Imagine, if you will, that you’re shopping around for Christmas presents this year. Imagine that you’re in need of cheap, easy entertainment that won’t require leaving the house, and something that you know will stick around for a couple of years.
You see an ad, maybe a tweet, or maybe a message somewhere: hundreds of games, a new Xbox console, and two years of access to Game Pass games and, more importantly, titles like FIFA. Battlefield. Star Wars: Battlefront 2. Titanfall 2. Dragon Age.
Also, you can get it on a monthly plan that’s actually cheaper than buying the consoles (with Game Pass Ultimate, which you’d be paying for at some stage anyway) outright.
Let’s just step back for a moment.
Xbox’s crowning achievement this generation — apart from practically coming back from one of the worst launches imaginable — has been to make itself relevant with services. The timing couldn’t be any more perfect. Even without the effect of the coronavirus, and the impact that’s had on gaming and gaming consumption, the world is now starting to revolve around low-cost-of-entry pricing: services like Netflix, buy now pay later offerings like Zip and Afterpay, free-to-play or freemium games.
For those who are in dire need of a low-cost entertainment option or Christmas gift, $33/month for the Xbox Series S — if you have an existing month-to-month Telstra broadband or phone deal, or you sign up for one — and hundreds of games is a hugely tempting proposition.
That’s especially true for the legions of Australian households who have Telstra as a default phone plan, and have turned to games this year because of forced isolation. We’re talking millions of Australians not plugged into the daily dramas of the gaming world, people who enjoy a bit of FIFA or something simply to pass the time. They enjoy games, but it’s not part of their identity or the main way they like to unwind.
But $33 a month upfront and not having to worry about buying games after it, and being told that you’ll also get brand new games with the console over the next two years?
That’s a retail pitch that Sony really needs to counter, and soon.
Let’s run those numbers for a bit.
In Australia, the Xbox Series S will set you back $499. It’s $749 if you want the beefier, fridge-like Xbox Series X. Neither console, at the time of writing, comes with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, so that’s something you’ll have to factor in (or transfer over if you’ve got an existing subscription).
The cost for Game Pass Ultimate, which enables online multiplayer on the Xbox as well as Microsoft’s library of games across PC and Xbox, can vary. Typically, it sells for $15.95 a month in Australia, although Microsoft frequently run $1/month promotions. Factoring that in, it means a year of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate would cost $224.30, while two years would cost $367.85.
However, that’s assuming you buy it once and then maintain the subscription throughout. You could naturally get it for a few months, unsubscribe and then take advantage of the first $1/month offer (and I can’t see anything in the terms and conditions that would prevent users from doing this).
Most people wouldn’t bother with the hassle of doing that multiple times over two years, but it’s worth noting all the same.
Combined, an Xbox Series S with two years of Game Pass Ultimate will cost you $866.85. That’s not counting any extra fees, like one-off game purchases (titles like Cyberpunk 2077) or buying additional controllers. Existing Xbox One gamepads are compatible with the next-gen hardware, so the frugal among us won’t need that extra fee, although the more dedicated gamers will want to upgrade for the better haptic feedback and adaptive triggers.
Given that the Xbox All Access plan for the S costs $792 at a minimum, that’s a decent saving. It works out for the Xbox Series X too: the Telstra deal is $1104 over 24 months, or $1116.85 if you want to buy Xbox Series X and Game Pass Ultimate outright.
Of course, what’s not factored in here is the cost of the Telstra plan versus what your current phone or broadband offering might be right now. That might be $10, $20 or $30 a month more than what you’re currently paying, or it might be nothing at all if you’re an existing customer. That’ll vary from customer to customer.
But what really makes all of this work isn’t what’s happening to the Xbox Series X. The pricing, reasonable as it is and lower than expected, isn’t going to move anyone on the fence that was considering a PS5 or a new Nvidia GPU. But the battleground at the lower price points will be crucial. Offering a “next-gen” experience that doesn’t require an upgraded TV — a luxury many can’t or haven’t been able to afford this year, or for a while given Australia’s wage stagnation — is a strong move. It plays into Microsoft’s best strength, their services for which PlayStation has no rival offering right now.
Sony might be able to respond one day with PlayStation Now, but that’s still not available in Australia and we’ve heard no word about that changing any time soon. On top of that, Microsoft can point to all of the exclusives that they’ll eventually have in a couple of years, which come free with Game Pass. PlayStation Plus doesn’t offer that: you’re still paying for online access, and then paying full price on top for each Sony exclusive you want.
It all adds up.
I still think Sony is going to have the strongest hand out of the gate for the oldest and simplest reason: consoles need killer apps. Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass has finally evolved into that, but not for the Xbox Series X.
Anyone who would consider a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X at launch wants more than a value offering. They want an experience, something that can’t be bought or achieved right now. Game Pass, even with the promise of new FIFA and Battlefield games isn’t quite a window into the future of gaming. It’s more a snapshot of the games industry mirroring the world around us.
But the world of 2020 is pretty shitty. Anyone even remotely considering spending $700-plus on a luxury entertainment item wants to escape all that, and PlayStation still has the upper hand on that front. Still, there’s plenty of people who would rightly baulk at spending that amount. And for those gamers, those households and people who have discovered or rekindled their love of gaming during months of isolation, Microsoft has made the best possible pitch they could.