In February of 2017, we were introduced to the Xbox Game Pass. A service set upon the concept of giving all players instant unlimited access to a vast library of Xbox One and Xbox 360 games all connected to $9.99 a month subscription. Upon its release, Executive Vice President of Gaming Phil Spencer stated that they were aiming to create the “Netflix of Video Games“. At first, Game Pass felt more like something that would cycle through older titles, however, in recent months, Microsoft has added more features to bolster this already ambitious service. Game Pass was a prevalent feature at E3 for Microsoft, and they made the best value in gaming even stronger with new announcements.
Microsoft invested in the future of the platform by adding five studios to their first party lineup, which is huge, not just for new IP and bringing more high-quality exclusives to the platform, but it is also a massive boon for Game Pass. All this goes back to when Sea of Thieves was about to release. Microsoft made the promise that all first-party titles would release on Game Pass the same day as their worldwide release. At the time, this move felt bold and a little crazy. The result has been incredibly successful launches for both Sea of Thieves and State of Decay. The addition of new studios creating even more first-party games launching day and date on Game Pass just makes the subscription primed to become even sweeter.
Including day and date first-party releases is no small feat. Whether you have owned an Xbox One since launch and have an extensive library, or you just bought your console yesterday and have nothing to play yet this adds enormous value to the service. What this basically breaks down to is if you are going to be buying at least two first-party titles each year, then Game Pass pays for itself. Game Pass also allows you and your friends to all try out a seemingly risky new IP, such as Sea of Thieves without worrying someone gets left out, or you burned $60 on something no one will be playing in a week. It isn’t just making games more accessible though; the service also offers a discount for each game’s DLC meaning you can save money on those season passes for any game that you have enjoyed. It gives us more freedom as subscribers.
The impact of this can’t be understated. By bolstering themselves as a first party solution and making that commitment to us, it quite frankly opens the floodgates for the potential of this service. Having a one-stop shop for all the greatest hits of Xbox’s past and future helps current players take advantage and newer players to be more confident to make the jump to pick up an Xbox One. Either way you look at it, it breaks ground on something that we don’t talk about a lot. We all talk about exclusivity. However, we never talk about the inclusivity of a platform. The ability that everyone on your console can have access to most of the major and minor titles on your platform opens up freedom for whoever is looking for that next thing they can sink their teeth into. This is something we have never really attempted anywhere, and it is a really fresh perspective. Game Pass is especially showing itself to be critical with smaller indie titles that have been able to bolster their playerbases from Game Pass subscribers.
Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that Game Pass has seemed to become a franchise collector in itself. If you are excited by the appearance of Gears 5 or Halo Infinite, but maybe you didn’t have the chance to play any of the older games, you can play them all on Game Pass. This opens up these major titles to even broader audiences for those switching over to Xbox for the first time or those that might have had to skip out on some of these the first time around. We’d be remiss to mention that many of Xbox’s major first party titles are multiplayer and have online co-op. This means that you and a few friends can hop in and experience all of these titles in all their glory together for just the price of a game pass subscription instead of a half dozen games.
It also means that whether or not you have a lot of money to invest into your gaming library (maybe you are a kid on summer break), you can jump in and have access to 100+ titles instantly at the tip of your fingers. The value also helps build word of mouth for the service. If I am enjoying games and content that are easily accessible, I can tell my friends about it and to come and join me. It allows us to both take part and have those epic experiences without killing either of our wallets. It’s almost like having access to the same all-inclusive resort and being able to do anything within it without having to worry about additional costs.
