Featured WTMG Opinion Piece

Microsoft, It’s Time To Remove The Paywall For Free-to-Play Games

Microsoft's not-so-free-to-play policy needs to change.

It’s obvious to say, but Microsoft’s Xbox One has been put through the ringer this gen and in most cases, rightfully so. Terrible launch ideas with a focus on non-gaming applications, poor PR responses, and a console that was more expensive and less powerful than its closest competitor, as well as a pretty poor roadmap for 1st party games. But to give credit where credit is due, they have been making positive changes lately that are setting themselves up for a very strong next-gen. Reversing many initial ideas with DRM, fixing their under-powered problem with the Xbox One X, launching consumer friendly programs like GamePass, and gearing up with opening, expanding, and purchasing a lot of new studios.

As Microsoft strives to redeem themselves and gain favor back in the market, they have been trying to adopt more policies that are pro-gamer and pro-developer. Cross-play is a feature that allows you to play with friends on any platform. Breaking down these barriers that separate platforms creates a larger fan base and player pool to keep online games going for longer. Needless to say, it is as good for the developers as it is for the players. No longer do you need to miss out on playing with friends just because they chose, or received as a gift, another platform.

Recently we saw Microsoft and Nintendo team up on and put Sony on blast. Sony being the industry leader was understandably worried about opening up cross-play and cross-progression, as they did not want to compromise what was obviously working well for them. They of course already supported cross-play through PC, and for games like Fortnite, mobile versions as well. So it wasn’t exactly urgent for them to share with their closest competitor. Microsoft, Nintendo, and even a large amount of the gaming media immediately took to the net and started raining down on Sony about this issue. Taking pot shots, running a commercial ad campaign, and rubbing it in as often as they could especially after it was revealed that Sony locked Fortnite’s 3rd party account to their network.

After all of this, Sony of course finally broke down and is now in a beta stage allowing cross-play and cross-progression for Fortnite and soon to allow others like Rocket League. I’m all for cross-play/progression as it does allow a greater player pool for online games and no matter which platform I decide to play on, I know my progression will continue. During all of this fighting for cross-play, there were of course people pointing to Microsoft saying they need a change as well. Calling them out on their own backwards policies as a defense. The biggest complaint is Microsoft’s requirement of an Xbox Live account for free-to-play games like Fortnite which was the game Microsoft used most on their smear campaign. Now almost two full months after Sony has allowed cross-play, Microsoft has not made a single announcement about their paywall.

Cross-play
Hell broke loose once people logged onto Fortnite on their Switch and got this message.

Where is the media on this issue? Why haven’t we seen large media outlets coming down on Microsoft about this like we saw with the cross-play issue for Sony? Sure, Sony may not run a full smear campaign like Microsoft did, but it shouldn’t be up to them to push another company to get better. It should be up to the players, the users, the people who support Microsoft or at least want to see them get better. I am a fan of Xbox, I absolutely enjoy the Xbox One X and despite not having a large roster of games, I find myself still going back to Halo 5 and Gears of War 4 multiplayer. Being a fan doesn’t mean you should just accept everything a company does and not try and make them change for the better.

I have been waiting for them to announce it. I figured it would be sometime after Sony gave in and their recent XO18 event would have been the perfect time. After another event with no mention of it, I now feel compelled to have my voice heard on this issue. Microsoft eventually lifted the paywall needed to use apps like Netflix and Hulu, which was a great move that people have been requesting. Now it is time for them to lift it on free-to-play.

Phil Spencer has been making it known for a while now that he wants to support gamers and be the platform everyone games on. With their announcement of developing a streaming service that will be used on any device, it is even more imperative that they remove this paywall. Users will not want to pay for the streaming service as well as Xbox Live just to stream and play games like Warframe, Neverwinter, Path of Exile, Minecraft, and so many more.

Cross-play
The special Mexico City edition of Inside Xbox would have been a perfect opportunity to announce their own policy changes.

The idea of a paywall for a free-to-play game alone is ludicrous and defeats the entire idea of the game being free-to-play. For those gamers who spent their only free cash on purchasing the nice new Xbox One X this holiday and are planning on playing some free-to-play games until they can afford others, will be sorely disappointed when they run into this paywall. It is not consumer friendly in the slightest and will only annoy this new user instead of making them want to invest in the Xbox service.

What’s even more a slap in the face for Xbox users is the fact that PC users don’t have a paywall for online even for Microsoft’s own 1st party games on their Windows store. PC users don’t need Xbox Live to play Gears of War 4, Forza Horizon 4, Halo 5: Forge, etc., yet Xbox users still need to pay to play free-to-play. There are also plenty of other issues I could bring up. Like the fact they push special editions with 4 days early access, or special editions that don’t even contain a season pass like in the case of Forza Horizon 3. How about the fact they still use plenty of MT’s and until recently were utilizing loot boxes?

Luckily they’re calming down on the loot boxes and seem to be taking a better route with MT’s. For instance, not even implementing them in Sea of Thieves still, even though they said they would be available. My point is, with all the things that Microsoft still needs to fix, I find it hypocritical that they run a smear campaign on their competitor, yet won’t address their own anti-consumer policies.

Pay-walling free-to-play is an out of date requirement that needs to be changed and I certainly hope Phil Spencer sees the issue here and works on eliminating this requirement. It is not consumer friendly, it doesn’t look well for their new image they’re so desperately trying to achieve, and it flies in the face of the massive stink they made over the cross-play issue. It is time we as gamers voice our concerns over these issues and it needs to start in the industries media and even their own fans. We cannot be hypocritical as well getting behind the idea of Sony changing their policies on cross-play, but then not say anything about these issues.

 

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Our resident Californian ginger, also one of the only ones on the team who has a family (aka life). When he’s not taking care of sick kids he’s playing games with a wife who’s just as much a gamer as him or actually reviewing them for us, making him a valuable member of the team. Even if he’s pretty much stolen all our souls. His favorites include Dark Souls, Fallout 2, Majora’s Mask, and Shadow of the Colossus.

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