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Xbox must fully embrace third-party and Xbox Game Pass to find success – but is Microsoft struggling to see the bigger picture?

The games company Microsoft built is better positioned than ever to go big on both fronts, so why is it not going for it?

A PS5, with a green Xbox logo, sits over a blurred image of the King, Activision, and Blizzard logos.
Image credit: VG247

Xbox Game Pass has always, in my mind, been a wonderfully enticing offering. Pay a relatively small fee each month/year in exchange for an ever-revolving door of games to play. These games would span the genres, the scale, and budgets that the industry offers, giving a curated taste that would satisfy the majority of people looking to play as a hobby without the need to be so 'online' they know the shoe size of every developer working today. But there's always been a problem: Xbox doesn't have the big games, and its biggest rarely make die-hard fans of other platforms jealous.

Right now, years into a ridiculous period of spending, Xbox is the owner of some of the very biggest games, the kind of IP pretty much every publisher on the planet would be envious of. It has Call of Duty, Fallout, Elder Scrolls, Diablo, World of Warcraft, Doom, Halo, Sea of Thieves, Gears of War, Forza Horizon, Minecraft, Starcraft, Crash Bandicoot, Wolfenstein… I could go on. Go deeper and there's a treasure trove of loved but underused franchises, too, plus a raft of titles that look super promising.

Cue the massive balls up. Xbox's recent closure of four Bethesda studios, including Tango Gameworks and Arkane Austin, were reportedly due in part to those studios not having any games coming soon. That's a bizarre, borderline inept, reason to shut quality studios that have a history of creating award-winning games. Prestige games that turn heads and make noise. You have a reputation for a lack of games, so you close studios responsible for some amazing games. Xbox has always faced an uphill battle winning over the 'community' and given its enormous resources are justly mired in negativity when things like this happen.

Game Pass
Xbox has the big games and, in most instances, the little games, too – so what's going wrong? | Image credit: Microsoft

I've never run a multi-billion dollar business (if I had I wouldn't be writing this, that's for sure), but for me the answer to Xbox's problem is simple: stop going half-in and present the best of both worlds to consumers. I genuinely think Xbox can have its cake and eat it.

Put all your games on other platforms. Show the entire gaming world what you have to offer. Charge them the going price to buy these games and reap the rewards. It's a no-brainer, and something Microsoft seems to be tiptoeing towards but isn't really sure how to make the final leap. But also use that to push Game Pass on Xbox and PC. "Look, Average Consumer, this year's Call of Duty, the one that you can buy for $70, if you subscribe to Game Pass, it's included." Rinse and repeat for every big game. And there will be a lot of big games. There has to be.

In many ways Game Pass came too soon. It was a way for Xbox to stand out at a time when the platform was suffering off the back of some terrible decisions and Xbox One hardware - Kinect, TV, underpowered compared to PS4, DRM, Lionehed's closure. Along with the Xbox One X, Game Pass pulled me back, but there's no question that the games just weren't a big enough pull at the time. Xbox made deals that resulted in a smattering of big releases hitting the service, but that line-up looks like a Sunday League starting XI now in comparison to the All-Star team of today.

A black and white collection of games available on Game Pass, with a coloured screen of Death Stranding in the middle.
Xbox even got Death Stranding on Game Pass a few years back – the service has clout. | Image credit: Microsoft

Rumours of Xbox not including Call of Duty day one on Game Pass and the service as a whole struggling, baffle me. The company has, at last, the opportunity to make people jealous, and it's seemingly going to fluff it once again. Now is the time to truly see what Game Pass can be, an offering that goes hand-in-hand with the Xbox console as a true alternative to what you can get on PlayStation (or, more specifically, PlayStation Plus). Although we don't have any sales figures, Sea of Thieves looks to have performed well on PlayStation, releasing six years after it arrived on Xbox. You've got to think similarly-sized games would do even better day-and-date with the Xbox release.

"But why would I want an Xbox?" the people ask. Simple. Xbox, for my money, has created better hardware and better services, and I would absolutely buy a new console for Game Pass. The question, really, is if Microsoft believes enough people would do that.

I worry that making this decision now, without putting your whole juggernaut of an offering on the table first, is failing to see the bigger picture.

Xbox, maybe you can have it all. Please try, as there's never been a better time to do so.

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