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Microsoft Studios Head on Games as a Service & Longevity vs Traditional Games

When I hear “games as a service” I think about subscriptions, MMOs, and things I’ve been doing for the past 20+ years of gaming. I’m not sure what Microsoft Studios head Matt Booty means by his use of the phrase. He also has a lot to say on game longevity and the nature of the business models / approach to Microsoft’s first-party strategy in June’s MCV issue.

“There will always be single-player games with maybe 20 to 30 hours of gameplay, we love those kinds of games and there’s a place for those, but it’s also certainly the case with the focus on watching, streaming, broadcast and esports that it’s really important to think about the longevity of a game,” Booty explains.

“It’s really difficult for anybody to think about making a large scale triple-A game these days without having in mind a content and service plan that goes one to two years into the future out of the gate.”

“Games really have become much more social, much more mainstream, much more widespread. We know that the games industry is growing, and that’s taking nothing away from what you call the ‘single-player, narrative, cinematic game’ but we see a lot of interest from our players in more community-driven ongoing franchises. I think that is in alignment with a lot of the trends we see in gaming overall.”

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Xbox Game Pass is the Netflix of Gaming

Netflix emailed me today to let me know my subscription price was going up. After being a little disgruntled, I realized the $14 price tag, despite being increased a couple dollars, is still a crazy good deal for how much I use that service.

Then I saw this today: Xbox Game Pass (which I wrote about early last year) now gets all first-party exclusive games added to the Xbox Game Pass subscription service on release date. For just one low price of $9.99 a month, you get access to over 100 games. With the promise if new games every month — including new titles like Sea of Thieves — and the first party titles going straight there, that’s a decent value.

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Sea of Thieves Progression

I am so beyond ready for this game to release. There's a ton we can't talk about as Alpha testers, but the Sea of Thieves dev team has released a video all about progression with tons of details for us to share.

Character Customization

As a pirate in Sea of Thieves, it's important to look the part. That's why you can customize your character with all sorts of pirate-themed regalia. 

The key to remember in Sea of Thieves, from what we know so far, is that most of this stuff is cosmetic. 

  • Hooks
  • Peglegs
  • Beards
  • Hairstyles
  • Clothing
  • Weapons (not really cosmetic)

To echo the dev team, a cutlass is just a cutlass, and a pistol is just a pistol. What you do with it is what matters. Of course, looking the part is important too!

From videos, including this one, we see that different outfits will cost gold. Gold is earned from voyages, exploring, and working with trading companies.

Trading Companies

Outposts of the world are inhabited by factions of sorts. These trading companies represent play-styles.

Sea of Thieves Gold Hoarders

Gold Hoarders - Treasure hunt and amass wealth

  • Pay pirates for returning chests to them full of loot.
  • Some voyages include riddle maps and require teamwork to solve puzzles.
  • Finding random chests across the world deep in caves or under seas will reward players for exploring.

Merchant's Alliance - Control Trade

  • Pay players for ferrying supplies and finding resources
  • Players are rewarded for delivering materials on time
  • Different breeds of animals and livestock resources can be captured and returned to the merchant alliance (though must be protected from the elements and enemies)
  • Your cargo can totally be stolen by other players!
Sea of Thieves Order of Souls

Order of Souls - Control ancient and mysterious magic of the world

  • Hunt for infamous skeleton crews and campaigns
  • Retrieve skulls to turn in for progression
  • Sometimes raids against forts are required
  • Other players can join you on raids... and by join you I mean they're raiding you!

Each trading company allows you to progress and be promoted within the ranks of that faction. Players complete activities or "voyages" of that trading company -- aka quests -- that unlock perks and special faction specific bonuses.


As you progress within your trading company, you'll gain access to more advanced voyages. These voyages are represented visually with a scroll that other players can see.

When you form a crew, each member brings their voyages to the table. Players then propose their voyages and share their progression with the crew. The crew then decides together which voyages they embark upon. This means there are plenty of benefits for being part of a crew since you'll be able to go on voyages you normally couldn't access alone.

No Vertical Progression

One of my favorite aspects of progression in Sea of Thieves is the lack of vertical progression. There's nothing stopping players from playing together, even if one player has access to the most advanced and complicated voyages, and another player just started sailing yesterday.

