Xbox Game Pass: Can you love something you don’t own?
Xbox Game Pass – Can you?
In May 2013, Microsoft introduced the world to the Xbox One. What happened next is internet legend; Microsoft’s gaming division was plunged into crisis and Sony, ever the opportunist, were quick to capitalise.
Confusing messages about DRM, game sharing and a misguided emphasis on TV Input had consumer’s scratching their heads. Once they stopped scratching, they pre-ordered PS4s. Consumers scrambled to own Sony’s latest behemoth, attracted by the lower price point, a non-compulsory camera and a swathe of intriguing titles. Meanwhile Xbox Ones, Kinect and all, gathered dust on the shelf.
I was one of the few who liked the original vision. The notion of buying disks (always more competitively priced than digital) but not having to swap disks every time I changed games appealed to me. Admittedly, some of this was down to inherent laziness, but as anyone with a digital library will tell you, there’s a real attraction in changing games at the touch of a button. I was very much in the minority though, and Reddit, Twitter et al went into meltdown. Xbox One’s launch was a disaster, the goodwill from the much loved 360 era was gone, and any potential for Microsoft’s vision for gaming was lost.
Or was it? Fully five years later, with Phil Spencer’s team having worked tirelessly to rebuild community ties, it feels like once again we’re on the cusp of Microsoft doing something which will reinvent the industry.
When Game Pass launched to select Xbox Insiders in April 2017, the comparisons with Netflix & Spotify were almost instant. EA had already done some of the groundwork in preparing gamers for a digital rental scenario with EA Access, but Game Pass took that model to the next level. Barely a year old, the service now hosts almost 200 titles at any one time, with some cycling out and new titles being added each month. Ownership of games will always be the preference of some, but after initial hesitation, the Xbox Community have adopted Game Pass as an integral part of the ecosystem, and Microsoft have responded in kind.
The introduction of first-party titles at launch was, pardon the pun, a game changer. Want to try Sea of Thieves but unsure about dropping 50 bucks? Get a month of Game Pass. Likewise State of Decay, Forza 4 and (if we ever see it) Crackdown 3. For titles which depend on having an active community, this has been invaluable. Sea of Thieves has attracted buyers and regular gamers who may never have tried it otherwise, or worse, tried it months after launch and become quickly disillusioned with empty servers.
Doomsayers predicted huge losses, anticipating lost revenue as people dipped in and out of the service as an alternative to making purchases. According to figures released by Microsoft at E3, the opposite is true. They’ve reported an increase of 40% in time spent playing games by subscribers (including games not available on Game Pass) and a big bump in purchases of franchise titles where one or more of the franchise has a presence on the service.
This has translated into hard cash; the type of hard cash that’s being used to purchase and create first party studios. Those studios will, in the near future, start pumping out titles which will debut on Game Pass and potentially increase the user base even more.
In an environment where other providers such as Spotify and Netflix have gradually made us more at ease with the concept of subscription based ownership, Microsoft have hit the right note at the right time. In contrast to the botched Xbox One launch, they have got the messaging, the price point and the catalogue right. The groundwork is solid and this is key – even Sony can’t compete without the infrastructure, as anyone who has tried PlayStation Now will testify. Rumours from Gamescom of an all access model with Gold, Game Pass and a console would be the logical next step; it’s also pretty certain these rumours were deliberately leaked to allow Microsoft to test the water. Reaction on social media seems positive, chances are most people read about the news using a phone they’ve bought using a similar model (handset + calls + data) which they won’t technically ‘own’ until their contract is up. It stands to reason then that recent models of ownership have been moving us incrementally towards acceptance, even enthusiasm, for these services.
There is every possibility this will become the new normal, and I for one, am all in. I’ll still continue to buy a select band of titles, but for those games I’m on the fence about? Once I would have waited for a sale, now I’ll wait for their introduction to Games with Gold, EA Access or Game Pass. In the meantime, I’ll discover games I would never have tried, revisit old favourites and salivate at the prospect of getting Forza 4 on launch day without having to find an additional £50 during a pretty crowded and expensive release window. And the idea of buying my next Xbox using the same premise I use to upgrade my phone? Very appealing indeed.
If you haven’t tried it, 14 day trials are available for free, and Microsoft often pitch special offers for new subscribers. At £6.99 a month, or £47.99 for six months, it’s already great value, but it can be had cheaper during deals (Black Friday & Prime Day for example). Forza Horizon 4 will launch straight to Game Pass on October 2nd, joining the likes of Halo 5, Doom, Tomb Raider and the revamped Master Chief Collection. There’s never been a better time to jump in, and Game Pass is only going to get bigger and better.
Are you a subscriber? Are you thinking about it? Do you love your disks too much to be a digital subscriber? Let us know what you think using our social media channels.