In this generation of console wars, the Xbox One has lagged behind the PS4 in both sales and consumer mindshare. In fact, a January report from games intelligence firm SuperData pegged Microsoft has selling half the number of consoles as Sony. To be frank, Microsoft is getting its arse kicked.
Which is why Microsoft’s new Xbox Game Pass is exactly the sort of thing the console needs. Think of the service as Spotify or Netflix, but for the Xbox One. When it launches later this autumn, the $10.95 a month Xbox Game Pass subscription will give subscribers unlimited access to over 100 Xbox and Xbox 360 games. (At time of writing Australian pricing has not been confirmed.)
Sony has its own subscription service, PlayStation Now, but it differs from Xbox Game Pass in a few ways. First. PlayStation Now is just PS3 games; Xbox Game Pass will include Xbox One and Xbox 360 titles. Second, PlayStation Now only streams titles, whereas you can actually download the full Xbox title with Xbox Game Pass. It’s similar to EA’s EA Access, which offers PC and Xbox One users unlimited access to select EA games for $39.99 a year.
Microsoft hasn’t released a title list, but the graphics on the teaser page show off Halo 5, NBA 2K16, Payday 2, SoulCalibur 2, Fable 3, Mad Max, Saint’s Row 4, LEGO Batman and others. Microsoft says it will add more titles to the service each month. If you want to buy a game after you’ve played it, you can buy it for a 20 per cent discount. Xbox Live Gold members already get access to free games each month, covering Xbox 360 and Xbox One titles. Xbox Game Pass will not require an Xbox Live Gold subscription, though, Xbox Live Gold subscribers will get access to the service before it launches for everyone.
The game selection will likely determine the overall value of Xbox Game Pass, but assuming Microsoft can deliver AAA and first-party titles that aren’t too old, this could be a great way to get more casual gamers into the Xbox. One of the ways Microsoft was able to really capitalise in the later years of the Xbox 360 was the growing number of Xbox Live Arcade titles. XBLA was an inexpensive way for the casual gamers who bought an Xbox 360 primarily as a media player to game too; if done correctly, Xbox Game Pass could have a similar impact.
Moreover, this move to game subscriptions is something we should all prepare for. The same way subscription services for movies, TV and music have replaced buying digital or physical media for a generation of consumers, game subscriptions could eventually become the de facto way gamers get games.
Now, there are pros and cons to that reality. On the plus side, it would make it cheaper for gamers to try out different types of titles and try a wider variety of games. On the negative side, a move to subscription gaming could make it harder for game developers — especially those in smaller studios — to actually make money. We saw that with the shift to subscriptions for TV, music and movies too — consumers got access to way more content (good!) but it became harder for creators to make a living (bad!).
Still, as someone who got an Xbox One S primarily as a 4K Blu-ray player, I’m looking forward to playing more games for it (on the cheap!) later this autumn.