June 19, 2021

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Xbox Game Pass revives Xbox One’s digital vision – without the evil

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I am being somewhat facetious with that subheading, not to mention self-indulgent. (For the uninitiated, it’s a reference to my predecessor Tom Bramwell’s classic, stinging editorial on Microsoft’s misguided plans for how Xbox One software would work – plans that would eventually be ditched.) With yesterday’s announcement that all first-party exclusive games would be added to the Xbox Game Pass subscription service on release date, Microsoft is not killing game ownership. It’s not even trying to.

What it is doing is offering a convenient, good value and complementary alternative to game ownership – which is, of course, what it should have been aiming for from the start.

As Tom said back in 2013, what Microsoft originally planned to do with its digital rights system for game ownership on Xbox One made sense from a corporate perspective. It was an attempt to bring the console games market in line with the way digital entertainment was going on other platforms – on iTunes, for example, or more relevantly, on Steam. It was quite obviously designed for a console with no optical drive, but Microsoft discovered it couldn’t get away with that; the game file sizes were too big, domestic internet connections weren’t good enough, and the retail industry was too important to the success of the console. Once game discs were reintroduced to the equation, the proposition fell apart. The idea that you could buy a physical copy of a game but not trade it in or lend it was scorned by the gaming community and subjected to a pitiless troll by a Sony that couldn’t believe its luck. Chastened, Microsoft scrapped the plans and reverted to a conventional game ownership model.

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