Just last week Microsoft announced that it’s expanding its subscription service, Xbox Game Pass, to include all new Microsoft Studios games. It’s a move that greatly benefits gamers and it’s proved popular, particularly as it means upcoming exclusives such as Sea of Thieves will be available to subscribers from launch day.
It has, however, proven less appealing to independent game retailers. In a recent report from GamesIndustry.biz, it’s emerged that some retailers are so unhappy with the move, they’re considering stopping selling Xbox hardware and software altogether.
The main concern for these retailers is that the service will negatively impact their second-hand sales, with one retailer telling the outlet: “Essentially, it's made [our Xbox business] worthless overnight. You've got the whole section sat there, and why would people buy a £12 to £15 second-hand game when they can just pay a tenner and get a massive catalog of titles to keep them going?"
Some retailers have even said that they’re no longer willing to stock Xbox hardware and software, including the upcoming Sea of Thieves, because they don't feel supported by Microsoft.
Despite the fact that Sony has its own subscription service, the company appeared to be perceived much more positively by retailers, with many stating that they sell far more PlayStation products anyway.
It’s interesting that Sony’s own subscription service, PlayStation Now, has caused less concern with retailers. It’s possible, however, that the streaming-based nature of PlayStation’s service feels less threatening to retailers than the direct downloads being offered by Microsoft. Or maybe it's the fact that it doesn't give players immediate access to brand new games.
It is worth noting, though, that as Microsoft’s Game Pass library is rotational like Netflix’s, Game Pass games won’t be available to subscribers forever. This means that players may still seek out their favorites titles when they're removed from the service, though certainly they won't do so with such frequency.
Boycotts from a handful of independent retailers isn’t likely to make a massive dent in Microsoft’s sales, but calls are being made to larger high street retailers to follow suit as “they will be the ones to suffer when the industry goes digital only.”
Though there are many retailers who are concerned, there are some who aren’t too worried just yet. One store manager has said that Xbox Game Pass is only likely to appeal to “hardcore” Xbox fans and that Xbox’s first-party exclusives are so few and far between, the impact isn’t likely to be particularly severe.
“If Microsoft's games line-up were stronger, if someone big like Ubisoft started doing this, then yeah, that would be a cause for concern. So I'm not overly worried about it. It's just a trend, it's where things are going forward.”
It's true that there have been many signs Microsoft, and the industry generally, has been moving in this direct and digital direction for a while now. When Microsoft first launched the Xbox One, it stated that it would have a no second-hand games policy.
This proved to be very unpopular with retailers and consumers alike. By going down the route of personal subscription services, Microsoft is taking another path to making the circulation of second hand games less necessary. A service that doesn't make consumers feel like they're being robbed of opportunities to get value for money.
Digital sales across all platforms have been on the rise for years now and some retailers are even envisioning a future where games are only sold direct from publishers on their own online stores. We're certainly not at that point just yet. But given that the movie, TV and music industries have all seen a rise in subscription platforms, it seems natural that games would follow suit.
Regardless of the fact that this is an unsurprising direction for Microsoft to take, however, it’s clear that digital services are placing a great deal of pressure on independent retailers and even high street chains. Only time will tell how severe the impact is.