It has been just over a year since the Games With Gold program started. It has shown that gamers are amendable to downloading games and keeping them on their hard drives to play. The failure of the announcement of the Xbox One shows that Games With Gold should have happened sooner and the free games with an Xbox Live account was way to gain fans of an all-digital console.
In the first half of July, Xbox One owners will be able to download Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition for free. Max: The Curse of Brotherhood will continue to be free all month long in July. On the Xbox 360, the first half of July will see Gotham City Imposters available for free and BattleBlock Theater available for the second half of the month.
What makes this important is that offering free games would have made Microsoft’s Xbox One first reveal easier to swallow. When the Xbox One was first revealed, there was talk that the console always needed to be connected to the Internet to play games. Gamers became upset at the prospect of having to always be connected to the Internet to play games. Even after further clarification that the console would only check every 24 hours for internet connection, gamers were still not pleased at having to be connected to play their games.
While it may not be possible to always be connected online, the benefits of having that connection was based around the games themselves. Albert Penello, Microsoft’s Director of Product Planning stated that Steam was the main inspiration for the future of gaming. Steam has helped the PC gaming community into moving to an all download format of purchasing games. Not only that, but PC gamers have also moved over to a stronger type of DRM. Games purchased through Steam are linked to that users account and cannot be copied or transferred to a friend’s computer.
When a game is released in disc format, publishers and developers have to consider how many times that one disc is going to be played and by how many owners. As much as gamers like to buy a used game, it factors into the overall price of a new game. A used game is going to be resold and the publisher and developer is not going to receive any money from that sale. It may seem like a deal to purchase used games at a low price, but that used game is lowering profit for the developers and publishers that make the game. They then have to recoup that money by keeping new games at such a high price.
With a payment system such as Steam, a single copy of a game sold is unlikely to end up in the hands of another player. The people who make that game available no longer have to worry about how many additional people are going to get ahold of that copy and play without paying. Society is used to sharing their video games, but not being able to share has its advantages.
Aside from sharing games, people pirate video games. Piracy also has to be factored into the price of a new game because those pirated copies are a financial loss to the publisher and developer. Even the game discs, cases, and paper inserts are something that need to be factored into costs. All of these factors lead to gamers paying much more than they really need to.
When publishers no longer have to worry about games being resold, pirates playing unbought copies, and the cost of producing games discs, they are able to offer the game at cheaper prices. Steam is the biggest example of this. All year long, Steam is able to offer huge discounts on games because a lot of costly measures are avoided by offering digital downloads tied to user accounts.
Microsoft never had the chance to prove what they were trying to accomplish because they did the now-famous 180 degree turn. Yet, if they were truly using Steam as motivation to make their console an online only machine with games tied to player Xbox Live accounts, then the only assumption that could be made is that in the end, games were going to get a lot cheaper. It should have happened sooner, but the free games over Xbox Live with the Games With Gold program proved that they were actually willing to offer games for nothing at all. They could have started a program where games became cheaper based on popularity rather than if it were just a new game.
Offering free games for Gold members is a big sign as to where Microsoft was headed. The games offered for free were also highly acclaimed titles. Fable 3, Assassin’s Creed II, Halo 3, and Gears of War were just a handful of the free games that originally had huge numbers sold. Those games were then offered in a way that Microsoft felt console video games are headed. The games downloaded are digital-only and are tied to a user’s Xbox Live account. The free games were not able to be handed over to another player and those games had to be played from the hard drive.
Unfortunately, what ruined it for Microsoft is time. Gamers did not have the time to see that what Microsoft had announced for the Xbox One was already happening on the Xbox 360. The announcement of an all-digital system came only one month before Games With Gold started. Gamers that were used to discs were not ready to install their games on their console and toss the game disc to the side.
Games With Gold could have been the perfect way to show people the benefits of running games solely off their hard drive. On the Xbox 360, installing games onto the hard drive was optional, but those that did saw an improvement over game load times and basic functionality of games. It even fixed some games when discs were scratched. If the data could be copied over to the hard drive, the game would play just fine.
Unlike Steam, which has had over a decade to usher gamers into an all-digital experience, Microsoft tried to do so in the matter of releasing a new console. PC gamers slowly transitioned and have now accepted digital games. Microsoft should have started Games With Gold an entire year before announcing their plans for the Xbox One. That would have given them some time to show what they planned to do with a digital-only delivery system.
Steam, iOS, and Android have proven that gamers do not mind paying and playing with an always connected digital machine. The only difference is that it has taken time to develop a sense of trust to go along with it. Android and iOS devices can be seen as handheld game consoles and no one is angry about the way they purchase games from the App Store or Play Store. Steam has gained so much confidence with digital downloads and DRM that they have announced their own Steam Machines that will do exactly what the Xbox One was supposed to do.
If Microsoft had the time to convince console gamers that the future of console gaming was the original plan for the Xbox One, it is hard to believe that Microsoft would have had to change their entire console as they are doing now. They would have been able to treat their console as it should have been and offer new and cheaper ways for gamers to experience their games.
An all-digital console is coming. Whether it comes from Microsoft, Steam, Sony, or Nintendo is yet to be seen. Microsoft tried to be the first with the Xbox One, but failed at allowing users to see its many benefits in time. The Games With Gold program should have happened sooner and it would have allowed those with and Xbox Live membership to be the ones to praise free games and how easy it was to use all-digital games. Discs and game boxes are nice to have around, yet there is a future where those do not exist any longer.
Opinion by Raul Hernandez