Phil Spencer Thinks Calling Xbox Game Pass "the Netflix of Games" Misses the Mark

Phil Spencer Thinks Calling Xbox Game Pass "the Netflix of Games" Misses the Mark

"I bristle a little bit, because Netflix doesn't sell the content that's in Netflix."

Xbox Game Pass, Microsoft's game subscription service for Xbox and PC, gets compared to Netflix more often than it does to its competitors in the games space. Given Netflix's strength with film and TV, that's something of a compliment to Game Pass. Still, Xbox head Phil Spencer wants to make one key difference between Netflix's business and Microsoft's very clear: Netflix routinely refuses to sell its content, but Microsoft doesn't want to stop people from purchasing its games.

Spencer's comment on how the "Netflix-like" Game Pass operates differently comes from a new appearance on the podcast Gamertag Radio. Co-host Parris Lilly asks Spencer where the idea behind Game Pass originated, and in answering the question Spencer takes care to say that the Netflix model, where much of the company's output is only available via subscription, is not a parallel for Microsoft:

I love the fact that games are for sale and people can go buy them. We have no goal, there's no slide deck anywhere that says 'hey, we want to turn everyone into a subscriber, nobody should buy.' That why sometimes when people use "the Netflix of games" I bristle a little bit, because Netflix doesn't sell the content that's in Netflix. For us, if people want to go buy their games, we think that's a really healthy part of the industry. If there's games that you're not gonna go buy, and you want to subscribe to get access to them, we see that as a strong part of Game Pass.

Spencer says that in addition to broadening the scope of what subscribers will play—a claim that Microsoft has backed up with data—that Game Pass largely exists in part to address an industry-wide problem with longevity of titles. "I don't think it's incredibly healthy the way you see decay in retail today," says Spencer. "A game will come out, and so many people flip a bit on a game positivity or negatively really in the first day or two[...] we need to extend the window of when these games are viable, when they have large playerbases, just for the health of what our industry needs."

Longevity of its catalog is certainly an aim for Netflix, but the streaming service routinely forgoes physical releases even for its breakout hit series and prestige films. Last November, Netflix announced that Alfonso Cuarón's Oscar-winning drama Roma would be its first film to ever receive a release on Blu-Ray and DVD.

Speaking with Polygon at E3 2019, Spencer said that Microsoft was open to the idea of Game Pass exclusives, but only insofar as being part of a subscription service would be vital to a game's core. Spencer raised episodic titles as a form that could work well for Game Pass but not necessarily as an exclusive. Later in the year, Microsoft and Dontnod announced Tell Me Why, a three-part episodic series set to launch for sale and via Game Pass with a "clear and predictable schedule" of release.

The hosts of Gamertag Radio also took the opportunity to discuss Xbox Series X backward compatibility, xCloud, Microsoft's commitment to cross-generation titles, and Spencer's thoughts on VR. You can listen to the full episode here, and for more on the future of Xbox, check out our roundup of everything Microsoft revealed about the Series X in December.

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Mathew Olson


Mathew Olson is a writer formerly of Digg, where he blogged and reported about all things under the umbrella of internet culture (including games, of course). He lives in New York, grew up under rain clouds and the influence of numerous games studios in the Pacific Northwest, and will talk your ear off about Half-Life mods, Talking Heads or Twin Peaks if you let him.

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