ByAna Valens, writer at
Writer and games critic. As seen at the Daily Dot, Waypoint, Kill Screen, Bitch Media, and ZEAL.
Ana Valens

Earlier this week, Head of Xbox Phil Spencer published a post announcing the Xbox Game Pass program. If you're unfamiliar with the concept, don't worry. We'll break it down.

The Xbox Game Pass is a subscription service that gives Xbox owners the opportunity to play over 100 Xbox One and Xbox 360 games at any time they want. The service costs only $9.99 per month for unlimited access, and you can play any game in the collection once you subscribe. Currently, Microsoft plans to include Halo 5: Guardians, SoulCalibur II, Payday 2, Saints Row IV, and Mad Max.

Our favorite part? Xbox Game Pass isn't a streaming service. Unlike PlayStation Now, games are downloaded directly to the Xbox One after subscribing. Some games will cycle into the system, others will cycle out, but Xbox One games in the catalog can also be purchased at a discount. And once a game is bought under the discount, it's bought for good.

Why Xbox Game Pass is Revolutionary

On the surface, subscribing to a game catalog system may seem odd. But Microsoft isn't the first publisher to offer the service. They actually are picking up an idea that EA started several years ago.

Back in 2014, EA created "EA Access" for Xbox One, allowing EA fans to download a collection of EA titles straight onto their consoles for a monthly or yearly fee. A similar service was later brought over to PC, and was called "Origin Access."

EA Access and Origin Access demonstrated something key early on: gamers traditionally have an enormous wishlist of games they want to play (or replay) at any time. Instead of paying for each game separately, subscription services give players the opportunity to subscribe to a collection of games that they can play or try any time they like. That's a big deal for a series like Mass Effect or Dragon Age, which are episodic releases that are best played one after the other.

But EA's Access systems are relegated to their games as a publisher. If you aren't an EA fan, what's the point? Plus, EA games come from a wide range of genres, so it can be hard to justify an Access subscription just for the Mass Effect and Dragon Age franchises. Instead, you can often buy both series at a discounted price around the holidays.

But the Xbox Game Pass includes a wide range of titles from a variety of publishers and developers. And it includes an enormous amount of games, too. Which means it's much easier to justify a subscription when games from various franchises are being cycled in regularly.

That's exactly how Netflix became so popular. A monthly subscription to a backlog of TV shows and movies from various studios was a major selling point for consumers. It led the service to become a staple blockbuster streaming center in practically every household. If Netflix was simply dedicated to a single studio, it might not have been so popular. But Netflix guaranteed viewers could switch between shows published on NBC, FOX, and CBS without having to leave the app for a second.

Xbox Game Pass comes from a similar point of view. Giving Xbox players the opportunity to download over 100 games from various studios means players across the world can access a whole catalog of games at any time because they simply feel like playing.

Microsoft also understands that gaming services cannot simply copy and paste the Netflix formula to gaming. Streaming a video game presents a wide range of problems: what if a player has a poor Internet connection, or what if they want a local copy of the game to play? Giving players the opportunity to download games and play separate of an Internet connection gives more power to the subscriber to play as they see fit: which seems to be a running theme in successful subscription services.

Looking Forward

Sony has been hesitant to adopt a subscription gaming service for quite some time now. With Microsoft taking on their own official system, Sony might begin to rethink their perspective. Especially if the Xbox Game Pass performs well.

But as the Xbox Game Pass rolls out, it's sure to challenge the way players think about game ownership. Hopefully this is for the best: in the end, competition often leads to the best results for consumers.

Are you interested in the upcoming Xbox Game Pass? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


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