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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.

Voyages

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.

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