Xbox Head Phil Spencer wants Xbox Game Pass to become a Netflix of exclusive story-driven games

Laurent Giret

Xbox's Phil Spencer at E3

Two months ago, Microsoft invited Xbox Insiders to test a preview of its new Xbox Game Pass. For those unfamiliar, this is a new game subscription service that will give Xbox One gamers access to a catalog of over 100 Xbox games for $9.99 per month. The service will officially launch later this Spring, but the Xbox team is already thinking about how the Xbox Game Pass could disrupt the gaming industry, just like Netflix did with TV shows.

In a lengthy interview with The Guardian, Xbox head Phil Spencer explained that single player, story-driven games are increasingly competing for attention with “Games as a service” like Destiny or Tom Clancy’s The Division. “The audience for those big story-driven games… I won’t say it isn’t as large, but they’re not as consistent,” said Spencer. “You’ll have things like Zelda or Horizon Zero Dawn that’ll come out, and they’ll do really well, but they don’t have the same impact that they used to have, because the big service-based games are capturing such a large amount of the audience,” he added.

As a result, Spencer thinks that it’s very important for the video games industry to create new business opportunities for story-driven games. Drawing a comparison with the high-quality exclusive TV shows that you can find on Netflix or HBO today, Spencer thinks that gaming subscription services could give much more creative freedom to developers of story-driven games:

I’ve looked at things like Netflix and HBO, where great content has been created because there’s this subscription model. Shannon Loftis and I are thinking a lot about, well, could we put story-based games into the Xbox Game Pass business model because you have a subscription going? It would mean you wouldn’t have to deliver the whole game in one month; you could develop and deliver the game as it goes.

The episodic games from Telltale Games are one of the best story-driven games you can play today.

Spencer is convinced that television has now reached a golden age of creativity, and if you already watched Games of Thrones or House of Cards you’ll probably agree with him. “The storytelling ability in TV today is really high, and I think it’s because of the business model,” added Spencer. “I hope as an industry we can think about the same. Subscription services might spur new story-based games coming to market because there’s a new business model to help support their monetisation.”

Including exclusive story-driven games into the Xbox Games Pass could certainly make the subscription service much more valuable for Xbox gamers, and it could even drive Xbox One sales if these games are really good. However, old-school gamers who like to “own” their games may not like this at all. And more importantly, it’s not clear why game developers would prefer to restrict their games to a limited audience of subscribers, especially since Sony’s Playstation 4 sold much better than the Xbox One to this day.

Do you think a Netflix-like business model could benefit story-driven, single player games, or do you think gamers and the video game industry are not ready for this yet? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

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