Microsoft on Tuesday announced plans for a new Netflix-like service for gamers, giving them unlimited access to more than 100 games, including recent big hits such as "Halo 5 Guardians" and "NBA 2K16."
While the move is meant as a way to capitalize on the growing momentum of Xbox One, it's also a shot across the bow at the game industry's biggest retailer.
Xbox Game Pass, which launches this spring, will charge subscribers $9.99 per month for access to a catalog of Xbox One and Xbox 360 titles from Microsoft, Take-Two Interactive Software, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and more. Users can download the game to their system, thus avoiding any lag that would accompany streaming. Xbox One games can be purchased — at a discounted price.
While it's a subtle shot, it's still one that threatens a core business of GameStop, which earns a significant portion of its revenue on the sale of used games.
That's a practice that has always stuck in the craw of publishers, who don't see any revenue from the resale of titles. Under Microsoft's program, they could now monetize older titles.
GameStop is already under fire as it saw revenues drop 16.4 percent in the holiday 2016 quarter. Comparable store sales were down 18.7 percent and used game sales fell 7.9 percent. The stock was down 5 percent Tuesday as news of Xbox Game Pass spread.
"We simply do not have confidence that [GameStop] or anyone can accurately forecast console market growth in 2017 and beyond," Ben Schachter of Macquarie Capital said in a January note to investors. "We remain open to the potential for [GameStop] to rebound on a faster than expected shift to new businesses and business models, but given management's recent track record and our own uncertainty around forecasting core console gaming, we simply want to see better execution before we can recommend the stock."
This isn't the first time game makers have tried to rally against used game sales. In 2010, Electronic Arts launched a plan called "Project $10," requiring people who bought a used copy of any EA game to pay $10 to access any downloadable content for that title. Sony had a similar program, including a voucher in new copies that had to be entered to enable online play. People who bought used copies of that game — "SOCOM: Fireteam Bravo" — had to pay $20 for a new activation voucher.
Both plans and similar ones eventually fizzled due to customer complaints.
With Xbox Game Pass, though, game makers are working with one of their chief allies. Microsoft says games will regularly rotate the titles in the catalog, which could push people to buy copies of games they especially enjoy.
"Every month new games will cycle into the subscription with some cycling out, giving you a constantly-updating library of games," Microsoft's Xbox chief Phil Spencer said in a blog post. "Xbox Game Pass is your ticket to endless play."