Can Game Pass help offset the delay of such a high-profile exclusive?
343 Industries’ Halo Infinite has been delayed. Some would say it was inevitable, given the lack of information about the title before the Xbox Games Showcase, not to mention the demo itself which was confirmed to be an older build. It’s almost interesting to look back on Phil Spencer’s earlier statement about how any potential delay for Halo Infinite wouldn’t impact the release of the Xbox Series X. Sure enough, it hasn’t and Microsoft is surging ahead.
We know that Spencer and the rest of the leadership at Xbox Game Studios and 343 Industries chose to delay the title rather than release it in parts. We also know that the Xbox Series X is releasing in November (November 6th, if the leaked warranty for controllers is to be believed). What could the impact of Halo Infinite‘s delay be on the console’s success?
Right out of the gate, Microsoft will be struggling. The launch of a new console generation depends on several key factors. Perhaps the least important is price because the most important is brand loyalty. “Brand loyalty” covers quite a bit, especially how likely your audience will choose your brand over another. The higher the brand loyalty, the more likely your customers are to become early adopters of a new piece of hardware. Games are an important factor, but even if the PS5 wasn’t packing a ton of different games at launch, you can bet it would still be purchased in overwhelming numbers over the Xbox Series X.
Sony has been making some pretty big moves in terms of marketing deals but they’re not just meant to sell the hardware. As we’ve established, the hardware will sell itself regardless. Having titles like Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Astro’s Playroom, Deathloop and Kena: Bridge of Spirits is for the sake of selling software. No single game is looking to be a system-seller but the popularity of the system will turn these games into major successes. This is one reason that companies like Bethesda have signed timed-exclusive deals with Sony – it knows that the initial rush of next-gen console sales at launch will feed into software sales for its games.
What about deals like Spider-Man in Marvel’s Avengers or GhostWire: Tokyo which will be available after launch? Marketing agency Experience 12 surveyed 3000 individuals in the UK and found that 37 percent planned to buy a next-gen console at launch. However, 9 percent are expected to buy one within the first month while 12 percent will pick one up within three months. A hefty 26 percent will purchase one within six months of launch. The console of choice among 84 percent of individuals? The PlayStation 5, compared to 15 percent for the Xbox Series X. It also doesn’t help that 59 percent prefer the PS5 over the Xbox One, which garnered 16 percent of the votes.
That brand loyalty for Sony also extends to third party releases that have deals with Microsoft and Xbox Series X. The most anticipated release as per the survey is Cyberpunk 2077. This means that a good chunk of players will pick up Cyberpunk 2077 for PS5, despite a lot of the marketing tying into Xbox.
Halo Infinite, by comparison, is in fifth place behind titles like Marvel’s Avengers, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 and Dying Light 2. So while Microsoft did have a fairly big horse in the next-gen console launch race, that’s now gone with the delay. More worrying is the possibility that it could release outside of the six month window when next-gen console sales will arguably be the highest.
This isn’t to say that it won’t sell well when it eventually releases but the numbers likely won’t be anywhere near what could have been possible at the console’s launch. One also has to factor in the free to play element. Multiplayer has also been delayed so any potential revenue that could come from this is also out the window for the time being.
One could argue that the brand loyalty for Halo is strong, if not stronger than that for Xbox and fans will happily wait to play the game, whether it’s on Xbox One or Xbox Series X. That’s all well and good in the long run. In the short term however, the Xbox Series X will face some struggles – after all, it’s already at a disadvantage when it comes to brand loyalty versus Sony.
Xbox Game Pass is a major part of Microsoft’s next-gen strategy and it’s indicated plans to lean into it further. Spencer promised that there would be “really great” announcements coming to the service in the coming weeks. The plan has always been for the long-term and to be fair, in Microsoft’s fiscal year 2020 report for the fourth quarter, the revenue of Microsoft’s gaming segment grew by 64 percent to an impressive $1.3 billion. In the quarter before that, it was confirmed to have 10 million subscribers on Game Pass.
However, the company also admitted that Game Pass isn’t raking in the most cash for it. Given interest in the Xbox Series X and current trends, it may see itself getting another five million subscribers at best. Contextualizing this in terms of potential Xbox Series X sales is difficult. That’s because outside of, say, The Medium, pretty much every game that Microsoft has hyped up for launch is also coming to Xbox One.
Sony’s focus with the PS5 has been the hardware and how it’s the place to be for high-profile exclusives. The messaging is incredibly clear: If you enjoyed exclusives on the PS4, then you’re going to enjoy even more on the PS5.
On the other hand, Microsoft has been somewhat floundering in its messaging. It’s hyped up its cross-gen approach and promised that all major exclusives will be coming to Xbox One and Xbox Series X. It then did a 180 of sorts at the Xbox Games Showcase and featured a bunch of exclusives which are most definitely not coming to Xbox One, even if they are coming to Xbox Game Pass. The messaging, in that case, is that you can wait a few years to pick up an Xbox Series X and not worry about launch.
Now that Halo Infinite has been delayed, Microsoft is right back to promoting the value that Game Pass has to offer. At this point, Game Pass isn’t a new Netflix that’s blazing a trail through the market and quickly garnering popularity. It’s more like DC Universe, carving a market share for itself amidst the bigger players (though it probably has around the same subscriber numbers as DC’s offering). Yes, there’s the promise of lots of high-profile exclusives but you know, down the line. Not right now or even in the next six months.
Another argument that could be made is that Microsoft isn’t trying to compete with Sony. It’s instead focusing more on services. This, I feel, is a cop-out. Whenever a company is investing this much into a next-generation console and exclusives, acquiring numerous high-profile studios and signing deals to publish third party titles, it’s not doing so to simply carve its own niche.
It’s trying to be competitive – in its own way, sure, but achieving wide-spread success is indeed the goal. The current generation is already a wash to the point that the impact of Game Pass didn’t feel all that noticeable. However, a new generation is upon us and it’s time to observe just how much Game Pass is worth to Microsoft, both in the short and long term.
I could see the company finding a decent foothold if the Xbox Series X is a lot cheaper than the PS5, thus appealing to those who want to experience 4K gaming without needing a super-expensive PC. Or even if the Xbox Series S provides a reasonable solution for those looking to upgrade from their current Xbox console while still having the promise of next-gen games. I just don’t think that success is going to warrant the massive amount of resources invested. As it stands, the delay of Halo Infinite is only one shaky piece in the massive Jenga tower that is Microsoft’s next-gen ambitions.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.