The vast variety of games available helps with the discovery issue that most games run into constantly. From first-person shooters to real-time strategy to puzzle games, there is literally something for everyone. Add in the fact that there is a fantastic indie showcase on display here and it literally becomes a complete package. And it is not just indie classics like Limbo and Spelunky, but some studios have taken advantage of the ability to add their games to Game Pass on the day of launch, such as Robocraft Infinity and Warhammer: Vermintide II. This just opens up a bigger audience to take a chance to play the game and gain traction than it may have been had they just slapped it in the store and hoped for the best. Giving indie titles a way to tap into a larger player base immediately at launch helps multiplayer focused titles hit the ground running vs. hoping enough players pick it up for the player base to become self-sustaining. Not only that but these games a chance to showcase alongside the bigger players in the market and carve out their own niches. It is just flat out smart business and opens up more possibilities for not just sequels, but the ability to take risks with their next projects. Whether you are an indie or AAA developer, knowing that when you release your game that you have a substantial player base at launch might open you up to be willing to try and build that new IP or take that big risk that we as gamers are always clamoring for.
The big AAA first-party and third party-titles can act as the pull for you to find all these amazing indie and backward compatible titles you might have missed out on otherwise. The true depth of the Game Pass catalog will keep you coming back for more. It is the same practice that HBO and Netflix have done with series like Game of Thrones and Stranger Things. You can’t get them anywhere else, and when you come for that, you get all the stuff under the hood with it. This practice really adds a punch to the service as more content continues to add to the audience, giving way for the ability to add even more high-quality content including more niche areas. Netflix has new original programming out on a consistent basis. Xbox isn’t there yet, but it’s paving the way for it. Hopefully, Xbox Game Pass will help give developers the freedom to take more risks and moves toward more groundbreaking and profound advancements in gaming versus some of the more old and tired tropes we have been subject to in recent years.
It is also worth mentioning this isn’t the first time that we have a seen a service like this attempted. PlayStation Now used an almost polar opposite approach. Their focus was giving you access to select titles by streaming it directly to the console without downloading. However, this created issues for those with slower internet connections and caused other problems stemming from that. EA Access was probably the first true attempt at doing this right, although, they only had access to their own titles on the console version. They allowed us to download the titles and have unlimited access on a subscription basis, but it wasn’t near the scope of this. By opening up the floodgates of what all access we have, Xbox Game Pass is the first to offer us true open access to a bevy of titles like this. They could have easily charged more for the service or made it Xbox Live Gold exclusive, but they did not. This makes it a truly open experience without discriminating against any area of gamers, which promotes inclusiveness and availability to anyone who owns and Xbox One console.
All this without mentioning that you still have access on your Windows PC for any games that support the Xbox Play Anywhere feature, meaning you can take some of your bigger Game Pass titles with you anywhere. Fast Start, the machine learning feature being implemented, was announced at E3 adding another layer. It is going to prioritize downloading the assets actually needed to begin playing, ultimately allowing us to get to games faster. This all pushes the narrative of the future forward. By saying that we can take more and more of these games anywhere, get into them quicker and have the games downloaded to the console for even offline play. It is Xbox telling us that they want us to be able to play and buy games the way we want. To have access to them on the device we want to play them on. There is not another service out there in the gaming world that equals these principles, which means for all of us subscribed to this service can rest assured knowing that our interests are the ones being taken to heart.
With the Game Pass service, Xbox has easily created a vehicle that they can use to drive into the future of gaming. By taking a smart model and adding and bolstering features to strengthen the user experience, they have made it an essential must have. Through their commitments from the start of the service by adding to the library, adding full first-party support, investing in more first party studios, adding day and date, and even with the recent announcement of the new machine learning feature in Fast Start, it is clear that Xbox sees this as the next big step in gaming.
Earlier I mentioned Phil Spencer’s statement about building the “Netflix of Gaming”, I feel they are on the right path to exceed that goal. By allowing us to have complete freedom in how we buy in addition to how we play, Xbox hasn’t just made a commitment to themselves. They have made an open commitment to us as players. I am more than excited to see what the future of this service brings to the table. More than that, however, I am excited to see what this service does to open up the landscape of gaming as we know it.
If you haven’t taken the plunge on Xbox Game Pass, it’s worth it. This is the best value in gaming.