As Microsoft Xbox becomes more consumer-friendly with its evolved subscription model, it still fails to provide a better offline experience

I feel like Phil Spencer and his team has gone far and beyond to pull all the stops of making Xbox relevant again. It’s been a series of rough many years for Xbox to be honest. The lack of exclusive titles, direction of Xbox, and its obsessive grip on always-on approach which set off the drama many years ago still lingers in the system even in 2021.

Let’s talk about that for a bit, respectively on the following subjects: Exclusive titles, the subscription model evolved, the direction of Xbox, and the always-on draconian approach.

Truth is… Microsoft has exclusive titles (I probably shocked you by saying this, didn’t I? Sorry!). And they all kind of suck a lot. How we respond to Microsoft exclusives, mentally, is not the same as Nintendo announcing Zelda Breath of the Wild 2, or Square Enix announcing Kingdom Hearts 3, or Sony showing any first party title on their presentation.

The thing is that Microsoft doesn’t have any well-loved intellectual property that has been produced by them. The closest I could legit think of would be Age of Empires and that was many, many years ago. What I want to emphasis here is that the emotion sparked by any western game doesn’t align to the emotion sparked by Japanese games.

And you could argue that Metacritic shows this and that and somehow my point has been invalidated. Then you just missed my point I’m trying to show you. I love Xbox, and I want it to improve its ecosystem and user experience. The whole game of trying to confirm your bias is a bit of a fool’s game at the end. You are in every phase, a customer at the end.

An example would be…. let’s say Microsoft released Halo Infinite, and let’s say they did that on the same date as Capcom’s Monster Hunter Rise. I’d wager that Monster Hunter Rise would outperform Halo Infinite. Of course, both are different genres. I guess I could modify that to say that in a fantasy-themed game, Microsoft’s Fable against Monster Hunter or any fantasy-themed Japanese game where the case would still be of that Japanese title probably outperforming.

Now, before you misunderstand my intention here. This is not to say that Japanese games are “better” than games in the west. That’s not the point I’m trying to make here either. The players are attracted to the content created by Japanese creators, be it traditional JRPGs like Final Fantasy, or any fantasy-themed games.

There’s also one important factor to consider in the content created. Most of the Japanese created content allows itself to be easily consumed by almost all ages, meanwhile Microsoft doesn’t exactly has anything like that besides Minecraft and maybe some other title.

Truth is… Halo, I don’t have anything against it but I don’t care about the story and I rarely care about shooters. I’m a big fan of Battlefield and Call of Duty but online games are a bad indication most of the time.

Truth is I have a hard time caring about the content most put by Microsoft. A lot of it are shooters, a lot of it has some sort of heavy emphasis on dark themes or heavy themes around that makes it even harder for any consumer to get into it. It simply doesn’t have content for all ages to enjoy. Monster Hunter Rise? I can play that with anyone young or old.

But the market still speaks more volume than I ever will, and sometimes it’s easier to look into the market to see how things perform. In an American market maybe sales will just outperform things better compared to the European/Asian markets. However, maybe the title a game maker in Europe released will outperform in almost all markets. Thus, when we look at the sale volume of a title, it’s silly just to consider one market.

Going back to the exclusive content of the Xbox, and hopefully I didn’t drag it too much. Even if Microsoft had an exclusivity content, the biggest issue Microsoft faces is a content problem. It’s content plainly sucks. It may be great in US/Europe, but would be nice if we could see the console go on greater heights.

Even though I daily use my Xbox One X I have no cared for any Microsoft first party or have ever played one. The reason I play on Xbox is because I like the experience. I like how the console performs, but it still has some rough corners in the user experience.

To close my thoughts on exclusivity. Exclusives are great solely for the console, sure, but if the content sucks and cannot break through any other market outside the US/Europe one then… is Microsoft going to be stuck in limbo again in 2021?

Well, one of it’s approaches to attract new users to its base has been Game Pass. Game Pass could solely be the only reason Microsoft Xbox hasn’t faded into irrelevance.

It’s true that Microsoft has acquired many studios in the past. Those studios have yet to show a lot of the content out there, which is okay, I’d rather let them show their work when they are ready for it.

