Bethesda executive Todd Howard has spoken out about the future of Xbox Game Pass, and how game subscription services like it could replicate the impact of Netflix on the entertainment industry.
We've heard comparisons with it before, with Game Pass often receiving the moniker 'Netflix for games' – though the fact that Netflix is a streaming platform, and Game Pass offers downloads (partially to incentivize purchases before a game leaves the service), means they do work a fair bit differently.
In Howard's mind, though, the most important comparison is what Game Pass could do for the quality of games in general, all while reducing pressure on developers to shift a certain number of units of a game at retail.
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"TV went to the cheapest thing they could make for a long time, reality television, which I could equate to a free-to-play match-three game. What brings eyeballs? What's cheap? Right, let's get it out," Howard says in the interview with GI.biz.
He adds, "Subscriptions came along and now you see the quality and investment in dramas or historical fiction series. That's where creators are able to go and create these things people want and it makes sense for everybody: the people paying the bills, the people creating it and the people consuming it. That's what we see happening with games with things like Game Pass."
Howard says that there are games, like adventure games, "that really don't make a lot of economic sense at $60, or maybe even at $30 if someone's going to play it for five or six hours, but in a system like that it makes complete sense. It drives a lot of people saying 'Hey, I got to experience that and I wouldn't have any other way,' and the creators got to make it without the burden of 'Will this be successful? Will we get to make another one?'"
"I'm extremely optimistic about what something like Game Pass brings, not just to people playing it but to creators being unbridled in terms of what they can create," Howard says.
An uncertain future
The comments come after Microsoft announced its intention to purchase Bethesda's parent company Zenimax, in a deal that's expected to close some time in 2021.
It's naturally led to a lot of speculation about Bethesda's franchises. It's almost certain that the Fallout, Doom, and Elder Scrolls games will become permanent fixtures on Game Pass, as newly first-party games. But it also raises the question of whether new titles will be Xbox Series X / Xbox Series S exclusives.
We know that The Elder Scrolls 6 is incoming, along with sci-fi RPG Starfield – and a Fallout 5 game probably after the other two release.
There's no confirmation on this yet, though we expect they'll be times exclusives or partial exclusives at the very least – as we saw with Obsidian's The Outer Worlds, which only launched with 4K capability on Xbox One X, and not on the PS4 Pro.
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Henry is a freelance technology journalist, and former News & Features Editor for TechRadar, where he specialized in home entertainment gadgets such as TVs, projectors, soundbars, and smart speakers. Other bylines include Edge, T3, iMore, GamesRadar, NBC News, Healthline, and The Times.