Microsoft recently announced that they would be giving away 2 free Xbox 360 games a month until the end of the year. I even received an email from them saying that this is their way of thanking Xbox Live Gold members. Corporations typically aren’t in the business of giving products away for free however and it made wonder just why they would do such a thing. I believe that there are three distinct reasons why and I explore them below.
Remind Users Why They “Love” Xbox
Later this fall both Microsoft and Sony will release their next generation gaming consoles and with heavy market saturation in the console market, competition is stiff. The free games are part of a play to keep their existing customer base. Xbox users are rewarded with free games, that were released several years ago, in exchange for their continued brand loyalty. The next generation Playstation console is set to have less user restrictions and be available at a lower price point. Microsoft knows that it is easier to retain existing customers than gain new ones. It is also far cheaper. Giving away a bunch of old games that no one was buying anymore is far more cost effective than a multimillion dollar ad campaign to try and lure Playstation fan boys away from their console of choice.
Help Us Forget About Their Customer Hating Plans for the Xbox One
It was just a few months ago that rumors surfaced that the new Xbox console would not play used games or at least would not play them for free. The supposed plan was to make users pay a fee to be able to play any previously played game on a different console on a different account. No more borrowing games, no more renting games, no more extensive used game market. This was Microsoft’s power play to cutout GameStop as a middle-man and keep much larger sums of profit for itself. There was also the “always on” internet connection requirement and that the Kinect sensor be constantly attached. Consumer outrage was swift and predictable. Sony, for it’s part was rumored to have similar plans but came out swinging at E3 and announced that their console would not have the same anti-consumer limitations. Sony threw down the gauntlet, and Microsoft blinked.
It wasn’t long after that that they announced very scaled back plans for their Xbox One game restrictions and I have to wonder if that was the plan all along. Perhaps borrowing a page from politicians in Washington and announcing a plan so audacious that no one would ever go along with it. Then when they announce a plan that is only slightly less onerous, it appears to be a breath of fresh air. So was this Microsoft’s true intention with the Xbox One? Were they simply prepping us to accept what console restrictions will be in the final product? Either way, the free games are meant to make this ugly saga a distant memory for consumers.
It is All About the Future
While downloadable games have become the majority for PC users, the same cannot be said for consoles. Downloadable games have been available on the current generation of consoles for years but most gamers still prefer to go to a store like GameStop and purchase games because they might find a used copy and if they get tired of a game, it can be resold later. Downloadable games of course cannot be resold so the user has no options to recoup any of the initial purchase price.
Giving away free games for the next several months is Microsoft’s long term play for the future of downloadable games on it’s Xbox One console. In order to propel profits for it’s new console, Microsoft needs the downloadable game segment of it’s business to be much more successful than it is now. The free games are a means of conditioning console game consumers to accept full downloads of games in place of physical copies. It is no secret that physical games will eventually die and Microsoft hopes to expedite that eventuality.
Like everyone else, I enjoy free stuff. Just don’t believe that Microsoft is doing it to say “thank you,” as they claim. If Microsoft has proven anything over the years it is that it rarely puts it’s customers first and often makes decisions that are downright hostile towards it’s customers. The first two games they have given away are Crackdown and Dead Rising 2. Crackdown feels very similar to the Grand Theft Auto series but even more repetitious and less enjoyable to play. I personally hate the zombie genre of games as a whole but the storyline of Dead Rising 2 has me engaged in the game at least for now. When it comes time to buy an Xbox One or a PlayStation 4, if you are so inclined to do so, do it based on the merits of each system, the games available, and what most of your friends are planning on owning. Don’t allow some cheap games from years gone by to influence your purchasing decision.