If you’ve paid close attention to the language coming out of major gaming publishers recently, you’ve probably heard buzzwords like “games-as-a-service” (GaaS) or simply “services.” That’s when a developer builds a game to keep players coming back for months or years with regular content updates and a core structure that never really ends. Think Overwatch or Destiny, and this year’s E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) trade show in Los Angeles revealed how services-based games like those are changing the industry.
Microsoft, in some ways, is ready for that change. But when it comes to Sea of Thieves, the company’s online pirate simulator that’s due out in 2018, Xbox boss Phil Spencer seems unprepared to commit to the new world of games-as-a-service.
Spencer has repeatedly said in interviews over the last couple of years that Microsoft makes most of its money from services (Office 365, enterprise tools, the Windows Store), and that’s one of the reasons he doesn’t care if people play Microsoft games on an Xbox or a PC as long as they’re logging into the Xbox Live online platform. And he also talks about the data that shows people are pouring huge chunks of their life into fewer games. For example, Spencer himself has played Destiny for 700 hours, and he has seen people doing that with games like Minecraft and Ark: Survival Evolved. And that has created a new market dynamic where games no longer live or die by their first-week sales. Instead, games can roll out slowly and grow into giant successes over time.
“Sometimes you see these games start small and get bigger over time,” Spencer said in an interview with Giant Bomb. “I think Ark: Survival Evolved is a great example of that. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds [is also a] great example of that. They come out and they actually get bigger as more people play and the virality of watching more people play and seeing their friends plays.”
Microsoft has seen this first-hand with Ark: Survival Evolved on its Xbox Preview Program, which is its equivalent of Steam’s Early Access portal for unfinished games. But even more directly, Microsoft owns Minecraft. Developer…