OPINION: Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard looks set to have a seismic impact on the gaming industry, but while most of the focus has been on how it could affect PlayStation, there’s a big chance it will also have major consequences for the likes of Steam.
Steam is currently the leading digital storefront for PC gaming, and while Epic Games Store has recently been on the rise as a competitor, it’s yet to even come close to reaching a similar number of active users.
Steam revealed back in 2020 that it had 120 million monthly active players, while Epic revealed its storefront had 58 million monthly active users in 2021. This shows that Steam is comfortably the most popular PC platform right now.
But a new challenger has entered the ring: Microsoft’s Game Pass. For those unaware, this is a subscription service that gives you access to a massive library of games for a monthly fee – it’s often been described as the ‘Netflix of gaming’.
Microsoft recently revealed that Game Pass currently has 25 million subscribers, although it’s worth pointing out that number combines both the PC and Xbox (and even smartphone) user base. Such a figure won’t be worrying Steam just yet, although that could soon change following the Activision Blizzard acquisition.
In the near future, every game series in the Activision Blizzard acquisition will be available through Game Pass. That includes Call of Duty, Warcraft, Diablo, Overwatch, Crash Bandicoot, Spyro, Tony Hawk and more. Those franchises join the likes of The Elder Scrolls, Doom, Fallout, Halo, Forza, Gears and Fable under the Xbox umbrella.
Of course, it’s important to remember that all of those games will likely be available via Steam too, as there won’t be any exclusivity issues like with PlayStation, but why bother paying £50 or more on these games via Steam when you can pay £7.99 per month via Game Pass instead?
As Xbox’s portfolio continues to grow, it’s becoming far more appealing to sign up to the Game Pass subscription rather than paying high upfront fees to buy games individually. Don’t get me wrong, digital storefronts will always be around – just like how you can still buy films rather than signing up to Netflix – but there’s a good chance that Steam could start to see a decline in sales for some of the highest profile game franchises.
But there is a solution to this issue for Valve, as it could launch its very own subscription service to take on Game Pass directly. It wouldn’t need to abandon its incredibly successful storefront – just as Xbox hasn’t ditched the Microsoft Store – but could offer it as an additional option.
Valve is already in a great position to imitate the Game Pass model, since it already has an established working relationship with all of the major game publishers. And while it hasn’t got as many first-party game franchises like Microsoft, the likes of Half-Life, Portal and Left 4 Dead are still hugely popular.
Having the option of a Steam Pass would also make the likes of the Steam Deck even more of a tempting purchase, helping to boost hardware sales as well as getting a consistent income from its user base.
Valve could even include VR games in its subscription service, going head-to-head with Viveport. That would be particularly handy for Valve since it already owns the Index VR headset. And with Half-Life Alyx being one of the top rated VR games currently available, it would immediately make the Steam Pass a more enticing option compared to HTC’s Viveport.
With all things considered, it makes so much sense for Steam to imitate Microsoft’s Game Pass model that I really do think it’s only a matter of time until a Steam Pass arrives. In fact, I can see many other companies jumping on the bandwagon. PlayStation is said to be working on a Project Spartacus service to tackle Game Pass, while Nintendo is already offering NES, SNES and N64 games via a pay-monthly model, with Game Boy games rumoured to arrive later this year.
It’s inevitable that the gaming industry will go down the same route as TV streaming apps, with subscription services offering consumer-friendly value. So Valve is highly likely to adopt this model eventually, but it’s arguably important to act now before Microsoft’s Game Pass gains momentum and starts threatening to displace Steam as the go-to PC platform.
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