Full Interview: Xbox Asia Business Director Jeremy Hinton on PC Game Pass’ anniversary in SEA

We got to chat with Xbox Asia Business Director Jeremy Hinton on the anniversary of PC Game Pass in SEA and future plans in the region.

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To celebrate the anniversary of PC Game Pass in the Philippines, we got to chat with Jeremy Hinton, Asia Business Director of Xbox, on the service’s milestones, as well as Xbox’s plans for the future in the region.

In April 2022, Xbox launched PC Game Pass in five Southeast Asian countries, including the Philippines. Since then, the service has reached a range of milestones, including 12 million achievements gotten by players in the region in the last 12 months. To go along with this, Xbox also confirmed that it will soon launch the Xbox Wireless controller officially in the region.

During our talk with Hinton, we got to talk about the challenges that Xbox faced in launching the service in the region, as well as the kinds of games that have proven popular among Filipino players. Hinton also shared a hint of what to expect for the future of Xbox in Southeast Asia.

The following is the complete transcript of our interview with Jeremy Hinton, edited for clarity:

Looking back to a year ago, why did you decide to launch PC Game Pass in the region at the time?

JH: We have seen the number of players in the region for some time now, and we’ve heard the community. We’ve seen that there are Xbox fans and PC gaming fans, and there is a passionate community in the Philippines who want better access to our products and services. So, we had absolutely heard that feedback and I think it’s a change of perspective for us as well. We have gone from a console at the center of our business, and we’ve shifted more to thinking about the player at the center.

With that, you do start to look and see that there is a very different consumer that is going to be interested in PC Game Pass and PC gaming, and they’re going to be in different places than perhaps where we’ve traditionally sold our consoles.

And so, we have said there is a vibrant community of PC gaming players in Southeast Asia and the Philippines, and we recognize that it’s a huge miss for them to not have access to a service like PC Game Pass, so it was great that we were able to get the support of our global counterparts who also saw that same opportunity in the region. Then we were able to develop and deliver the service to five new markets. It’s the first time we’ve expanded our service [at this scale in the region]. Expanding into China many years ago is the only other time that I think we’ve done [something like this].

The work that that we have done in Southeast Asia in the last year, you may have also seen recently we’ve expanded PC Game pass further just in recent months to more markets in Europe and LATAM. So, it paved the way for us to continue to find new players, thanks to the reception that we’ve had in Southeast Asia.

Given PC Game Pass’s expansion when it comes to availability, what were the challenges that you faced in bringing Game Pass to the SEA region?

JH: Doing anything new for the first time presents new things that you may not have thought of prior to the project. I think the main challenge that we really wanted to make sure that we were focused on is putting the needs of Southeast Asian players front and center of our offering. So, anything that we did in terms of bringing what is a global product into the region, we had a perspective of whether these are the right games that are going to appeal to players in Southeast Asia. How do we think about the languages that are supported? What do we think about the payment instruments that are available? How do we think about the right local pricing?

Certainly, the team has really curated the PHP 119 subscription price. That’s one of the cheapest prices in the world for PC Game Pass because we’ve looked at the market and what is the market expectation for entertainment service pricing. And we’ve tried to match that expectation to best enable people to join in the individual markets.

So, I think we’re always trying to put ourselves in the shoes [of gamers in the region] and figure out, OK, is this a good proposition? Is this going to meet the needs of the community and then solve those issues as we go? We won’t always get it right on day one. But what I’d say is, it’s important for us to get to day one and then it’s important for us to listen to what the community is saying and what they’d like to see more of regarding pain points that they might be having. And then for us to continue to move those forward and help solve them so that more people can enjoy the product through the region.

I think the pricing is a great fit for the Philippines as, with this kind of pricing, Game Pass is competing with movie and TV streaming services which are priced low here compared to say the US, so it’s sort of become an alternative to those services.

JH: I agree. And people have a choice on where they spend their time. And we want to be in that consideration of you know, am I signing up to this video streaming service or do I want to spend my time playing hundreds of games on Game Pass? We know that’s a choice people make.

Aside from pricing, what did you notice about the gaming habits/trends in SEA based on the year that PC Game Pass has been available?

JH: To most people in the global marketplace, they think of Southeast Asia as an aggregate. And we know that, country by country, markets are very different. Player preferences are very different. What they like to play, and how they like to engage, it’s just very different.

