Last year at E3, Microsoft announced that they would be offering a new service similar Sony’s PS+, where they would allow Xbox Live subscribers to download 2 games every month. Ever since, the comparisons of the services have been nearly continuous, and Microsoft’s service has frequently been declared a disappointment, even by Leviathyn’s own Blake Anglin. However, where many fixate simply upon the inferiority of the Games With Gold service by comparison to the PS+ service, I wanted to evaluate it further to answer some key questions. Why is Games with Gold considered a disappointment? What does Microsoft do with their service that possibly prevents it from being considered as favorably? And finally, how can they make the service better?
To begin this assessment, I needed to fully understand what it is about the service that people view unfavorably. Since June, Microsoft has released a total of 16 games, from a variety of genres and publishers, as well as mixing retail and Xbox Live Arcade titles. From a variety standpoint there isn’t a lot to take issue with. I then looked at the critical reception these games had received. The games that Microsoft has offered have an average Metacritic score of 82.75, with only 4 games below an 80 and one below 70. Meanwhile, 3 of the games have received a 90 or above, so the games being offered are of good quality. Finally, I looked at the age of the game at the time it was made available. At this time, the average age of a game available through Games with Gold is over 43 months, and for retail games alone, that number jumps up to over 55 months, or over 4 1/2 years.
Not surprisingly, this is often the biggest complaint that is levied against Microsoft’s service and for good reason. Used games are a real and relevant aspect in the modern video game industry, as Microsoft is no doubt aware of after the original Xbox One restrictions were shut down. So, it is worth noting that the seven retail games that have been offered through Microsoft’s service could all be purchased for a total of $60 used through Gamestop. There is value there, but when you compare it to the offerings of Playstation’s Instant game collection from this month of Bioshock Infinite and DMC: Devil May Cry, which are less than a year old and would run $50, you begin to see the clear disadvantage that Microsoft’s service is at.
The problem is in how Microsoft is going about distributing these games. Where Sony requires that you keep a PS+ subscription in order to play the games that they offer, Microsoft gives the games away with no further requirement from the consumer. While many would think this is a better thing for consumers, it also restricts Microsoft’s ability to bring newer games to the table. If companies are going to have their games given away, they will likely ask for more money than if their game is tied to a renewing subscription, as they could gain a sale of the game down the road when the subscription runs out. From an economic perspective, this means it would make more sense for Microsoft to seek out older games that have limited revenue generating possibilities and attempt to offer them, rather than have to spend more on newer games and potentially see no return on the investment. This is because anyone could purchase a one month subscription to Xbox Live for $10, and keep up to three games permanently rather than having an incentive to continually pay for Microsoft’s service.
If Microsoft truly wants to reward their fans and provide more incentive to purchase a subscription to Xbox Live, the easiest plan of action is to tie the games to subscriptions, provide newer games that will generate more interest, and consider having 2 downloadable games available during a period where only one would have been to this point. This will not only change the perception of Games with Gold, but will also turn the Xbox Live subscription from something people have to obtain for online functionality, to something that people will desire to have for the benefit it provides them. Sony has already masterfully accomplished this psychological victory by offering PS+ as a purely optional service on the Playstation 3 before incorporating online play for the Playstation 4 into the mix. Now with both consoles requiring a subscription for online play, Microsoft is at the disadvantage in terms of public perception and it will no doubt have an effect upon sales going forward.
Personally, I’ve enjoyed some of the games that have been offered; I’ve particularly enjoyed some of the downloadable games. However, there is no denying that the retail offerings have been rather lackluster. With the exception of this month’s offering of Sleeping Dogs, all the other games have been so old that if I had an interest in them, I had already purchased and traded them in. With Microsoft bringing the Games with Gold service to the Xbox One later this year, they have an opportunity to change Games with Gold and by extension change the perception of their subscription service.
In the end, the service does provide a benefit to consumers in terms of quality games, but the age of these games leaves much to be desired. Microsoft has the ability to alter its model and it would behoove the company to do so as soon as possible. Otherwise they may well spend much, if not all, of this console generation trying to catch up to Sony.