Opinion: Microsoft needs to be more transparent with its digital gaming plans

Digital is at the forefront of the Xbox business model, but Microsoft still needs to more clearly outline its plans for a digital-based future of gaming.

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Microsoft helping accelerate gaming towards an all-digital future, but the company should be more forthright and transparent with its more immediate plans.

Opinion: Microsoft needs to be more transparent with its digital gaming plans 488

If you've been paying attention to games industry business trends for the last few years, the advent of digital-only gaming consoles like the Xbox Series S and new PlayStation 5 slim aren't exactly a surprise. The market has been leading up to this moment for years now, with the interactive entertainment segment skewing more towards digital over the last decade. Gamers are clearly gravitating towards more convenient purchase and access options on consoles.

This move towards digital has been spurred along with the help of platform-holders like Microsoft, who have molded Xbox into an ecosystem of digital software, services, and content subscriptions. With Gen9, Microsoft and Sony made bold statements with the digital-only Xbox Series S and PS5 models, while Microsoft further evolved its Game Pass subscription to feed the new digital console.

Now digital-only games are starting to release onto the market. Some of the first digitally-exclusive titles include third-party games like SEGA's Like a Dragon Gaiden: The Man Who Erased his name, which released as a digital-only game in the West with a simultaneous launch on Xbox Game Pass. Others include Alan Wake II, which has no disc release, and the recently announced Hellblade II.

It's possible that once-physical games could be converted to digital-only. Microsoft and/or Bethesda is apparently cutting off Starfield's physical release from retail stores.

Reports indicate that Walmart has been instructed by Starfield's supplier--which is believed to be either Microsoft or Bethesda--to remove all physical disc-based Xbox Series X versions of Starfield from store shelves.

Walmart is to remove Starfield from sale tomorrow, January 22, and aims to have all copies removed from shelves and disposed of by February 5. The news also falls in line with other reports saying that Walmart will stop selling all physical Xbox games.

This leads to an obvious question: Why is this a surprise to consumers?

If the supplier is asking Walmart to remove products from sale, and this entity is indeed Microsoft, then it would behoove the tech giant to offer an explanation to consumers. If an all-digital future is something that Xbox wants to achieve, then Microsoft's gaming management should really start talking about these things moving forward--at least in terms of first-party content.

That being said, it's possible the supplier here is Bethesda Softworks, the publishing division of Bethesda. If that's the case, then it's possible that Bethesda, not Xbox, made the call to have all Starfield games delisted from shelves.

None of this should be a surprise that comes out of left field. Removing an entire method of purchase from a $184 billion industry will undoubtedly have significant ramifications both for consumers and for industry players. It's also not a good surprise to spring onto people who buy your games--or those who want to buy your games.

If this is the plan moving forward, to push more first-party games as digital-dominant or even digital-only titles, then Xbox gaming leadership should discuss these plans, in length, and give consumers a clear answer on what Xbox is planning for the future.

To its credit, Xbox Game Studios did reveal that Hellblade II: Senua's Sacrifice would be a digital-only game. The rationale is simple: Games are expensive at $69.99 a pop, so let's just charge $49.99 for a new game and remove any possibility of buying it in a way that reduces revenues and profits. Digital allows companies to better control costs by eliminating the need for shipping/manufacturing/assembly, and platform-holders like Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft keep 100% of game revenues sold on their own first-party stores.

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Derek joined the TweakTown team in 2015 and has since reviewed and played 1000s of hours of new games. Derek is absorbed with the intersection of technology and gaming, and is always looking forward to new advancements. With over six years in games journalism under his belt, Derek aims to further engage the gaming sector while taking a peek under the tech that powers it. He hopes to one day explore the stars in No Man's Sky with the magic of VR.

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