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Game Pass is now a true platform and Xbox just another brand name
Microsoft's plans were already clear, but the long-term bet is bolder than ever
In the wake of the announcement of 20 classic Bethesda titles joining the Xbox Game Pass catalog today, Microsoft's Phil Spencer - the head of all things Xbox in Redmond - took the opportunity to clarify the company's plans for all of Bethesda's output in the future. What he did, though, was also make official what many of us already saw coming two years ago: Microsoft's platform is not Xbox or PC or even The Cloud now. It's Game Pass.
Spencer confirmed that Bethesda's contractual obligations before it was acquired by Microsoft - such as GhostWire Tokyo and Deathloop for Sony's PlayStation5 - will be honored. He also confirmed that Bethesda's multiplatform titles already available for other formats besides Xbox, such as Doom Eternal, will be supported (there was no timeframe mentioned). He then stressed, though, that all future Bethesda titles "will ship on all platforms where Game Pass exists". At the time of writing, those were Xbox One S/X, Xbox Series S/X, PC and Android via the xCloud streaming service.
That's a departure from Spencer's stance in October, when the Bethesda acquisition was first announced: back then Microsoft's official line was "each new title's future release on other formats will be decided on a per-case basis", meaning that if it made sense for some of those games to be multiformat and not Xbox-exclusive, the Redmond giant would allow it. That would leave the door open for the next Elder Scrolls, Doom or Wolfenstein, for instance, to appear to PS5 or Switch too (PC is a given).
Not a lot of people believed there was a chance of that happening and Spencer's most recent remark practically closes that door. Game Pass - not Xbox Game Pass, this is intentional - is already a fantastic service from a value perspective, but it needs as many exclusive games as possible in order to offer subscription incentives to as many consumers as possible. A company like Microsoft does not hand out 7.5 billion dollars without expecting the maximum return on investment possible. Hence the exclusivity of Game Pass for all titles made by Microsoft-bought studios and companies, not just Bethesda.
Spencer's words are also interestingly chosen: "on all platforms where Game Pass exists". This might put even Sony and Nintendo in a strange position. Both could theoretically allow Microsoft to make Xbox xCloud apps for their respective machines so owners e.g. of a PS5 or a Switch could play Xbox games on those systems via xCloud. Not all of cloud gaming's kinks are ironed out yet, yes, but for various kinds of games lag or pristine image quality is not an issue - it stands to reason, then, that at least some PlayStation or Switch owners would be interested in Game Pass via xCloud. Something that Sony and Nintendo would obviously be rather reluctant to offer.
What's clear, though, is that Game Pass is the way forward for Microsoft: it will be promoted as a game format in and of itself, as platform-agnostic as Netflix is for movies. We're all watching Netflix content on TVs, tablets, smartphones, PlayStation consoles, Xbox consoles, you name it. The service is the platform, so to speak. The Redmond giant has implied as much several times in the past, but in a way that would not undermine its new Xbox consoles. Now it's crystal clear that Microsoft is ready to make Game Pass a priority and use all past, present and future Xbox consoles as mere points of entry to an ecosystem. It's a bold bet, maybe even a necessary one - so it will be quite interesting to see how all this plays out, no?
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