MLB The Show 21 is due out in a couple weeks, but one of the most exciting pieces of news is that the former PlayStation exclusive will be headed to Xbox Game Pass.
While some are focusing on the shock of a game developed by Sony landing on a Microsoft subscription service, this move could also quietly be laying the foundation of a new model for top games in the future.
MLB The Show 21 being on Xbox Game Pass on day one is an all new way to release a major sports game, and this test could give a glimpse into the future of sports gaming.
MLB The Show 21 is an important test for Xbox Game Pass
For the most part, subscription models like Xbox Game Pass tend to offer titles long after they are released and have started to lose some interest.
However, we've seen examples in the past of games like Rocket League get an all-new shelf life with a temporary subscriber-based free-to-play boost.
Rocket League's popularity skyrocketed when the game was released as part of PlayStation Plus, and that benefit carried over long after the title had left PlayStation Plus.
MLB The Show 21 looks poised to test this at launch by being the first major sports title to hit Xbox Game Pass on its release date.
HBO Max is already testing this with streaming
The method isn't far off from what we're seeing with HBO Max, which recently released Godzilla vs. Kong on their streaming service at the same time the title headed to theaters.
While this was driven by the effects of the ongoing global pandemic, it's given them a new model where subscribers get an early window to enjoy the content, but are left to purchase it for themselves if they hope to enjoy it after that initial window.
While we don't know exactly how long MLB The Show 21 will be on Xbox Game Pass, it's a safe bet that it'll eventually leave the service and players who hope to keep going will then need to purchase the full game for themselves.
Subscription models could replace trials
One of the primary ways this comes into play for gaming is the effect on trials or demos of titles, of which MLB The Show 21 had neither.
While there was a closed beta known as a Technical Test which provided developers with more information and allowed them to fix issues ahead of launch, that's not the same as an open trial or demo.
Launching MLB The Show 21 on Xbox Game Pass the same day as the title is released almost operates like an extended trial for Xbox Game Pass subscribers, and they'll be left to decide when it leaves that service if they've been impressed enough to purchase the game and keep playing.
Long-term microtransactions are still key
Of course, the effect of microtransactions on all of this can't be forgotten, which includes the Ultimate Team mode in MLB The Show 21 known as Diamond Dynasty.
While developers, and the MLB, will get initial revenue from the title as players purchase the full game, they can score additional income in later months through microtransactions connected to things like Diamond Dynasty.
Players who are already committed to that model, however, will likely pre order one of the non-standard editions to score extra in-game benefits and Early Access to MLB The Show 21.
Game Pass subscribers who buy MLB The Show 21 later
The target audience that might be in mind right now could be Xbox Game Pass subscribers who are invested enough in MLB The Show 21 to purchase the full game after release.
This could include players who might not have taken the leap to try it in the first place, but Xbox Game Pass gives them that opportunity.
If a player is enjoying the game enough through Xbox Game Pass to later pay full price in order to keep playing, they might be more willing to spend a little extra on microtransactions to get an in-game boost.
There is a chance MLB The Show 21 stays on Xbox Game Pass for a full year or indefinitely, but it seems equally likely the title will depart just a month or two after launch.
The 10-Hour EA Play Trial
We've also seen a similar model being used by EA through their EA Play service already, as they've offered a 10-hour trial to subscribers for games like Madden 21, FIFA 21, and others.
Players who give the game their ten hours of fun and are still willing to pay full price so that they can keep playing might also be willing to drop some money on microtransactions for modes like FUT or MUT.
It's likely EA Sports already has data on whether that's happening, as they can likely track if original EA Play Trial users spend money on microtransactions down the line, and Xbox might have that information now that EA Play is connected to Xbox Game Pass.
Exactly how the release and post-Game Pass life of MLB The Show 21 plays out could heavily affect if other titles try this kind of model, but we could be seeing the beginning of a new era for sports games moving forward.