I’m an avid Xbox Game Pass user, often trying almost every game that comes to the service and closely following the games coming to and leaving the service each month. Following some recent announcements by Microsoft, though, I’ve been thinking a lot more about something else about Xbox Game Pass and Microsoft’s current digital-focused Xbox storefronts and ecosystem: what happens when it all goes away?
Microsoft announced last week that it will shut down the Xbox 360 Store in July 2024. After that day, it will be impossible to buy games, movies, or TV shows digitally on the Xbox 360 store; it’s just like what happened with the 3DS and Wii U eShops earlier this year. That announcement also came not long after Microsoft revealed it would replace Xbox Live Gold with Xbox Game Pass Core in September. With these changes, Microsoft is stamping out any support or focus its giving to the Xbox 360’s era as a platform. As someone who grew up mostly playing Xbox 360, seeing these things I grew up with go away is saddening. It’s also making me think about the day this will eventually happen to Xbox Game Pass or the store on the Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S.
Frankly, I’m not as concerned that Microsoft is going to do it anytime soon. Microsoft has given no indication that it plans on abandoning Xbox Game Pass. It’s a really successful subscription service heavily integrated into all of its current platforms, there are titles confirmed to launch day one on it into 2024 and beyond, and Xbox initiatives like Play Anywhere and Smart Delivery ensure that at least some version of most Xbox games are available on other platforms. While I expect it to be the primary part of Microsoft’s gaming strategy over the next decade, as someone who mainly played Xbox 360 growing up and is now seeing its storefront and subscription service go away, I’m now thinking about what the end of the Game Pass era will look like.
These recent actions have indicated that Microsoft will eventually be willing to do the same to the storefronts and subscription service we’re currently using. Even after the backlash PlayStation, Nintendo, and Xbox all faced from these announcements, Sony is the only one that has backtracked its plans to close down older digital storefronts, at least temporarily. Xbox Game Pass is the current hotness for Microsoft, but what happens come the day it isn’t? A lot more games are digital-only or tied to a subscription this generation, and those are the games most at risk of being lost if a digital storefront shuts down.
What happens to the Xbox console versions of games like Pentiment or Immortality on Xbox once Xbox Game Pass and the current iteration of the Xbox Store are shuttered? Yes, they can be played on PC, but the Xbox console version will be lost forever. And right now, it doesn’t seem like Microsoft has any publicly shared plans to permanently preserve those experiences, nor has it done so for all of the Xbox 360 digital games going away. Game preservation is a significant problem facing the game industry, and Microsoft has just made a move showing that it’s on the wrong side of that effort.
Inevitably, under a different Xbox and Microsoft management regime during a future console generation, Xbox Game Pass will be deemed old-fashioned, technologically dated, and not worthwhile or profitable to support, so the company will move on. That’s a long way off, but it’s still something Microsoft, game preservationists, and gamers should be thinking about and preparing for right now. By then, I hope that game preservation efforts are significantly stronger and that any digital-only Xbox Game Pass games will find other ways to live on without that subscription service or current-gen Xbox platforms in a way that just isn’t possible with the Xbox 360 Store.
Ultimately, the shutdown of the Xbox 360 Store shows the inevitable downsides of a digital and service-focused game industry. Obviously, the industry isn’t going to abandon that model. Companies like Microsoft just need to do a better job at respecting the things that got them where they are now, as well as the video game industry history they are currently writing.