Microsoft added even more value to the Xbox One platform when they announced the Xbox Game Pass – making them the first console manufacturer to offer up a subscription download service. Sony has PlayStation Now, but that relies on streaming to deliver the game content. We enjoyed the idea in theory, but found that the end result wasn’t quite what it could be – with streaming hurting the video quality of many games and definitely hurting the immersion level. This isn’t a knock on PlayStation Now in and of itself though – any streaming service is going to be hurt by video quality issues and buffering unless you have a high-speed network and equipment that can properly make use of it.
Download-centric services like Xbox Game Pass and before it, EA Access are outstanding ways to get around this issue. By making the content downloadable, you have permanent access to it and never have to worry about inconsistent video quality or being unable to enjoy the content due to an internet outage. EA Access benefits greatly from being a download service and I know that if I want to play Need For Speed Rivals on a whim, I can do so whenever I want without having to worry about connectivity issues ending my gaming session – I simply have to wait for the download to finish up and then I’m ready to go. Game Pass lacks EA content, as expected, but is set to offer up over 100 games across the Xbox One and backwards compatible Xbox 360 game lineups for $9.99 a month.
The current list of publishers includes 2K, 505 Games, Bandai Namco, Capcom, Codemasters, Deep Silver, SNK, Sega, THQ Nordic, Worner Bros., and Microsoft. Launch games were announced and include Halo 5, Payday 2, NBA 2K16, and SoulCalibur II HD. It would seem like, much with EA Access, this will be a way for 2K to monetize older sports titles in some way when they’re no longer on retail shelves. SNK’s involvement should ensure a steady stream of high-quality fighters to play, while the Sega library on the 360 is well-worth playing again – especially if licensing deals are ever renewed and enable Outrun 2 Online Arcade and Daytona USA to be playable on the Xbox One.
Other titles shown off briefly in thumbnails include Saints Row IV, Mad Max, LEGO Batman, Mega Man Legacy Collection, Terraria, Gears of War Ultimate Edition, Fable III, and Tekken Tag Tournament 2. Microsoft’s goal is to have 100 games available across many genres at launch so players will have a broad lineup of games to enjoy right away. One important thing to note is that, unlike EA Access usually including DLC along with the games, Xbox Game Pass will not do that and instead allow you to purchase the additional content at a discount. This seems a bit strange in concept, as you’re effectively buying expansion content while renting the core game, but if it’s a financially viable move, it does make sense to do. Online play will still require you to be an Xbox Live Gold member, and Gold users will have early access to the program.
One aspect of the industry that hasn’t really been touched on with these subscription services is the used game market. In particular, the used physical game market where you can have the game permanently but isn’t very prominent outside of Gamefly and Gamestop. Gamefly is easily the more appealing of the two companies when it comes to used games as their products are usually in immaculate condition while Gamestop is a bit less consistent. Going digital-only means you never have to worry about encountering a disc read error and the flat monthly fee eliminates the worry over not being able to resale your digital copy of a game since that just isn’t an issue period with a rental-esque service like this. Gamestop’s stock dropped quite a bit when this service was announced (although it’s slowly rebounding), so it’s clear that the writing is on the wall to at least some degree when it comes to subscription download services overtaking at least some part of the used game market going forward.
This end result is something that Microsoft has seemingly been angling for since the original announcement of the Xbox One’s DRM plan at E3 in 2013. It was going to keep games tied to one user and require online connectivity each day to check-in and require a fee to sell used copies of your games. It was a cluster and undone fairly quickly after E3 – but it still left an impact on those that remember it and while this isn’t a complete return to that idea, it is a way for Microsoft to minimize profits of secondary game sellers whether they be big box stores like Gamestop or individuals just selling old games they don’t play anymore on eBay and the like.
The Microsoft-published library alone has the ability to make this more appealing than EA Access with its diversity from the Forza games to things that were underrated in some sense like Ryse and sleeper hits like Sunset Overdrive. This kind of service is a perfect way to show players just getting into the console games from its past that they missed out on and they aren’t likely to find anymore. If you’re going to take a chance for $10-$15, what’s more appealing? Spending that $15 to try a single game to see if you like it or spend $10 and see if you like alongside several dozen other games? Much like EA Access, it’s far more appealing to spend a small amount of money to answer the same “Will I like this game?” question, and then if you don’t like it, you’re not really out anything. There are tons of other games available to occupy your time.
Between EA Access and Xbox Game Pass, the Xbox One is an incredible value for the money. For about $15 a month between both services, and a bit less overall if you go with the annual $30 EA Access plan, you could have the ability to enjoy an overwhelming majority of the console’s AAA-level games alongside many other great, but lesser-known titles. This is a great option for parents with kids always complaining about not having anything to play too. Instead of spending $60 on a game, they can simply download a few games via the services and have fun that way. No official release date was announced for Xbox Game Pass beyond a spring release – but for $10 a month, it should be an outstanding value for those just getting into the system and especially folks looking for something new to play during the usually-lean summer months.