In this roundup we're trying to make sense of the tier changes to Xbox Game Pass, celebrating industry growth in Germany and more...
Confusing Xbox Game Pass Tiers
When Xbox Live was invented in 2002, it brought online gaming to the console masses. It wasn't the first internet connectivity available for consoles, but it was undoubtedly the best - a service worth paying for, with a subscription called Xbox Live Gold.
Over 20 years later, the consumer landscape has changed. Competing services have caught up, and PC gaming is more mainstream than ever, where online multiplayer is typically free. What's more, the Xbox business has become focused on selling a new kind of subscription: Game Pass.
Bear with me, because it gets confusing: Xbox Game Pass Ultimate has always included Xbox Live Gold, but the basic tier of Game Pass did not - which meant that to play Game Pass games online, you either needed the premium tier, or you needed to buy two separate things - Game Pass and Xbox Live Gold. This model sucks! So there was a sigh of relief when Microsoft announced that Xbox Live Gold was being retired...
... Until they somehow, against all the odds, made it even more confusing. Xbox Live Gold has been replaced with Xbox Game Pass Core, which offers a limited selection of Game Pass titles, plus online multiplayer play. So far so good, until you realise that the middle tier, Xbox Game Pass Console... Doesn't include the online multiplayer?
It hurts my head even thinking about it. For starters, charging for online multiplayer at all is a bit rich at this point. But the mechanics of this system are truly terrible. Why does the cheapest tier have things that the middle tier doesn't? Consumers who don't want premium but do want to play online, now have to buy two subscriptions, both to something called Game Pass? It is absolutely bananas. Why Microsoft? WHY!?
Anyway, the takeaway from that story is that you should buy Game Pass Ultimate and completely ignore the ridiculousness of all the other tiers. And raise a glass with me, to the death of the Xbox Live brand. It wasn't perfect. But it was special. Thanks for Halo 2. Thanks for all those Xbox Live Arcade games. And thanks for connecting us, for better or worse, to each other.
Xbox Dashboard Update
Microsoft launched its long-awaited dashboard redesign for the Xbox Series X/S and Xbox One consoles on Wednesday. So far, it seems to have been well received, with players enjoying the simplified layout and personalised backgrounds, with no core feature or option being more than a couple of button presses away.
However, the new dashboard design does have its issues and they largely centre around Game Pass - Microsoft’s subscription service that gives you access to hundreds of games for a monthly fee. The pinned groups at the bottom after the first page are wedged below a mandatory “Recently Added to Game Pass” row. One of the slots on the home screen is also reserved for advertising Game Pass games, even if you’re already subscribed to the service. And once you scroll past your pinned icons, every new row is basically something about Game Pass: which games you might like, which ones are leaving soon, etc.
Microsoft first tested the new dashboard design in September 2022, with Xbox owners who are part of the company’s Insiders programme. And do you know what the main complaint was at that time? Too many Game Pass ads! Whilst this week's home screen launch is a big improvement on those early UI tests, the amount of screen real estate still given to Game Pass is considerable.
It’s hardly surprising, really. Microsoft has gone all in on Game Pass and needs to make it as profitable as possible. And it’s not just an Xbox problem, either. The PlayStation 5 home screen has plenty of ads too. I guess the fact that we, the players, have spent hundreds if not thousands of pounds on these consoles and their games isn’t enough. We need to spend more, more, more. All. The. Time.
German Games Industry on the Rise
There has been positive news for the Games Industry in Germany this month with it being reported that the number of German games companies has seen a 15.5% increase year on year, with a total of now 908.
This hasn't happened by accident, as efforts have certainly been made to support the games industry in Germany with a major funding initiative announced previously in 2020 that could see up to 50% of costs funded by the government.
It's always positive to see the industry growing, and even more so as we have had the pleasure of working with German based Studio Keen Games for the past few years.
In news a bit closer to home, we attended the fantastic Develop Conference in Brighton a couple of weeks a. We had an absolute blast seeing so many friendly familiar faces and meeting lots of new ones. It's a full on week, with so many events to attend - check out a great write up from Adam on what we got up to while we were there!
More Etch Play
If you enjoyed this roundup, why not check out the rest of our blog for previous editions and plenty of articles full of game marketing tips. If video is more your style then head over to TikTok or to the Etch Play YouTube channel where you'll find industry interviews, marketing discussions and good old gameplay.