Whisper it softly but the announcement of Xbox Game Pass today is something of a game changer. We’ve all critiqued Microsoft for how hard they went in rushing into the digital space – their aggressive stance unjustified and ultimately viewed as anti-consumer. Quite rightly too – gamers weren’t ready for it. But as time has passed, the company has slowly been improving its digital package, and in the process has been quietly justifying its vision for an all digital future.
Back when the Xbox One was unveiled, gamers cried foul at the idea of a digital focused console. “Think of our internet connection” was the general cry at the time, as gamers would have been forced to rely on their internet connection to both register and play their games. It was a response strong enough to force Microsoft into a stand down, as Sony delighted and revelled in their rivals decline. How we all laughed at E3 2013 as Sony said you could trade in video games and lend them to friends without boundaries. The sales figures reflect this, Sony’s PlayStation 4 is a monster success while Xbox One has been struggling to keep pace.
Yet upon reflection, Microsoft never really truly abandoned that vision. The Xbox One may have ditched some of its more ambitious plans, but the company has still been pushing its digital agenda. Throughout this generation its introduced a number of schemes and services that reward those who invest in the company’s digital services, slowly introducing these and steadily reinforcing the vision they originally presented.
With the announcement of Xbox Game Pass today, it highlights an area where Xbox is all but pummelling its rival into the dirt. While Xbox One owners can revisit a slew of the last generations offerings, so long as they own a copy of the game, Sony forces users into its awkward (and recently scaled down) PlayStation Now service. It’s an awkward hole in Sony’s successes this generation – a bewildering absence that’s not even been close to addressed. PlayStation Now has been largely forgotten and left to wilt in the sun while Microsoft has been imprinting its policies.
For all of Sony’s successes in building their PlayStation brand – it remains their digital front where the company has been lacking. Their lack of innovation in the space is noteworthy, and suggests that Sony hasn’t quite got the handle on the issue as its rival has. PlayStation Now isn’t a terrible suggestion, but it’s not a suitable replacement for a full library of retro titles. Streaming services may be the future, but their real world application leaves something to be desired in most cases. The decision to downsize the service is one that really underlines just how haphazard the company’s forward planning is.
People were annoyed when Microsoft said you needed an internet connection to register games, so being forced to use a streaming service to access retro titles is far from ideal. The fact that PlayStation 3 allowed this in the first place makes its absence all the more damning.
Because with every new service and platform that Microsoft announces – it slowly points to a future where they know exactly where they’re heading. Schemes like Xbox Play Anywhere, which grants digital copy’s of AAA-titles to PC and Xbox One. Services like EA’s Access which allows fans of that company to get their hands on a number of titles for a monthly fee. These are great platforms and while not every gamer will use them – help to relieve the expensive burden of investing so often in AAA-gaming.
Sony needs to start taking notes from its rival. It’s position as the top selling console is secure – it’s very unlikely that Xbox One will surpass PlayStation 4 in lifetime sales. But if Sony doesn’t begin shifting its focus and at least begin to offer the kind of versatile options that gamers can get on Xbox One – then 2-3 years down the line it may struggle to be such a compelling option for gamers. Why would anyone choose a console where games cost $60 a pop when you can wait several months and get it bundled with dozens of other titles in Xbox Game Pass?
Each of these services are optional, but options are good in an age where consumers want choice. Sony’s lack of decisiveness is evident in their failure to respond to the rise of these services. Success is fleeting and when a better (and cheaper option) exists, it only serves to undermine their long term position.
For Sony, the time is now to begin changing its direction because as every digital success piles up for Microsoft, PlayStation is looking less and less appealing in the long term. Sony can’t ignore that forever.