The Dreamers Game
It has to be said. I like gaming. Mainly video gaming.
Most of my life, I’ve spent a LOT of money, time and effort, pursuing the pastime.
It has become my life.
The visceral or cerebral content on offer, the interactivity and pure escapsim has been intoxicating and a joy to be a part of.
Nothing comes close to being immersed in a constructed digital world where possibilities and outcomes are so endless.
To be inside the dream and have agency and real experiences.
The Game Pass Trap
The Ascent, an Xbox & PC exclusive, is an isometric cyberpunk story driven action RPG. It has all the hallmarks of a winner for me. A cyberpunk game that delivers where Cyberpunk 2077 left everyone lacking.
It’s even included in Game Pass upon release, so my year and a half one-time conversion of my existing Xbox Live Gold (XBLG) subscription (£40 per annum) into an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate (XGPU) for £1 has served up a prime game on my wanted list.
Playing the title on the Xbox One is less than stellar. On release performance wise, it struggles on the hardware. The networking is also a little flaky in places. But it gets so much right.. I am positively willing this title to make good on its promise to give me the cyberpunk thrill I’ve been pining for. Perhaps a few patches down the road?
Microsoft unveils its beta Cloud streaming platform (xCloud), only available to those with the XGPU. I pay a LOT for my internet connection, so it easily supports the base level of 20Mbps throughput needed, so I give it a try.
I have to uninstall The Ascent first. Then I fire it up on xCloud, effectively streaming the output from a cloud server across my connection in real time. You can imagine that I’m running the game, remotely, on an Xbox Series X. The game plays smooth as butter, with only the odd drop in fidelity once in a while. The game doesn’t need patches, it needs better hardware. But it is still being pushed out to the last gen hardware as a title available to play.
Finally, I have a means with which to play this game, on my old hardware (as of the time of writing, you still can’t get hold of an Xbox Series X, for love nor money), utilising the power of my Internet connection and the XGPU xCloud facility.
Picture if you will, a one-time only bargain conversion of XBLG to XGPU approaching its expiry date. Once expired, XGPU will fall back to the £11.99 per monthly subscription. For someone who buys a lot of games, on a lot of platforms that sort of outlay is difficult to justify on a monthly basis, going forward, forever.
What are my options?
Pay Microsoft the subscription so I can continue to play the game.
Buy the game, install it on the Xbox One last gen hardware and have it play sub optimally with its performance severely hampered.
Don’t play the game.
All of the circumstances that conspired together, to get me to this point have been engineered to coerce me into paying the XGPU subscription.
- I have last gen hardware, you can’t source next gen hardware
- The game is available on sub-optimal hardware, performance issues abound
- One time XBLG conversion was incentivised by ‘loss leader’ bargain, hard to resist
- I have to have an Internet connection with at least 20Mbps throughput for xCloud
- I can only play the game as long as it is available through XGPU (or I have to buy it to ensure availability going forward)
XGPU hits the sweet spot for many casual gamers.
If you want a limited selection of titles with a broader coverage across genres, available for a limited time only, with monthly churn of a few a titles lost and a few titles gained, then the ‘netflix for games’ model works really well. If you’ve got the net connection chops for it, you can play modern titles on old hardware too.
However, if you’re a seasoned gamer, who treasures games like fine wines and wants to pick a choice eclectic selection, on a schedule of your own whimsy - so you can return to titles months, years later to sample their delights further or all over again. XGPU is a bad fit. The nagging uncertainty that the game you’re enjoying is about to be taken out of the available list and never return. The ongoing pressure of ‘stop paying, stop playing’ model of games as a service. A never ending toll being charged to maintain availability. The MMO subscription in pedestrian gaming form.
Throughout my time with XGPU, it has felt like an oddly collected sweet shop, where you “pick and mix” downloads and play titles as if they’re demos, drop it when you discover its not for you. But titles you find that resonate with your gaming tastes, then become hostages you need to save from the selection chop. When will these titles be dropped? I’ve actually bought titles on my Playstation that I grew fond of on XGPU so I don’t lose access to them when the MS executioner swings his axe.
The Paying Game
Gaming is changing. Radically.
The changes being made, feel like they’re not for the players benefit.
The boundaries being pushed seem to be for the market, to monetise all parts of the process.
So you pay for your console hardware.
Then you pay for the game. A disc. or a download (at your expense - storage space on console and connectivity). Storage space limited by console costs.
Then you pay for external storage. Or an upgrade to the release storage.
Then you pay an additional fee to play this game with others in multiplayer and to afford cloud storage to store backups of your save games.
Then you pay for the additional DLC content that was originally withheld from the release title, but was packaged up later as a tiny 1Mb nugget of data so the DLC could be enabled.
Then you pre-pay before the game is launched for the content promised by the hype.
Then you pay for the silver, gold, platinum, premium, digital deluxe edition, because they disseminate tiny parcels of conditional content, depending upon how much you’re willing to overpay for the title.
Then you pay for the additional content as it lands, substandard to the roadmapped content promised. Often bundled into the most granualar offerings, so each addition can be milked for maximum microtransaction worth.
Then you pay extra for the character skin to make the digital avatar you’re invested in, look more like how you want to present them in these virtual worlds.
Then you pay for the upgrade to the game from the previous generation to the next generation console (which you’ve also paid for, if you can source it). Backward compatibility is now the new forward upgradeability with a cost associated.
Then you pay for the sequel(s).
Then you pay for the live service open world version of the game.
Then they shut the live service servers down.
Then you pay for ‘retro’ older titles as they are refreshed with a lick of paint and a new full price tag. Remake, reboot, remastered, rehashed, resold.
Theres a LOT of paying to support the ecosystem surrounding a single game these days.
Then you buy a new game.
And start the cycle again.
A cycle of captive coercian.
My stockholm syndrome.