Most people are sentimental about collecting and displaying objects that are dear to them, be they trinkets, toys, or artwork. I used to think the same about all of my media, too. Especially movies, which took up vast wads of shelf space in my house. In fact, there are still about fifty DVDs underneath my television. But they never see the light of day anymore. They’re dusty and old, and at the time of writing this, I’m genuinely not sure if I have anything that plays them (does the PS4? I can’t remember). And music, too; who remembers having CDs scattered around their stereo system at home, most of them in the wrong cases or lying face down getting scratched to hell? I don’t have a single one in my house anymore. For many, Netflix killed DVD players, just as iTunes and Spotify killed the stereo system.
There is, however, one form of media that still sits proudly on my bedroom shelf: video games. I’ve lined up my favorites in order of best to worst, and sometimes I spend ten minutes gazing at them wondering whether one should be bumped up or down. Yes, I’m a dork. But I don’t think I’m alone. Well, maybe on the ranking part… The point is that many gamers, including myself, have largely resisted the digital gaming revolution. I still dabble in digital games, but it’s limited to remasters, collections, and indies. My sparkly AAA games get shelf space, and I don’t want that to ever change.
However, recent improvements to Microsoft’s Game Pass program has just put a giant spanner in the works. It’s a service that seemingly offers so much value that it would be madness to abstain. In fact, it’s causing such a stir that it’s spawned all sorts of hyperbole about changing the gaming industry forever. If you’re not up to speed, for $10 a month, Microsoft will give you unlimited access to a library of one hundred games for a long as your subscription continues. The kicker is that the company has also just announced that all future first-party games will be part of the package on day one. If ever the nostalgics and sentimentalists of the gaming community were on against the notion of a digital future, Microsoft has just given us a very big financial incentive to change our tune.
Theoretically, later this year, one will be able to download, install, and play through State of Decay 2; dip into Sea of Thieves for a week to see what the fuss is all about; play a bunch of cooperative games with friends over a weekend or four, and then cancel the subscription before it ticks over the next month.
This is worrying news for retailers, who likely threw up a little bit in their mouths when they read Microsoft’s intentions to push through Game Pass. Retail stores have long been in decline, increasingly relying on the sales of second-hand games to bolster revenue and keep doors open, but Game Pass could prove a hammer blow if it takes off. Several retail owners have already spoken on record, lamenting Microsoft’s new service for its potential impact on their industry. Just as when Microsoft tried to launch the Xbox One without the option to trade games, retailers are feeling squeezed out by Microsoft’s digital push with Game Pass.
Of course, not all gamers are so thrifty as to play a game and then cancel their memberships to lessen costs. Actually, plenty more will let their subscriptions rollover and end up paying three times what they ever intended to – the meat and potatoes of any subscription services. I’m sure Microsoft has done its homework, and I’m certain Game Pass will prove highly profitable in the long run. The key takeaway, though, is that if you only need to play two $60 releases to have Game Pass pay for itself over the course of a year, how can anyone really say no to that? Xbox One owners are mad to pass up on the offer, even if Microsoft doesn’t have many big first party games scheduled for 2018 and having to pay for Games with Gold to play multiplayer bumps prices a little over the $10 per month advertised.
Yet even in the face of all of that, personally, I’ll keep buying physical copies of my favorite games and lining them up on my shelf. I know I probably thought that before with DVDs and music albums, but here’s the thing: video games are interactive experiences, and they’re way more personal to me than something I passively watch or listen to. Handhelds and smartphone gaming aside, sitting down to play a game means hours of commitment – the total opposite of music and movies. I don’t need the convenience of having every video game that pops into my head at my fingertips, as I do with music, because I don’t play games for ten minutes and then move on. And I don’t spend two hundred hours watching Blade Runner 2049, as I did playing The Witcher 3. Video games are a different beast, so I’ll keep treating them that way until I’ll inevitably be forced embrace the cursed digital-only future.