During a flashy 90-minute presentation full of game trailers, Microsoft revealed dozens of new titles for its subscription service, Xbox Game Pass, including several from the big publishers it purchased in recent years.
Sunday’s presentation in Los Angeles started and ended with two big games coming next year from publisher Bethesda, which Microsoft bought in 2020: Redfall, a first-person shooter in which players fight vampires, and Starfield, a role-playing game set in space. Microsoft also spotlighted Activision Blizzard’s Overwatch 2, which will enter early access in October with a free-to-play competitive multiplayer mode, and Diablo IV, which arrives in 2023.
All four games will be on Xbox Game Pass, the core of Microsoft’s gaming strategy and the reason it paid US$7.5-billion for Bethesda and is buying Activision Blizzard for $69-billion. Game Pass allows users to pay monthly for unlimited access to a growing list of hundreds of games. Microsoft has bet big on Game Pass, which it said in January has 25 million subscribers, who pay at least $10/month (in the US).
Rather than engage in a hardware duel with rivals Sony Group, the maker of PlayStation, and Nintendo, Microsoft is working to create the Netflix of gaming — and by many accounts is already close to doing so. Almost every game at the showcase ended with a chyron saying, “Play it day one with Game Pass,” a constant reminder of the company’s strategy.
Microsoft’s showcase is an annual tradition that normally takes place during the E3 trade show, where the biggest videogame publishers gather to show off new and upcoming projects. But E3 was cancelled this year, and other publishers such as Ubisoft and Sony skipped their annual presentations, giving Microsoft the solo spot on Sunday.
During the showcase, Microsoft also announced a new Minecraft spinoff called Minecraft Legends as well as several colourful indie titles such as an action game called Ravenlok and an adventure game called Cocoon, all of which will be available on Game Pass the day that they launch.
One highlight of the show was Pentiment, a medieval narrative adventure game with a unique art style, from Microsoft-owned developer Obsidian Entertainment. Although the game has no combat and will likely have niche appeal, it may be a good fit for Game Pass, where experimental games can flesh out the line-up without necessarily needing to sell blockbuster numbers.
Microsoft also positioned Game Pass as a service that will be beneficial for otherwise free games. During the show, Riot Games said it would partner with Xbox to give Game Pass subscribers access to paid content for its games, which include League of Legends and Valorant. Anyone who subscribes to Game Pass will get access to all of those games’ heroes, which are normally sold separately, for free. — Jason Schreier, (c) 2022 Bloomberg LP