Phil Spencer, the head of Microsoft Games Studios, is considering a potential subscription service (similar to Netflix) for the delivery of single-player games.
Spencer forwarded the revelation during a candid interview with The Guardian, saying that the so-called “golden age of television” is attributable to the subscription-based streaming services offered by Netflix, Amazon, and HBO, and that such a model in games “might spur new story-based games coming to market because there’s a new business model to help support their monetisation.”
The idea stems from the declining fortunes of single-player games within the industry, giving way to multiplayer and the games-as-a-service model because they offer greater returns for developers and publishers. Spencer attributes the difficulty of publishing single-player-only games to a growing inconsistency in the player base. He cites the recent releases of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Horizon: Zero Dawn as exemplars for the excitement that they generated, but concedes that creating such titles is “a difficult business decision for those teams [because] you’re fighting into more headwind.”
“We’ve got to understand that if we enjoy those games, the business opportunity has to be there for them. I love story-based games. . . As an industry, I want to make sure both narrative-driven single-player games and service-based games have the opportunity to succeed. I think that’s critical for us.”
Despite his confidence in the single-player experience, however, Spencer is unwilling to make promises, saying only that the idea of “put[ting] story-based games into the Xbox Game Pass business model” would help developers to create games over longer periods, but remains something that is only being thought about for the present. The idea would build on the episodic model used most famously by Telltale Games and last year’s Hitman, allowing developers to build upon a stable base provided by an initial release, supported by the funding provided by subscriptions.
Nevertheless, such a program might help to balance Microsoft’s portfolio, which, in recent years, has skewed ever further towards multiplayer, with Crackdown, Halo, and Gears of War as the only single-player focused franchises in the company’s current slate.
As a counterpoint, Starbreeze Studios recently announced that it would no longer be developing single-player experiences in-house, choosing to focus on multiplayer games instead.