Services Ben Decker said in an interview in August 2018: “We don’t have a goal of being the subscription where you get all your content. This is meant to be additive to the ecosystem. We don’t see a future where subscriptions are dominant. We see a future where customers have choice between a subscription and purchase-to-own, where there’s a mixed ecosystem because that’s what customers want, and that’s what developers want.”

So maybe that’s what it all boils down to: choice, and perhaps too much of it. Research has shown this isn’t a good thing as it can make us miserable. When there are fewer options available, it’s easier to make a decision (although we’ll feel cheated if there are too few) and around 12 seems to be the sweet-spot for decision-making. Perhaps our current cynicism and suspicion towards game passes are because we’re starting to feel overwhelmed at all that choice.

Microsoft and other companies are jumping into the future of cloud-based services and are quick to point out the benefits. But we as consumers are far more cautious and want to take the journey one step at a time. Whether it’s a self-service channel in an IT setting, self-checkouts in supermarkets or game passes from publishers, they’ll need to lead us gently and avoid any unexpected items in the bagging area.

16 thoughts on “Game passes: unexpected item in the bagging area

  1. Huh. TIL self-service check-outs in supermarkets have been a thing since at least 2014. And also that perhaps NZ is no longer the tech testbed of the world.

    I wonder what a 2019 survey of the tech would say. They’ve only been in NZ commonly for the last year or so, with some stores trialing a year or two before that. Personally I like them when I’m there for a quick shop, to pick-up a couple of forgotten items or similar. I have no illusions that they’re for the store and cost-cutting more than they are for my convenience, but hey — I’ll take it. 😉

    re: The Xbox Gamepass, Origin Access, I think Ubisoft has, or is, about to make an entrance here too — they have their place. For the most part, I would prefer to ‘own’ my games. But there are cases where it makes some sense. Not many games these days become a ‘classic’, something you’ll want to return to in the years to come. Certainly that is the case for me, at least. Given that, and given the number of games from any given publisher I might have marginal interest in playing to begin with, investing in a game pass can be a far less risky proposition than outright buying even a couple such titles.

    But… With gamepass proliferation starting to become a thing; I certainly have some concerns. This isn’t a system where I’d likely invest in multiple passes. So far the Xbox one is actually one of the more compelling (even as a windows gamer without any ownership of an Xbox console) — but we’ll see how things shake out. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I totally understand your concerns. There has to come a point when ‘subscription fatigue’ hits: when we just can’t take on yet another monthly charge and have to make decisions about dropping old subscriptions to start a new one. And what happens if companies start applying notice periods so it’s not as easy to cancel? 🤔

      I do like the idea of the Xbox Game Pass though… I’m struggling to find titles I really enjoy at the moment, so having the opportunity to try them out before getting too far in is appealing…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m glad Microsoft aren’t pushing too hard on trying to make subscription services the ONLY way to get games in the future. If that happens, I really feel like we’re heading for a BIG bust-up between the “games as art” crowd and the “games as business” people.

    (I’m in the former camp, if that weren’t already abundantly obvious; games are creative works that should be able to be preserved — preferably in tangible form — for future generations to enjoy.)


    • It will certainly be interesting to see how this all plays out. I can understand why Microsoft aren’t making the Xbox Game Pass the only way to purchase games right now: there’s something about ‘owning’ a title that just feels right and sits well with older gamers such as myself!

      But… there are a lot of business benefits that can come from selling subscriptions too… so could Microsoft consider making this their only channel in the future once the lure of additional profit calls? 🤔

      Liked by 1 person

      • I honestly think there’ll be too much resistance to a subscription-only model from older gamers like ourselves… and we’re the ones with the disposable income. Of course, there are exceptions — I know plenty of people who are happy to “declutter” by ridding themselves of physical possessions such as DVD/Blu-Ray and game collections — but on the whole, at least among my friends and acquaintances of a similar age, people want to own the things that they invest a considerable amount of time into.

        I guess part of it is how “seriously” you take the hobby. If you enjoy something casually, you’ll probably be perfectly happy with a subscription — I feel this way about music and movies, so I have Google Play Music and Netflix, and likewise those people who just play CoD and FIFA annually would probably be fine with it.

        But if you’re into something as a primary hobby, you probably want something tangible you can feel like you possess. And a collection you can curate yourself rather than being beholden to the whims of someone else!


        • I hadn’t considered that you’re absolutely right. I’m the same when it comes to films so having a Netflix subscription suits me, but I can see how I’d want to own my own copies if I was an avid fan. It explains why events such as retro-gaming markets remain popular and it’s hard to imagine that changing, even with the advent of subscriptions like Xbox Game Pass.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Something that comes to mind is how publishers like Microsoft would love to kill the second hand market and wrestle back some of the profit, we saw the rise and fall of ‘online passes’ not too many years ago for example. These new services definitely prevent second hand sales of games!

    Luckily if I sold my PS4 copy of Fallout 76 or ESO they would both be playable by the next person as they aren’t tied to an account, but this isn’t the case on PC.

    Hmm… so actually nothing is a dead end route just yet and we’re probably still in the early days of all this!


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  5. I don’t think we’ll see Game Pass bring an end to digital purchases, or even physical purchases, any time soon.

    Microsoft has told us repeatedly that Game Pass has a positive effect on the ecosystem as a whole. Gamers are playing more games for longer, but also trying games they wouldn’t ordinarily play. I’m one of those people.

    More games are sold as a result. For me, Xbox Game Pass is the ultimate demo access; 50 hours into State of Decay 2, I bought the game. I played another 150 hours after that. I’m still ducking into it from time to time 2 years later. About 10 hours into theHunter: Call of the Wild, I bought the game in a Steam sale.

    If they find a good way to bring xCloud into Game Pass Ultimate, the value will be even greater. I’ve still got another 14 months of my subscription to go, but I can’t imagine ever being without it now 😆


    • We’ve been signed up to Game Pass for about six months now and are considering whether to cancel the subscription. Pete and I have both played the games that appeal to us and the new titles being added each month just aren’t hitting the spot, plus we’ve had a couple of games removed halfway through playing them.

      I’m not saying the Game Pass isn’t a good thing or that it’s not worth the money in certain circumstances. It’s just that the model only works if there are enough titles listed to appeal to you on a continual basis; it’s pointless paying for the subscription if there’s not enough to keep you coming back. Personally, I’d rather be able to play a free demo on Steam and then buy the game outright if it interests me enough – but that’s possibly because there’s more of the types of releases I’m interested in on that platform, and I like being able to support indie developers by making a purchase.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That is the real beauty of Game Pass though, much like Now TV, Netflix etc. I’ve got a 3 month sub to Now TV, I’m rinsing through all these films I need to catch up on, then I can sack it until next year…

        Same with Game Pass, if it doesn’t do it for you on a continual basis, keep an eye on the contents, grab a months pass, play what you want and then let it go. I used to dive in and out of it all the time initially. 😃

        Liked by 1 person

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