Weapons are just that -- weapons. It's how you use them that matters. How your crew plays together to man the ship is what matters. Whether you're relying on the keen eye of a lookout in the crow's nest, or the impeccable aim of a cannoneer.

Interactive World of Players

What ties it all together is a world of players all out there doing the same activities. While your crew has a particular set of voyages to complete, nothing stops you from stumbling across another crew doing a completely separate set of missions. Maybe you're on your way back with a hold full of chickens and pigs for your Merchant's Alliance mission, and you come across another crew with a ship full of gold. TAKE IT! After all, you're a pirate!

We'll be reviewing applications to join our crew soon. Bring chickens.

When Cross-Play is a “Bug”

I saw this yesterday and had to chuckle. Epic Games "accidentally" made Fortnite cross-play for a bit. Cross-play means players could play together on Xbox One and Playstation 4.

What a funny world we live in when this is even capable of being a "bug" or an accident (which imo remains to be seen).

In case you don't follow the cross-play news, Microsoft doesn't care about it. In fact, I think they'd actually like it if PS4 would play with its players.

In response to a player asking on Twitter what he thought about the "accident", Head of Xbox Phil Spencer stated, "I would have liked to see them leave it on."

We know where Sony stands on this one.

In an interview with Eurogamer, Jim Ryan (Head of Global Sales and Marketing) stated, "Unfortunately it's a commercial discussion between ourselves and other stakeholders, and I'm not going to get into the detail of that on this particular instance. And I can see your eyes rolling." Yep, my eyes are rolling.

Why would PS4 want to give up that market share? They want people to buy PS4's to play with their friends on PS4. Sony has the lead here in market share over Xbox, which is why Xbox is all about that "let's play together!" mentality. 

So long as Sony remains ahead of Microsoft, they won't be interested in making this work.

It's up to the software developers to resist this one. It's their fight, not ours. I own all of the consoles. I don't care. I'll buy the games on the system that plays them best or provides me the best experience. If software wants to win, stop letting hardware dictate your future.

Sadly, in this case Epic Games doesn't have much of a leg to stand on. Fortnite is on life support and I definitely do not recommend the default game. Their PUBG clone, however, is quite fun.

Xbox Introduces Game Pass Monthly Subscription

This is something we’ve been talking about for years, and we’re finally starting to see it come about: Monthly subscriptions to hardware platforms allowing access to software. Microsoft just announced this morning a new program called Xbox Game Pass.

Xbox Game Pass gives you unlimited access to over 100 Xbox One and backward compatible Xbox 360 games – all for $9.99 per month.

With great games from top industry publishers such as 2K, 505 Games, BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment, Capcom, Codemasters, Deep Silver, Focus Home Interactive, SEGA, SNK CORPORATION, THQ Nordic GmbH, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and Microsoft Studios, there’s something for everyone to enjoy and you will always find something exciting to play across a variety of genres. Some of the fan-favorite titles coming to Xbox Game Pass when it launches to the broader Xbox community later this spring include Halo 5: Guardians, Payday 2, NBA 2K16 and SoulCalibur II.

The initial wave of games doesn’t appear to be all that stellar for gamers like us who want the newest releases, but the service itself will grow to at least 100 games and be a fairly good value for the average gamer. Different than the PSN’s “streaming” service, the Xbox Game Pass will be a full digital download version of the game as though you bought it. You’ll have access for as long as you have a Game Pass or until they cycle that game out of the program.

I’m a fan of the idea. I think this speaks to the broader audience of gamers who can’t bring themselves to buy games regularly, but love to simply ‘game’. Right now, I don’t see myself falling into this category or using this service. If they were to expand the offering to all titles — including new releases — and not cycling them out (imagine being in the middle of a game and it leaves the program), I would be more willing to jump in.

Nice step forward. Again, I like the idea.

Xbox Game Pass launches in the Spring.

Gears of War 4 – Cross Play is here!

Graev and I picked up Gears of War 4 and are currently working our way through the campaign. It’s really, really good. I don’t want to focus on any of the gameplay itself. What I want to focus on here is more of the cross play experience.

