Arguably, the best deal in gaming right now is Xbox Game Pass. Microsoft’s service offers subscribers unlimited access to a rotating selection of games. Now, some PC owners may turn their nose up at Xbox Game Pass because it carries console branding. Yet, while you can get more for your money if you also own an Xbox, there is still plenty of value for PC players. Looking to the future though, we really think Xbox Game Pass will become essential, and here’s why.
Xbox Game Pass has often been referred to as the Netflix of gaming. This may be something of an over-simplification, but it does offer some appropriate references. For a start, consider that thing you do with Netflix where you spend more time choosing what to watch than actually watching anything. That is also very easy to do with Game Pass. The size of the library is impressive and can take a while to search through everything and decide where to start. Another similarity to Netflix is that the selection is very diverse. Whether you’re after an engrossing JRPG, mega-budget first-person shooter, quirky little indie puzzler, challenging strategy title, or realistic racer, there really is something for everyone.
The rise to relevancy
Like Netflix, Game Pass really rose to popularity with its originals. Well, I say originals, but it’s basically just first-party Xbox games. All of the releases from Xbox Game Studios come to Game Pass on day one. This means heavy hitters like Halo, Gears of War, Forza Motorsport and Forza Horizon are all available for subscribers at launch. What’s more, if you pay the extra for Game Pass Ultimate, you also get access to some expansion packs like the superb Hivebusters DLC for Gears 5 as well as Fortune Island and LEGO Speed Champions for Forza Horizon 4. It’s not just first-party titles that arrive on day one, though. A lot of indie titles arrive at launch as well as some third-party games. For instance, Second Extinction which is still in Early Access/Game Preview, is available to download and play right now.
Of course, Microsoft has not exactly bathed itself in glory recently due to its lack of first-party output. While there have been great titles like the Ori games, Gears 5, and the Forza franchises, there have also been some disappointments. We’re looking at you, Crackdown 3.
One way that Microsoft has tried to rectify this is by purchasing some seriously impressive development studios. Ninja Theory, the developer of Hellblade, DmC, and Enslaved, was acquired and is now working on a sequel to Hellblade. Tim Schafer’s Double Fine studio has also been picked up by Xbox. Obsidian, the studio behind Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II, Fallout: New Vegas, the Pillars of Eternity series, and The Outer Worlds, is now part of Xbox Game Studios. Add to this inXile Entertainment (the Wasteland series), Playground Games (Forza Horizon), Undead Labs (State of Decay), Compulsion Games (We Happy Few), and a new studio chock-full of talent called The Initiative which is working on a reboot of Perfect Dark.
That’s all great, but the real kicker was when Microsoft acquired ZeniMax Media. This means that all of the new games from Bethesda Game Studios, id Software, MachineGames, Arkane Studios, and Tango Gameworks will come to Xbox Game Pass on day one. That’s a serious bevy of talent being added to the service. And it’s already having an effect with titles like the Doom franchise, the Dishonored series, Fallout 4 and 76, Rage 2, Prey, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, The Evil Within, and others available to subscribers. With games like Starfield, The Elder Scrolls VI, Deathloop, Ghostwire: Tokyo, and MachineGames’ Indiana Jones games in the works, the future is certainly looking full of content. And we’re hoping that Bethesda’s recent troubles of rushing out games that weren’t ready (Fallout 76) or were littered with microtransactions (Wolfenstein: Youngblood) will be rectified with the financial power of Microsoft behind it.
The cloud’s the limit
If you opt for the Ultimate version of Xbox Game Pass, it’s not just access to games and DLC that you get. You also get access to cloud gaming. Microsoft has been working on Project xCloud for years, and it’s now at the public beta stage. A Game Pass Ultimate subscription gives you access to a selection of over 100 games that you can stream to your phone, tablet, or laptop. Obviously, there are some restrictions. You need a high-speed LTE or Wi-Fi connection. The service is also currently restricted to Android devices. However, there is a closed beta currently underway for iOS devices and it should eventually be made public.
Many tech companies believe that streaming is the future of gaming. After all, why would companies like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft spend so much money on developing streaming technology? Cloud gaming for Xbox works similarly to Google’s struggling Stadia service. The biggest difference is the cost. You don’t need to pay extra for individual games as you get access to the game library supplied through Game Pass. You also don’t need a specific controller. Any Bluetooth-compatible controller will work. This means that it’s actually possible to play Halo 5: Guardians with a PlayStation controller or the Switch Pro controller. And some games don’t even require a controller, as touch control is supported to a limited extent.
In the last couple of years, when Xbox Game Pass really started making some waves, some other companies tried to get in on the action as well. The first to try its hand was Electronic Arts with EA Play. The service started out quite strong as it was pretty cheap. It struggled a little though as the only games you could play were titles that had already been out for six months to a year. The service has changed a little now with a “Pro” version added that allows PC owners to play games at launch as well. The standard version of the service is now included in Xbox Game Pass. After all, if you can’t beat them, join them.
Ubisoft has also dipped its toes into the water with Ubisoft+. The publisher has included new releases from the get-go. However, it’s difficult to know how successful it has been. It never really gets the publicity that other services get so one would tend to think that it’s not going that well. There have also been lots of talk that the service would follow EA Play’s example and be included in Game Pass.
Sony has its PlayStation Now service. The company has recently been trying to morph the service into something that could challenge Xbox Game Pass. It started out as just a cloud gaming service, but now allows you to download games as well as streaming them. Like Game Pass, Sony has also opened up the service to PC owners, and includes third-party titles. It does have a lot of potential, but Sony remains reticent to include first-party titles on the service at launch.
The heavy hitter who could really shake things up is actually the service that Game Pass gets likened to. Netflix may also be looking to the game market for a while now. Rumors have recently intensified with suggestions that they will deliver an Apple Arcade-style option in the future. Netflix certainly has the subscriber base to challenge Game Pass. But until it actually steps out and announces what it’s going to do it (and how), it still remains conjecture.
Don’t pass on Game Pass
Phil Spencer has done a lot to turn around the fortunes of Xbox. He has bet big on Xbox Game Pass and it seems to be working out. The service has over 23 million subscribers and seems to be going from strength to strength. Expanding the service to include PC as well is a smart move and one that makes it a formidable force. The addition of cloud gaming also means that it makes it even more accessible. If it truly is the future, Xbox will already be there and will have refined its platform to be among the best.
As an Xbox fan, Xbox Game Pass is a no-brainer. However, I firmly believe that if you are just a PC gamer then you should still consider the service. There is so much on offer with the ever-rotating library of games. Cloud gaming allows gamers with weaker systems to enjoy the many delights throughout the library. With the investments they have also made in game studios, that library should continue to develop and feature exclusives that will subscription sellers on their own. The future is bright, and the future will involve Xbox Game Pass.