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Has Xbox changed discoverability with its new store?
Let's examine closely!
[The GameDiscoverCo game discovery newsletter is written by ‘how people find your game’ expert Simon Carless, and is a regular look at how people discover and buy video games in the 2020s.]
Welcome back to (yet) another newsletter all about game platforms and discoverability! I’m trying to put these out two or three times a week right now, since there’s a LOT going on in the space.
I’ll do the week’s round-up shortly, so this newsletter is purely about the new Xbox store app, which just rolled out to all on Xbox One.
But the same store will also be coming to Xbox Series X in similar form, I believe - with an overall UI experience to match it? (Which is good, because the Xbox One OS is weirdly structured, usability-wise.) So this is a big one for the future of how people buy games on Xbox consoles.
The new Xbox store - what’s… new?
To start - while researching this topic (but after I’d taken marginal quality photos of my TV screen!) I discovered that Xbox fans such as Rand al Thor 19 had done walkthroughs of the store when it was in Beta.
So feel free to scrub around this video if you’d like to take a look without booting up your Xbox - it’s pretty handy:
(However, bad news - you still get my moire-covered photos of the TV too. So let’s go! )
My overall impression of the Xbox store redesign? As billed, it’s cleaner and faster, and better organized, too. So definitely a big step in the right direction. And most of its shift in focus - as you might expect with Xbox - is towards subscriptions.
As you’ll see, it plays up Xbox Game Pass (and Ultimate Game Pass), and the myriad of games available there-in. And for regular indie/AA games releasing on Xbox, there’s little advantage or disadvantage to this new layout, in my view.
But let’s check it. Firstly, here’s the front page of the store, which has an obvious default-selected search option, and also Deals and Subscriptions (new!) buttons, plus five featured ‘panels’ (one sponsored), most of which go to very big games or sales:
Just drilling down on ‘search’… as you can see below, you have an integrated search of what you’ve already downloaded and items for sale, which is nice - and not always standard for console stores.
And the idea of suggested ‘trending’ items is a good fill-in while you’re selecting search items. Though it looks like the biggest games/apps are favored there:
So the left nav bar (see top pic in this section!) is much more logical and easy to access than the last version of the Xbox store. The nav items are also roughly mirrored as you scroll down the front page. These include obvious and good charts like Top Paid Games, Top Free Games, Coming Soon, Deals, etc - although curiously, there’s some minor discrepancies.
New Games/Best Rated
For example, ‘Top New Games’ in the main tab turns out to be the same as ‘New Games’ in the left nav bar, and it’s actually… just the list of all new games. I was hoping for some kind of algorithmic list of ‘hot new games’, a la Steam. But sadly, it’s not to be.
But it is good-looking, easy to navigate, and straightforward to understand - here’s the navigation on the ‘new games’ page:
OK, I can understand why maybe you’d want to show all new games here. There are less titles on Xbox than e.g. Steam, and devs might be mad otherwise. So looking for algorithmic goodness, I found a different section called either ‘Best Rated Games’ or ‘Most Popular’, which seems to go to the same screen. Let’s try that.
But in my view, this chart (pictured below) ended up a bit of a mish-mash. (And it’s not the same as the realtime Top Paid/Free.)
As you can see, it had Wolf Among Us and Disneyland Adventures (!) listed in Top 6, but also Minecraft and Borderlands: The Handsome Collection. Not all of the games clearly had 5 star ratings - some had 4 and a half if you looked at the icons.
Some of the featured games are very old and/or in Game Pass, and as I scrolled down, I saw some games with progressively less reviews, so perhaps it’s some kind of review number-gated hybrid? If anyone at Microsoft or elsewhere can tell me how this chart is ranked, it’d be great to know.
Finally, the subscription elements for the new Xbox store are much more heavily built in to this store in general. Any game with Game Pass eligibility has a clear button next to it on the store page and even with the game’s icon (see above.) And then here’s the Subscriptions home page:
Right now, this mainly includes Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, the regular version, the Xbox Live Gold subscription & EA Play (there’s hardly any other subscriptions on the service.. so far!) With Microsoft’s own offerings to the fore. But there’s room for lots more pay-to-subscribe services.
(Besides Ubisoft, who I am rashly presuming will do Xbox subs soon, are we going to start seeing other VOD-style subscription services with indies banding together, or niche genres getting their own subscription offerings. Is that… cool?)
Ending out, I would say that the new Xbox store is:
way better, well-designed, faster and smoother for players (yay!)
significantly better for Xbox in terms of pushing Game Pass (and therefore better if you get your game in Game Pass!)
similar visibility if you’re a large game on Xbox not in Game Pass.
about the same visibility for smaller games on Xbox not in Game Pass. (Slight positive due to better search/nav, slight negative cos of less ‘weird’ smaller game categories on the front page of the store, like Game Preview or Console Exclusive.)
I still don’t understand why any console platforms don’t have a ‘hot new games’ section, with a rotating set of the games that people are most excited to buy (outside of Game Pass) in the first week/month, though.
But I think the ‘latest games on Xbox Game Pass’ is effectively the hot newness that Microsoft wants to direct us to, as they continually to aggressively market Game Pass Ultimate ($1 for first month!) to further grow their 15 million subscribers.
Unless you are a larger, AAA-looking game, I do think the road to success - or at least reach and guaranteed revenue - in the future on Xbox is increasingly going to be via Game Pass. But you can still get decent revenue from standalone Xbox One/Series releases, especially if Xbox player-compatible stylistically, and that shouldn’t be ignored.
[This newsletter is handcrafted by GameDiscoverCo, a new agency based around one simple issue: how do players find, buy and enjoy your premium PC or console game? We’ll be launching a ‘Plus’ paid newsletter tier with lots of extra info/data - watch out for it soon!]