The Impending Closure of Xbox 360 Store Raises Concerns
I’m a dedicated user of Xbox Game Pass, eagerly exploring all the games available on the service and closely monitoring the monthly additions and removals. However, recent announcements from Microsoft have sparked a different train of thought regarding Xbox Game Pass and the digital-focused Xbox storefronts and ecosystem. I can’t help but wonder, what happens when it all disappears?
Last week, Microsoft unveiled its plan to shut down the Xbox 360 Store in July 2024. After that date, purchasing digital games, movies, or TV shows from the store will no longer be possible. This mirrors the fate of the 3DS and Wii U eShops, which were shut down earlier this year. This announcement came shortly after Microsoft’s decision to replace Xbox Live Gold with Xbox Game Pass Core in September. These changes indicate that Microsoft is phasing out support and attention for the Xbox 360 era as a platform. As someone who grew up predominantly playing on the Xbox 360, witnessing the disappearance of these integral aspects is truly disheartening. It also makes me ponder the eventual fate of Xbox Game Pass and the Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S stores.
To be frank, I’m not overly concerned about an immediate discontinuation by Microsoft. The company hasn’t shown any signs of abandoning Xbox Game Pass. It’s an incredibly successful subscription service deeply integrated into all their current platforms. Numerous titles have been confirmed to launch day one on Xbox Game Pass through 2024 and beyond. Additionally, initiatives like Play Anywhere and Smart Delivery ensure that most Xbox games have some version available on other platforms. While I anticipate Xbox Game Pass to remain a central part of Microsoft’s gaming strategy for the next decade, the fact that the storefront and subscription service for the Xbox 360 are vanishing has led me to contemplate the eventual end of the Game Pass era.
The recent developments indicate that Microsoft may eventually apply the same fate to the current storefronts and subscription service we rely on. Even though PlayStation, Nintendo, and Xbox faced backlash for their announcements, Sony is the only one that temporarily backtracked its plans to close down older digital storefronts. Xbox Game Pass may be Microsoft’s current shining star, but what happens when it loses its luster? With the majority of this generation’s games being digital-only or tied to a subscription, these games are most vulnerable to being lost if a digital storefront shuts down.
Consider games like Pentiment or Immortality on Xbox consoles. Once Xbox Game Pass and the current iteration of the Xbox Store are discontinued, these games will no longer be accessible on consoles. While they may still be playable on PC, the console versions will vanish forever. At present, Microsoft hasn’t publicly shared any plans to permanently preserve these experiences, nor has it done so for all the Xbox 360 digital games disappearing. Game preservation presents a significant challenge for the industry, and Microsoft’s recent actions indicate they are on the wrong side of this effort.
Inevitably, a future Xbox and Microsoft management regime may consider Xbox Game Pass outdated, technologically obsolete, and not worth the support or profitability. In that case, the company will move on. Although that day is far off, it’s something that everyone—Microsoft, game preservationists, and gamers—should begin contemplating and preparing for. By then, I hope that game preservation efforts will have significantly strengthened. Ideally, any digital-only Xbox Game Pass games will find alternative methods to thrive beyond the subscription service or current-generation Xbox platforms, an outcome that the Xbox 360 Store cannot provide.
Ultimately, the closure of the Xbox 360 Store highlights the inevitable downsides of a digital and service-focused game industry. Clearly, the industry won’t abandon this model entirely. However, companies like Microsoft need to do a better job of honoring the foundations that brought them where they are today while also respecting the rich history of the gaming industry that they are currently shaping.
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