It’s been about five years since Microsoft launched their Game Pass service for Xbox. The goal was seemingly to become a Netflix-like service for gaming, and thanks to Microsoft’s dedication to it, that’s more or less what Game Pass has become. What began as a selection of Xbox 360 titles and a handful of relatively new releases (like Gears of War 4) has ballooned into a gargantuan library filled with games ranging from ten years old to the hottest new releases, and it’s still only fifteen dollars a month.
The service has grown so much that one can even feel like they’re losing money if they don’t sign up. It’s a fantastic deal and seems to be the way of the future, but should it be? If subscription services like Game Pass become the main way people get their games, what happens to ownership? For that matter, what happens to preservation?
With the launch of the now current generation of consoles, the base price for a AAA title has risen from sixty to seventy dollars. Both price points are expensive, but that extra ten dollars is enough to make many people that much more careful about their next purchase. That price also doesn’t buy as much as it used to; so many modern games launch in such terrible, threadbare states that one cannot help but worry that they won’t get an experience that justifies the high price of entry.
Cyberpunk 2077, Battlefield 2042, Fallout 76 and even launch state No Man’s Sky are all prominent examples of big budget, massively-hyped games that were not worth the asking price. Indeed, buying a AAA game is a risk these days, making a relatively cheap service like Xbox Game Pass all the more appealing.
For fifteen dollars a month, subscribers can play many of their old favorites and see if the latest releases are actually worth going all in on. It’s a fantastic value for the money, with the only downside being that one might spend more on Game Pass in a given year (about $180) then they would have just buying their games outright. For those who are heavily into gaming, though, this likely won’t happen. Besides, there’s also the large selection of indie titles included in the service too. There’s so much to try and enjoy that there’s little to complain about in regard to the service itself. It’s so good even that one wonders why the likes of Sony and Nintendo haven’t yet tried to offer a similar service of the same scale.
Yet, perhaps it’s good that not every platform holder has fully embraced the subscription model. As valuable and convenient as Xbox Game Pass is, the widespread adoption of its model does have the potential to worsen certain issues within the gaming industry: namely ownership, preservation and monetization. The first one is, for now, not yet an issue. Users can download and enjoy their games without the need for internet verification.
If things continue to move in the direction of streaming, though, then it’ll become an issue. How can one hope to keep a game long-term if playing it requires a live server? The same goes for long-term preservation: how can games be preserved if the game files cannot be easily obtained? This has already existed as an issue for some time, with examples going as far back as WiiWare on the Wii. If the subscription model is to be the future, then some form of download capability must be maintained.
As for monetization, if games are primarily accessed through Game Pass-like subscription services, then the primary means of generating revenue will most likely have to shift to in-game purchases. In the case of Game Pass, Microsoft already pays makers some sort of initial fee plus some extra depending on downloads, but that might not necessarily be enough to recoup the cost of larger titles. As we’re already seeing with the likes of Halo Infinite, in-game shops will likely be the primary money makers.
Such a change risks prompting an even greater shift from single-player experiences to those focused on online competitive or cooperative play. Those sorts of games are already the most profitable projects (if they happen to catch on), so doing away with the upfront sixty or seventy dollars will likely only encourage further investment. It might even prompt more in-game purchases in single-player games too. This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if it were to be properly restrained, but then when has AAA gaming ever been known to show restraint?
As it is now, the Xbox Game Pass is a great value for its users. For a relatively low flat fee, they can enjoy all manner of games whenever they please, and they can even avoid the risk of getting burned by many of today’s half-baked releases. In the present, there’s no downside for the player so long as they have a decent internet connection.
There are risks inherent to it becoming the primary model in the future, though. Game ownership and preservation can potentially become shakier as streaming technology advances, and the games risk becoming further compromised by in-game stores if the traditional upfront fee goes away. So perhaps it’s best that the Game Pass model hasn’t been widely adopted yet. Perhaps it should remain exactly what it is now: a great value option and nothing more.