This is a topic we have covered before here at Link-Cable but I feel we have never been so close to a digital-only future for one of the ‘big three’. Just a few days ago Microsoft announced that all its first party games will be available on their Xbox Game Pass service on the same day as they are released both online and at physical retail stores. Naturally this incensed many brick and mortar shop owners as well gamers who prefer to have their games in physical format and even though we here at the LC offices are inclined to prefer physical over digital, it’s getting harder and harder to argue that Microsoft needs to have a physical option.
It may seem like a distant memory now, but when Microsoft first unveiled Xbox One at E3 2012, the system was in a very different position than the console we have today. The original announcement got a lot of flack for the seemingly draconian policies Microsoft was imposing on their new system and many gamers just didn’t understand why they would want some restrictions when the also upcoming PlayStation 4 was being pushed as such an open platform. Well fast forward to today and the reasoning is starting to not only make sense but seem like one of the best ways for the Xbox One to stand out.
Going digital-only could help the Xbox One stand out more when its two direct competitors have pretty clear selling points (Sony has its unrelenting stream of games and Nintendo has the portable element. So where could Microsoft take the lead? In price. Offering games physically costs money. Not only in having a more complex console that needs a relatively fragile disc reader but also in distribution, marketing, packaging and shipping. By going digital only, Microsoft can remove all of those price barriers and offer a system that is not only the most affordable (depending on which Xbox One you get it already is) but is also the most affordable to play games on.
Not only that but Microsoft would then control ALL the marketing relating to its system. Case in point, the other day I walked into my local video game store and as I was browsing the shelves I noticed that the space afforded to the Xbox One had shrunk considerably since just a year ago with more and more room going to the PlayStation and Nintendo systems (as well as way too many Funko Pops to count). By exiting this environment (or only selling hardware and game passes) Microsoft could exist in a space where when you go game shopping you only see their titles. That coupled with the lower costs of offering games digitally and the picture of why Microsoft would want to go this route becomes clearer.
The last point I want to bring is that if you an Xbox One you don’t just have a gaming console, but a multimedia entertainment center. The system gives you access to all your entertainment in one convenient place and Microsoft has already begun applying the new-age streaming philosophy to its games, most evidently in the Games with Gold service and the fact that all their first party games are also available on PC at the same time as the Xbox One. Simply put, Microsoft doesn’t seem to be interested in the traditional gaming-retail landscape and would rather move to a ‘gaming as a service’ system. It makes sense to them and out of the ‘big three’ they are likely the most financially able to implement this as well as to survive the initial backlash that will surely come with such as announcement.
So is Microsoft going digital only? No one but the Xbox brand’s architects could answer that right now but many of their decisions over the course of this generation do seem to point in that direction. From the Xbox One’s original reveal, to expanding their free game selection, having same-day parity with the PC releases and now by offering their biggest games via a subscription service. It’s quite possible we are witnessing the end of Microsoft’s physical game platform and the move to an all digital solution and while I’m still conflicted on the prospect for myself personally, it does make a lot of sense for the Xbox brand.