When Microsoft announced their big push toward “play anywhere,” I was extremely pleased. For the past 10 years I have been wanting PC and Console players to merge. Some games have tried, almost all have not. Developers of hardware and software alike have cited a litany of reasons. Now, I hope that’s over.

Gears of War 4 allows for co-op campaign and Horde mode cross play. It works flawlessly.

At first we couldn’t figure out how to make it work. Graev was on his Xbox One and I was on PC, but I wasn’t getting his invites. Then I found an Xbox app on my computer and suddenly the experience was merged. His invites came in like they do when you’re on Xbox and someone invites you. From there, the entire experience was utterly seamless.

Taking things a step further, if I use the Xbox app on my computer I can essentially communicate and interact in every way I can if I was on an Xbox instead. It’s great.

Here’s the one downside: You can’t play competitive multiplayer modes where PC players would be fighting against console players. Microsoft has said this is currently “temporary,” but I won’t hold my breath. I think they’ve left it out of Gears on purpose — to have no ‘negative’ perceptions of cross play among the early impressions.

Whether or not PC is truly the master race doesn’t matter to me right now. I’m just glad that I can play games with Graev on my PC if I choose, and he can be on his Xbox if he chooses. It’s time for Sony and Nintendo to start moving in that direction.

Our thoughts on Gears 4 coming soon…


Microsoft E3 2016 Xbox Briefing Didn’t Suck

Microsoft Xbox E3 Briefing didn’t suck. It actually didn’t suck at all. Maybe Micrsoft was serious when they said they were abandoning their DVR and “entertainment system” nonsense to focus on core gaming experiences. Microsoft didn’t waste any time at all—game after game, boom boom boom.

Xbox One S – $299 in August (40% smaller). If you don’t have a Xbox One yet, this is an enticing offer. If you already have one, I’d say stick with what you have and don’t worry about upgrading. I’m dubbing this one simply, “Xbox Slim.” Pre-orders are already available.

Gears of War 4 – Looks really good (they jumped right into showing us lots of actual gameplay), but I care way more about these details: Buy a copy on Xbox and play on Xbox AND Windows 10 – Share saves and there’s no additional cost. That’s awesome. Every co-op mode in the game supports cross-play. WOW. That’s a HUGE plus for gamers like us.  Comes this year.

Killer Instinct DLC – Play as Raam from GoW. Not my thing.

Forza Horizon 3 – I’ve never understood the popularity of car games. Not my thing. In the words of Graev, “They just need to add rocket launchers.”

Recore – Intriguing in a weird way. Something about the robot things creeps me out. I’ll be watching to see if it’s worth picking up.

Final Fantasy 15 – Made by the guy behind Kingdom Hearts. Combat looks really fun and the visuals are crazy. I’m admittedly not big on the FF games as that’s more of Graev’s thing. I struggle with following the story in these ‘design for the east but adapted to the west’ RPGs and end up scratching my head with a lot of “wtf is going on?” moments. September 30 release.

The Division Underground – Meh. Looking pretty generic at this point.

Battlefield 1 – See my comments in yesterday’s EA conference coverage. Xbox players with EA access get early access though?

Xbox Live Clubs – Create communities sharing interests. It’s like guilds for Xbox Live. That’s cool.

Xbox Live Looking for Group – It’s a LFG tool for Xbox Live. Huh. That’s also pretty cool. Making it easier to find people to play with works in this setup.

Xbox Live Arena – Compete in your favorite games against friends and others in tournaments. Totally set up for sports games. Not my thing, but the other Xbox Live improvements are great.

Minecraft – SUPER cool updates. Cross-platform compatibility between PC, iOS, Android, and Xbox is finally here. Do PS4 and Wii U get in too? The presenter kept saying “all platforms” but never mentioned PS4 or Wii U. “Realms” will be coming to consoles next year, so maybe that’s when PS4 and Wii U get in too? I’m confused! Also mods coming to consoles. ::prays:: Please let us play FTB.

Indie games coming to Xbox 1 – Meh. As Graev says, “Artsy fartsy indie fluff.” Then Cuphead came on and he started freaking out about how cool it is and wanted to see more Cuphead. (WTF is Cuphead?)

We Happy Few – WTF…Creepy. Skipping.

Gwent – Cool. A card game from a card game that was in a game. Next!