I would say in general that the benefits that we’ve added with the Riot titles are pretty universally enjoyed across the region. League of Legends and Valorant in particular, those were titles that we saw [get a lot of interest]. We saw the opportunity of how can we add benefits for you being a Game Pass subscriber if you’re also a fan of those games. So, this is an example where we’ve tried to match the type of content that people playing in the region to the benefits of Game Pass that we didn’t have prior to launch.

As for the Philippines in particular, we uniquely see a lot of interest in Minecraft. There are definitely multiple Minecraft spheres, and they are all very popular in the Philippines. So it’s great that it’s sort of a never-ending product for us it’s such a great experience for players. It’s accessible to people of all ages. It’s a great thing to play together with friends and family, etcetera. And that team is constantly delivering new ways to experience the game thanks to the marketplace feature, or indeed the official updates that they have coming through as well. So, we definitely see a lot of popularity around there.

Social multiplayer games also have a lot of interest in games like Grounded and Sea of the Thieves and even you know, back when it first launched, games like Back for Blood were very popular also.

And then some of the recent releases like Minecraft Legends, you’ve got a lot of people already playing Minecraft, then a lot of people just say, hey, I’ve already got my subscription, I’m going to go and play Minecraft Legends Day One in Game Pass rather than having to buy that as a full title.

Based on your experience in launching PC Game Pass in the country, why do you think it’s taking longer for other gaming companies to expand their service offerings in the Philippines?

JH: There are just a lot of interdependencies in bringing new products or services to new places.

There are considerations such as content partners as with Game Pass, it’s not all Microsoft content. So, you need to agree with all of the publishers that are also on the service to expand with you to make their products available in that part of the world. Thankfully, we had very enthusiastic responses from the publishers that we partner with as we expanded into Southeast Asia.

There are also often challenges around payment instruments. At times, you may not have either local processing or appropriate local payment instruments to enable people to pay you. This is certainly a challenge.

And then, there may be legal or regulatory challenges that people need to work through in order to legally offer the products or ensure that they’re meeting the right local regulations with regard to content or services when operating in that part of the world.

[There was a lot of work] that we had to do to bring the product to Southeast Asia. But at the same time, we were convinced that that work was absolutely worth the opportunity. We saw and heard from the local community that they wanted these products and services. And we wanted to make the product readily available and easier to transact with [for players in the region].

Given the potential payment channels and regulatory process challenges in the Philippines, was the Game Pass launch in the country spearheaded by a local team, or was it more of a global effort?

JH: I would say that, like anything that happens at Microsoft, it’s always a global virtual team getting the work done. We certainly had folks in our head office in the US doing a lot of the engineering work. And we had our teams located through Asia that all the work broadly on our business in Asia. And although they may live in different countries, they’re also working in other parts of the region at any point in time. We certainly also have a local team in the Philippines as well who help support this.

But I’d say the really helpful part of this process that we found most beneficial is that we opened the service up for testing, community testing, and so from memory, it was a very low cost to come in to help us test at the start. It was basically to help test that the payment instrument was actually processing payments and was working.

We had thousands of people who came in to help us test the service, and so the telemetry that was provided helped identify a wide range of issues and challenges that was helpful when launched the service. The Community was also vocal in terms of feedback on social channels and through our official Insider testing forums as well.

So, we were able to see not only what showed up in telemetry, but the verbatims from individuals to say, hey, I’m having a hard time doing this or you’re not offering me this or I’d like to see more of that.

The local community that came out and helped us test really kind of shows up in the quality of the product that we ended up launching with.

Are there any other hardware-related plans in the pipeline in the future for the region?

JH: We have nothing to announce today beyond the controllers. But with the steps that we’re making with PC Game Pass and now with wireless controllers, we hope that these are the first two of more steps to come to offer a more complete product offering to players in the Philippines. Hopefully, folks can see that with the steps that we’ve taken over the last year that we’re listening to the community and we hear what they would like to see more from us.

Right now, portable gaming PCs like Ayaneo, OneXPlayer, and ROG Ally are popular. Does Xbox have any plans for this on the software side?

JH: I’m a huge fan of that form factor. In particular, I’ve been seeing all the previews coming in of the ROG Ally, and it just looks phenomenal. The previews I was browsing almost convinced me to get one [when it becomes available].

For this new kind of device with high-end processing in that mobile form factor, I think you will continue to see Microsoft lean in and support OEM partners in that space, both in the hardware and engineering support that they may need, along with the content and software side.

With these devices that run Windows today, they have access to all of the Windows-related storefronts like PC Game Pass, Steam, the Epic Games Store etcetera, you all have kind of native access to those storefronts.

