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Xbox head sees opportunity in a Netflix for games

Phil Spencer says subscriptions could be a viable way to fund original story-driven and single-player content

With the games-as-a-service model gaining steam across the AAA industry, story-driven single-player games are becoming fewer and further between. Microsoft's head of Xbox Phil Spencer has noticed the trend, and in an interview with The Guardian published today, he considered potential ways to keep the form viable.

"We've got to understand that if we enjoy those games, the business opportunity has to be there for them," Spencer said. "I love story-based games. I just finished [LucasArts-inspired RPG] Thimbleweed Park - I thought it was a fantastic game. Inside was probably my game of last year. As an industry, I want to make sure both narrative-driven single-player games and service-based games have the opportunity to succeed. I think that's critical for us."

Some of the problems are about accessibility, Spencer said. Mechanics that assume the audience has proficiency with standard gaming controllers and a reliance on franchises with decades of background story at this point are just two potential limiting factors for the audience, but he also thinks more can be done with the business model to make story-driven games viable.

"I've looked at things like Netflix and HBO, where great content has been created because there's this subscription model," Spencer said. "Shannon Loftis [Microsoft GM of global games publishing] and I are thinking a lot about, well, could we put story-based games into the Xbox Game Pass business model because you have a subscription going? It would mean you wouldn't have to deliver the whole game in one month; you could develop and deliver the game as it goes."

He added, "We're in a golden age of television right now. The storytelling ability in TV today is really high, and I think it's because of the business model. I hope as an industry we can think about the same. [Subscription services] might spur new story-based games coming to market because there's a new business model to help support their monetisation."

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