Tekken 7 – Fighting games. wooooooo. Skipping.

Dead Rising 4 – I played 1 & 2—Graev played them all. He’s super excited for this one. I’ll pick it up and play with him most likely. These games jumped the shark long ago and are always a fun and zany experience. More of the same I bet but probably fun.

Scalebound – Pretty much why I got my Xbox One. Looks SO GOOD. Dragons everywhere, fighting with others online… yep count me in. Pushed into 2017 though. 🙁

Sea of Thieves – Okay, this is easily on top of my most anticipated games list. I thought this was vaporware. I’m entering serious levels of hype here. DANGEROUS levels of hype. This is my dream guys. You’ve read my posts for years about wanting to command a pirate vessel with a crew of real players. HYPE ENGAGED! In fact, I’m going to write another post about this game along. Graev says, “Don’t get your hopes up we always get screwed.”

State of Decay 2 – Hmm. Interesting. Now on my list of games to watch.

Halo Wars 2 – I never played Halo Wars the original, but this actually looks pretty dang good. The beta is available for a week starting now, so I’m in.

NEW Xbox One (Project Scorpio) – [Insert crazy tech specs I hardly understand here and a bunch of hyperbole about how amazing they make games. Teraflops and stuff.] Comes Holiday 2017. Plays all games, all accessories work, etc. I’ll probably get it if Microsoft makes good on these promises.

Microsoft brought their A++ game today. They made good on returning to the core gamer experience. They had more exclusive games, more third party support, and more from Microsoft studios than I can ever remember.

Microsoft Play Anywhere’s “Buy once, play everywhere” is seriously the best idea to come out of Microsoft. Merging platforms, bridging gaps between communities, and providing a fantastic user experience. I’m a huge fan of that philosophy.

Not only did Microsoft’s conference not suck–This is Microsoft’s best conference…. ever. They’re the ones to beat now. Good luck Sony and Nintendo because you’re going to need it. Welcome back, Microsoft.


The Winners of E3

Every year we like to talk about who won the best of show at E3. We mostly focus on the ‘big 3’ — Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo. Without needing to go into much detail, this year was one of the best overall in a decade. The players win. We have a lot of great games coming out, and some really need things to look forward to in the future.

Let’s talk about the big 3. The winner this year was clearly Microsoft. They brought the strongest overall “wow” factor. For the first time in more years than I can remember, the emphasis wasn’t on their gimmicks. Microsoft is back to focusing more on the console itself being a gaming device, and them as a company being about providing entertainment for gamers. So many years it was flipped upside down and the console was all about being entertainment. Their use of HoloLens as it pertains to Minecraft is nothing short of amazing. The coolest part was being able to see the other people in the world running around this virtual representation. There are some really neat possibilities.

Sony was pretty good. I think their problem will stem from a lack of exclusives. They certainly rocked a few worlds by announcing the FFVII remake, but overall it was just “Hey there’s this awesome game coming to the PS4! Please don’t realize it’s also on the Xbox and PC!” Either way, they didn’t fall flat on their faces which is their usual modus operandi.

Nintendo… oh Nintendo. You are my favorite of these companies. You keep it simple, clean, and to the point. Nintendo’s focus is on their games. Unfortunately, it was mostly on their games they already announced. Nintendo does what they call “Nintendo Direct” digital conferences throughout the year. This means they are constantly in a state of doing what they did at E3 this year, and that means it’s hard to stand up to the other big announcements — especially when you reveal a week ago that you won’t be talking about the big Zelda open-world game.  Still, lots of great games. Skylanders meets Nintendo Amiibos? Mhm, yes please.

Virtual Reality is a gimmick. It’s motion controls all over again. We have absolutely no reason to believe in any of the potential until someone says, “You know that potential? We actually made it. Here, try.” Until then, it’s nothing more than Milo.


Holographic Games… If only.

Because the Kinect worked so well…

The excitable side of me wants to think that I can knock down a wall in my house and step into a fantasy world of virtual reality. I want to holodeck from Star Trek.

The realist in me knows that I’ll be saying “XBOX. PLAY!” over and over trying different emphasis on different syllables until the thing finally decides to resume my Netflix show or wonkily holding up my hand until it finally recognizes me.