I think we will continue to improve and iterate on Windows for that form factor or for the handheld gaming side of things over time to make sure that matches players’ expectations when they’re on the go. I think it’s the start of an exciting new format of device that we’re definitely excited to continue to support, and we’ll certainly be working with OEMs that are bringing these devices out. As you can see, we’ve got three months of Game Pass [with the ROG Ally] and we’re working with them on marketing through the region. It’s definitely something we’re very excited about.

Given how open PC gaming is when it comes to hardware, especially compared to consoles, how do you see PC Game Pass as part of the PC gaming ecosystem?

JH: We think of Game Pass as additive to the ecosystem. Unlike a service like Netflix where you know the only way you can consume that Netflix content is in the service, that’s not what we’re doing with Game Pass. We believe this is an option that you can choose to consume a set of content, but at the same time, if you want to buy those same games stand-alone, there’s the Windows Store and Steam and all these other storefronts where if you just prefer to buy them, you can buy them. We’re not taking away any kind of choice to purchase.

We’re adding a choice to consume a set of content by subscription if that’s the best way that works for you. And we do find, you know that option, in my personal experience, works great for families, works great for cost-conscious consumers who may like to browse multiple titles and multiple genres. This is absolutely the best way to do it. You can try a whole bunch of things and you’ve still only paid that 119 Peso monthly cost.

But there are other consumers who are really deep into maybe one or two experiences, and that’s where they spend all of their time. And maybe they’re deep on microtransactions in that game when building out a world or building out a character etcetera. And so, they will game in the way that best works for them.

But we do see a period where there may be more and more cost-of-living pressures and inflationary pressures on families around the world. We do think that a game subscription at a low monthly cost, hundreds of titles, day one Microsoft titles, and the range of EA titles and EA Play service in there, along with the membership benefits with discounts and additional benefits that you get; we do think that’s a great way to consume for a whole range of players on PC moving forward, and we expect that will continue to grow over time. After all, we’re still very early on our Game Pass journey. We’re obviously very early only a year in the Philippines.

And as people start to invite their friends in and start to play more and start to understand the value of what Game Pass offers, we’re very confident that that number will continue to grow as an alternative or as another way to experience games.

PC Game Pass has hit some key milestones over the past year. Given these, what do you think is the future of Xbox in the region?

JH: As we think about the future of the service in the Philippines and I guess broadly through Asia as well, you know our focus is on how do we make it more impactful for local players. And that will mean a few things. One, how do we make sure that games that players in the Philippines are going to love, games that they play, and the genres that they’re interested in; how do we make sure that’s the type of content we’re bringing to the service? So, it’s fundamentally about great games that people want to play, and we know you know, as I mentioned earlier, preferences vary wildly, country to country. We want to make sure that we’ve got something in there for everyone that will not only keep bringing new people in, but we’ll keep you playing that next favorite thing that you want to play.

We also think about how to be more local and how we can reduce barriers to entry for people to just experience the service. So, things like the friend referral means that ok, that’s a low-cost way for me to bring a friend in who can try the service. But we’re also working hard on things like payment instruments. How do we make the product more broadly available in the Philippines through online e-commerce providers or through retail storefronts?

Credit cards are the primary way that you can purchase Game Pass from us directly. And we know that not everyone has a credit card. So, just making it easier for our local players to actually sign up and enjoy the service. It’s kind of where we’re really focused on next.

On a more personal note, what does it feel like for you now that it’s been a year since PC Game Pass’ release in SEA?

JH: Yeah, look, it’s super satisfying for me personally. Mostly because I’ve lived and worked in the region and in this business for some time now, and every day, I see how we could be doing more to reach more players in this part of the world.

When you’re in a large organization, you don’t always kind of get everything up. That is an opportunity in this part of the world. And you don’t always get that approval or ability to bring that to market. So, when we do have the ability to unlock five really large markets with very passionate gaming communities, to unlock new products and services, to bring it to them, and then see a great positive response. And people are signing up and having a great experience and the engagement is excellent.  It’s great that we can finally respond to the requests that we’ve had from the region for so many years with some positive news.

It’s really satisfying to see large projects like this get up and especially to see the response that we’ve had in markets like the Philippines.

PC Game Pass is available in the Philippines now for PHP 119 a month. If you’re interested in giving it a try, here’s a quick guide on how to subscribe:

Xbox Game Pass for PC in the Philippines: Price and How to Sign Up