Microsoft’s insanely aggressive approach on Game Pass is probably changing how consumer perceives value in a subscription. Right now with Game Pass Ultimate you have access to Xbox Network, over 100+ titles in Game Pass and a fresh amount of content gushing in every 1-3 months maybe.

Microsoft’s no brainer access that gives you all that content and perks all for $14.99+tax monthly is insanely enticing. You are no longer paying $60 bucks for a title, you are just paying $14.99 for the Xbox Network services, perks, and the access to libraries.

You would argue that “who has the time to play all those titles?”, and we are back to corner cases. There are millions of people out there, if we start categorizing by: working class, high-school students, and college students … the working class will have a harder time to justify those $14.99 and have the time to beat all the offerings. However, students? It’s a literal heaven for them.

And I agree. I rarely have time to finish titles… so even though I pay Game Pass Ultimate it’s always on the back of my mind that I’m just throwing money away.

So far we have discussed exclusives and Game Pass. Let’s take a look at the direction of Microsoft Xbox for a bit, and here I won’t try to drag it too much.

Microsoft may have gutted itself wide open back in 2013 with the always-online controversy. Up to this date, as a person who is pro-consumer, always-online is still one of the worst decisions Microsoft has done at the start of its cycle and everything that devolved from that subject didn’t do Microsoft any favors.

It was a public relations nightmare. From time to time there are bitter reminders of always-online. The thing is, Microsoft’s always online never disappeared from its platform, not completely. Or perhaps it did but quite bluntly it could be a buggy mess.

Recently, in my experience, Xbox Network went down and all Game Pass titles were rendered useless. I couldn’t launch any of them. I couldn’t simply play them and there was no simple way to distinguish a game you owned versus a game from Game Pass because they all have the Game Pass logo only if you are online.

But what happened after that was a series of questionable behaviors:

See, digital games that you purchase on the Store app works. However there is a catch, it only works if you have signed-in to your profile.

The weird part? I was logged in to my profile. It showed me my profile on all the stages. In the dashboard, interestingly the game just simply didn’t recognize me.

The questions that I had is:

  • If a user doesn’t log in for a huge amount of time, even with the initial log on before disconnecting your console for a month or more then… does Xbox just becomes a brick? Can we not play our digital/physical titles if we aren’t logged in?
  • Why do we even require profiles to be chosen in the way Microsoft does it? Why do you need me online to play a single player game?

For the first question, I guess the people that would have the answers would be our soldiers, the people that go to different bases around the world and simply don’t have any access to public internet for a whole variety of reasons. The people who live in areas that don’t have good internet or internet at all. The people who don’t have the money to afford internet. And I’m sure that it may come to you as a surprise that your are probably living a better life but those people exist.

And whatever argument Microsoft has for this will never be good enough when PlayStation and the Nintendo Switch doesn’t make it a requirement to do check-ins on your profile from time to time.

I believe the Nintendo Switch nailed multiple profiles just fine. You choose a profile and it plays and if you go offline it doesn’t matter. The Nintendo Switch has the most obvious approach to its multi-profile feature.

With Xbox, things aren’t as straightforward. Let’s say Xbox Network goes down, then you start seeing all types of weird behaviors in it. “Can’t play the title because you aren’t logged in” or “unable to sign in your profile”

Microsoft needs to be reminded that its approach to the profile functionality is flawed to the core.

It took forever for Microsoft to improve the dashboard on Xbox. It took forever for Microsoft to speed up the Store app and the interface. It simply takes too long for Microsoft to do things when it comes to Xbox User Interface/User Experience.

On day one the Nintendo Switch impressed me with its simple approach on the user interface. You turned on your Switch, you chose the title and that’s it. If you wanted to log in to your profile you could do it if not then it doesn’t matter because at the end of the day you buy a console to play games, not to care about if a profile is logged in or not.

To summarize, I love what Microsoft is doing with Xbox. I think Phil Spencer and the core team who decides these things need to flesh out their direction on offline experience. Everything that Phil Spencer has laid out so far over the past few months have been online experiences, and therefore makes me question Phil Spencer on certain decisions surrounding Xbox.

Whether you took something from this article or not well, this was at the end of it something I’ve been wanting to write and get it off my head.

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