The new installation of Microsoft’s flagship racing arcade, Forza Horizon 4, is an excellent game. It has gotten excellent reviews and I have been enjoying it to the point where I am dreading the Swedish Skatteverket will introduce an extra enjoyment tax on it. Joking aside, it’s a superb game, but more than that I think it introduces a new model for the gaming industry and I love it.

 
I gave Xbox Play Anywhere the first try on a business trip.

First a bit of context. Forza Horizon is Microsoft Intellectual Property that is used to introduce Microsoft’s big breakthroughs to the masses. Microsoft’s Xbox Play Anywhere is a technology that allows Xbox One games being played on any Windows 10 machine as long as it satisfies the system requirements — the game is run natively on the device. In addition, it also syncs the save-game files between all devices so the gamer on the go always continues her adventure seamlessly. It was first demoed using a Forza title when announced, accompanied by the promise that all new Microsoft first party games will be Xbox Play Anywhere enabled.

Xbox Game Pass is bringing about a new business model and Forza is giving me a glimpse into the future.

The latest in a series of Microsoft’s big mobility announcements, Project xCloud, which plays the game in the cloud and then rains the pixels down to any device, isn’t quite here yet — but the announcement also features a Forza title strengthening my argument that Forza is the series that introduces technology to gamers.

 

I argue that there is another transformation being pushed out to players right now, but we were too busy enjoying our ultimate drifts to appreciate the significance. For this to make sense though I need to bring you up to speed with yet another Microsoft offering: Xbox Game Pass, basically a “Netflix For Gaming”, Microsoft edition. It allows gamers to pay for a single subscription and then download games at will, on all Windows 10 devices, and play them as little or as much as they wish, just as if they had bought the full game. And will you guess which title is being used as the spearhead? Forza Horizon 4!

 

So where am I going with this? Well, I argue that Forza Horizon 4 contains a number of features specifically designed to promote the Xbox Game Pass. I believe Game Pass is bringing about a new business model and Forza is giving me a glimpse into the future.

With a game subscription, the games themselves have to change to work with the new business model. In a game subscription world the goal for Microsoft is no longer to get gamers to buy as many titles as possible, instead, it is to create few titles that the gamers keep returning to week after week. Think about it, after you pay for the subscription your spending potential is exhausted for that month. If you download many titles that you just play once or twice and then move on, aka the previous ideal customer behavior, you are just introducing extra fees towards publishers and strain the network with your downloads without bringing in any extra coins. In other words, you introduce extra costs eating into service’s profits incentivizing the service provider to discourage this behavior.

In a world with a game subscription service the goal is to create few titles that the gamers keep returning to week after week.

I believe some of the new features introduced in Forza Horizon 4, such as the seasons the players share (meaning when winter comes it’s winter for everyone) and progress through are there specifically to advance this new business model. It is no longer acceptable that the players progress through the main campaign in a week and then hop to another game. No, seasons are here to introduce change and new content into the game every week incentivizing us to further utilize the cost we have already induced. Or in other words giving Microsoft a bigger Return On Investment, ROI.

 
When winter comes it’s winter for everyone.

Of course, this isn’t entirely new, Massive Multiplayer Online (MMO) games have been living in this reality for close to 20 years, but it was up to every individual game to keep players engaged enough to earn another month’s subscription fee. Some, like World Of Warcraft, do it very well year after year while others did it poorly and disappeared. But for Microsoft it’s different, Microsoft needs to move all other game studios into this mode of operation to make their service a business success.

I think this is an excellent change in the gaming industry. I personally was often a susceptible target for the buy-and-forget business model: easily getting excited about new games, playing them a few times and quickly moving on, possibly already dreaming of the next adventure. The changes in the new Forza are allowing me to keep returning to a game, actually getting good at it, and of course, spend my Sunday mornings pondering what it all means.

Do you think Microsoft is onto something here? Do you expect them to succeed in convincing game designers into creating titles that keep on giving? Do you want them to? I am afraid you will have to catch me in the game to let me know; I will be drifting.

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