Early yesterday Microsoft announced their new subscription initiative, the Xbox Game Pass, to the horror of Gamestop investors everywhere. It’s an interesting move for the company, and is clearly building off the wildly successful EA Access program offered on PCs and Xbox Ones. Many are quick to call this program the “Netflix of Gaming”, which is fairly accurate considering the ease of use and the rotating library of Xbox One and Xbox 360 games they plan to offer. 100 titles will be available at launch, and despite some games being rotated out of the service each month, Microsoft has plans to grow the overall offering as the service matures. It will launch in “Spring 2017”.
It also appears to be a fairly logical response to Sony’s PlayStation Now service, which offers similar benefits but also some key differences. Sony’s offering could be considered a backwards compatibility service more than a “Netflix of Games” due to the library consisting of PlayStation 3 games instead of current-gen titles, but their selection is also much larger at 450+ titles. The service streams games instead of installing and running them locally, which is perhaps the largest distinction between the two services. Without native PS3 compatibility on the PlayStation 4, this is a pretty good go-between for Sony users, provided they are equipped with the internet service capable of delivering game streaming adequately. Tim discussed his experience with it recently, if you’re interested, and I’ve used it as well and had mixed results. Sony invested a considerable amount of time and money to get the service running, and my biggest concern is that it may not be sustainable. It also may be important to note that around half of the games offered in the program are excluded from their subscription model, and must be individually rented.
Conversely, Xbox Game Pass Titles are all installed to your console as if they were digitally purchased, so any streaming concerns are avoided entirely. Microsoft doesn’t need costly equipment or patents to run the service, so in terms of sustainability, there’s probably little to worry about. The Xbox 360 backwards compatibility development efforts made by Microsoft are obviously being leveraged here for the 360 titles, and will no doubt prompt more developers to get their older 360 games working through it so they can be included in the Game Pass (or, even better, resurrect sales of said old games). Recent (read: not new) Xbox One and Windows 10 titles are also included, including Halo 5: Guardians, the latest main-series entry in the Xbox premier franchise. I’d guess that recent Forza Titles, Gears of War, and other first and third party exclusives will eventually show up too.
Microsoft took the EA Access Vault concept and duplicated it almost entirely, albeit with games from a number of separate publishers. I would not be surprised if the initiative sprang up when reports that other publishers wanted to have their own titles included in EA Access surfaced. As the platform holder, Microsoft may have been the better choice to provide a subscription service consisting of a collaboration between first and third-party developers. Still… I would not be shocked to see the major third parties like Activision and Ubisoft follow EA and start their own separate take on a subscription model instead of joining the Game Pass. That said, the game pass has a bunch of developers on board, like Sega, Capcom, 2K, and Warner Bros., so I’m looking forward to seeing what other games pop up.
Xbox Insiders that are in the alpha ring can try out the service for free right now, and I took advantage of that opportunity last night. If you’re in the proper update ring, you’ll see your Games & Apps menu showcase a new section consisting of your memberships. Game Pass joins Xbox Live Gold, Groove Music Pass, and EA Access in this menu, and provides quick access to the benefits each membership offers with a button-push. Right now there is only a handful of games in the Game Pass program for testers, but it is extremely easy to browse and choose titles you’re eligible to play for free. You can also extend memberships from this area.
I played a few Xbox 360 games that I had not played before, and it worked without a hitch. I can see this being very popular for Xbox users, especially ones that may not have a large library of games yet or who have missed some titles for one reason or another. A lot of the early offerings appear to be titles previously given away through the Games with Gold program, so longtime users may not see the benefit of the service at launch, but for $10.00 US a month, it’s a pretty great way of allowing new Xbox One owners to start gaming on their systems with a large array of options. The launch lineup is very good, considering they aren’t new releases. Between Halo 5, Gears Ultimate Edition, the Megaman Legacy Collection, Mad Max, Payday 2, and number of other current-gen titles, there’s a lot to digest all at once and should provide scores of hours of game play.
Subscription models are poised to be a popular method of gaming, I surmise. It’s already becoming the go-to method for consuming other content, like Movies, Music, and TV. If platforms like PlayStation and Microsoft are offering subscription models, I can see the stacking of said subscriptions becoming a bit of a problem. Having the Xbox Game Pass and EA Access may provide you with some overlap. If other companies like Ubisoft or Activision start their own, however, keeping track of your monthly costs could be a little hectic. My hope is that the parties involved get ahead of this and permit platform holders to bundle subscriptions to keep things as simple as possible… but I doubt that makes practical sense to each company, business-wise. I’d like to see it all bundled under Xbox Live Gold, perhaps as a tiered service offering different selections of these services, instead of handling everything in a haphazard way. I’d be ok paying more for Gold if it included a bunch of these services, perhaps discounted compared to subscribing to each individually.
I’ll keep you updated on how the service progresses. So far, I’m impressed. Choice is always a good thing, and right now Microsoft is giving players plenty of choices on how to game, and they seem to be open to expanding options as time goes on. I’d love to see a similar service come to the Nintendo Switch, even if it was limited to Virtual Console games. What a great idea!