Microsoft has long boasted about the backward compatibility of its Xbox consoles, which means you can expect to play hundreds of past-gen games on newer systems like the Series X/S. But the game publisher and console maker is quieter about taking older games down from its digital storefronts—and this week’s latest casualty, coming from a popular first party, presents problems for Xbox’s recent sales pitches.
On paper, the basic announcement may look humdrum to savvy modern-gaming fans. Starting September 15, 2021, the sim racing game Forza Motorsport 7 will no longer be available on Xbox’s digital download shops. That date marks roughly four years past the game’s 2017 launch on Xbox One consoles, and “four years” is key. Since the Xbox Live download store has been in operation, other Forza games, both in the Motorsport and Horizon camps, have been delisted at a nearly identical cadence. This suggests that the game’s car licenses factor into the cutoff dates.
Knocked out of the usual lineup
Look closely enough at major licenses in classic video games and you’ll see a similar trend. Arguably the most prominent early example came when Nintendo began reprinting copies of its 1987 sports-action classic Punch-Out!! in 1990 without re-upping its original license deal with Mike Tyson, and it’s not uncommon to see publishers either strip licenses on older games or give up on them altogether. For most of the modern gaming industry’s history, four-year-old games have usually been relegated to bargain bins—especially if they receive regular sequels—so such a licensing term doesn’t seem egregious.
FM7 is a different story, however, for a few reasons.
One reason is that the series’ regular sequel cadence has come to a grinding halt. Series creator Turn 10 Studios usually spends a few years between entries, a fact masked somewhat by the introduction of Forza Horizon, the series’ arcade-minded, open-world jelly to Motorsport‘s sim-focused peanut butter. Microsoft would publish a new Motorsport game, then a new Horizon, and repeat. That schedule also guaranteed that, when an older game was delisted, a newer version was usually there to take its place.
Thanks to that historic release cadence, a new Motorsport seemed right around the corner. Horizon 4 arrived in 2019, and one year later, the Xbox Series X/S debut included “real gameplay” teases of an upcoming Motorsport sequel.
But this year, during the usual June hype cycle, Forza Motorsport didn’t pull up to the starting line. Instead, an ahead-of-schedule Horizon 5 appeared with an October 2021 release date. As a result, when FM7 is delisted on September 15, there won’t be a newer Motorsport game available to purchase via Xbox Live for the first time in that storefront’s existence.
A rare content lapse in a Game Pass era
Arguably the bigger differentiator this time is an entirely new sales proposition for all things Xbox: the Game Pass subscription service. FM7‘s delisting means it will vanish from Game Pass and leave a car-sim-sized hole, proving that Microsoft won’t always have “at least one” sim racer available for people who subscribe to Game Pass for the promise of premier, first-party game access. (To be clear, that very differentiation is one reason Game Pass’s reputation has taken off compared to Sony’s similar PlayStation Now service.) No other first-party Xbox series is similarly subject to license expirations and delistings, which is why the service still offers every title from Microsoft-published series like Gears of War, Halo, and Fable.
If you’re paying attention right now and want to lock down future FM7 access, you can buy the “standard” edition for $10 (which includes every racetrack) or the “ultimate” edition for $20 (which includes most of the game’s add-on cars). Buying either now means you’ll still be able to access the game’s online and offline modes, and the same goes for existing owners of the FM7‘s disc and digital versions.
FM7‘s Game Pass version is the “standard” one, and if you had previously bought any DLC for the game as a Game Pass user, you’ll soon get a notification within Xbox’s interface of a “token” that lets you own FM7 outright once it’s delisted. That token concept suggests that perhaps Microsoft could have given away tokens to anyone who has recently played FM7 via Game Pass. Speaking of retail specifics: FM7 will go down in history as the most microtransaction-laden Motorsport entry to date. The developers rectified those issues after launch, at least, but it’s still a reminder to future Forza buyers that any games-as-a-service approach comes with potential support shutdowns (though, again, FM7 will still continue working in both offline and online modes until further notice).
What’s arguably annoying for existing, savvy Xbox users may prove all the more confusing and unclear for future, brand-new console buyers—not to mention anyone who dips their toes into Xbox Game Streaming and notices that its selection of cloud-streamed games is limited to “active” Game Pass Ultimate games. As game-purchase expectations transition from “buy the disc and own it forever” to “convenient subscriptions,” FM7-sized potholes are likely to become more common and more frustrating.