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Monday, August 16, 2021

Xbox Game Pass, Windows 11, and Non-Nintendo/Sony Open Platforms

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - Pretty obvious to anyone besides some “journalists.”

At the end of last week, gaming media outlet GamesRadar+ had an interview with Microsoft's Chief Xbox executive, Phil Spencer. They talked about Xbox Game Pass. What else would they talk about? Xbox Game Pass is the only thing to really talk about when it comes to Microsoft's gaming efforts. It's their big differentiator, and “available on Xbox Game Pass” became a very familiar phrase during their E3 2021 presentation. Specifically, Phil Spencer wants to work with getting Xbox (Game Pass) to “open platforms” (not ones controlled by an ecosystem owner... AKA not the Switch or the PlayStation, but things like mobile (but I guess not Apple's) and PC) with the power of the cloud. So it's like what Google is trying to do with the Stadia, except not being a huge failure because Microsoft understands the videogame industry (and they're willing to make massive acquisitions to support it), unlike Google.

People in the Nintendo-focused media are talking about the interviewer's insistence that Phil Spencer answer the question about an Xbox app on the Switch, which, according to terrible websites like Game Rant, was “all but confirmed” a few months ago. (Presumably, an Xbox app would let you use the Switch to access your Xbox Game Pass library via streaming.) And even though Phil Spencer was a little dodgy initially, I'll still give him credit for providing more insightful answers than, say, Nintendo's Doug Bowser. (And credit to the interviewer for pressing the issue.) He said, again, his focus is on the open platforms, but if a platform holder wants to have the discussions with Microsoft, he'll gladly have those talks.

Phil Spencer also thinks that the Xbox Game Pass's value inherently makes it more accessible to non-gamers (or non-frequent gamers because certain industry lobbying groups will tell you almost everyone is a gamer)... because you don't really have to be familiar enough with games to decide which ones to buy when you can just buy a Game Pass subscription and just try a variety of things. Spencer said the scary “d” word (“diversity”), but in the context of embracing different game business models because that leads to different kinds of games. (If every game becomes a free-to-play battle royale, you won't get single-player epics.) He's almost mid-2000s Nintendo-esque in wanting to really focus on getting non-gamers to come in.

Even though KoopaTV hasn't even mentioned the phrase “Windows 11” (and I thought I wrote a whole article about it, but that was apparently in my head and not a real thing)—and neither did the interview—I think that's how the Xbox and gaming got big mentions in that Windows 11 presentation.

2021 Windows 11 event Xbox Game Pass
That's Windows 11 in the background with Xbox Game Pass.

Microsoft as a whole is positioning Windows 11 as a more open platform (even using those very words) than ever before with their open developer app store policy. I'm sure it's no coincidence that Phil Spencer and the Microsoft corporate Windows developer people are using the same lingo.

So that's where Phil Spencer's head is at. The mobiles, the webs, and PCs for the absolute broadest reach of gaming content... along with Xbox. They don't need PlayStation and the Switch along with the ride when they have plenty to work with as it is. They can leave those closed platforms in the dust until they realise they need to join Microsoft in the goodness.

Ludwig didn't actually opine in this article on if he thinks Microsoft's strategy will work or not... because he's not really sure how Microsoft is actually going to calculate and quantify success, and how much of that information the public will get to see. It's clearly not in terms of number of Xbox hardware sold. Maybe it's number of Game Pass subscriptions (and renewals) across all platforms. He still has no idea how it's supposed to be profitable for developers.

The open platform strategy is driving Microsoft's decisions around things like The Elder Scrolls VI availability.

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