Let’s say you are the proud owner of an Xbox One. You love your console, you love gaming, and you’d love to get your hands on over 100 titles (we don’t know how you have that much time on your hands, but let’s say this is a wonderful fantasy world and you just do). How would you go about getting that many games?
Option one: you grab a grocery cart, head down to your local games store, fill that mother up, and check yourself out to the tune of many hundreds, possibly thousands of dollars depending on what titles you pick. Not a great solution.
Or, you could go with option two, and get an Xbox Games Pass to get access to 164 games without even leaving your couch. The correct answer is pretty clear.
Xbox Games Pass works a lot like Netflix; it’s a subscription service where you pay a monthly fee to get access to over a hundred games. Yet, unlike Netflix (and certain competitors) you’re not streaming the game to your Xbox - you download the full game on your hard drive so there are no worries about connectivity or loss of performance just because you’re downloading something else in the background. It’s as good as buying the game in store.
Launched in June of last year, Xbox Game Pass began life with just over 100 titles to choose from but continued to add games to its catalog every month. Now, it has 164 titles from some of the biggest games publishers like Namco, Capcom, Warner Brothers, 2K Games, Sega, and of course, Microsoft Studios.
For the price of $9.99 per month in the US ($11.99 in Canada, and other weird prices in the other 40 countries where Games Pass is available) you get unlimited access either online or off. You do still need an Xbox Live Gold subscription to play the multiplayer aspects of any game you download, and sometimes those games rotate out of the catalog requiring you to purchase them to keep playing, but 10 bucks a month for over 100 games is a great deal any way you slice it.
And now, things are set to get even better for Games Pass. Previously, you mostly got access to Xbox 360 titles or older Xbox One games, so it would appeal to gamers that missed titles at first release. Microsoft just announced that starting with Sea of Thieves they’ll be releasing every new Xbox exclusive game on Games Pass at the same time they release in stores.
Sea of Thieves releases on March 20, 2018, and after that comes State of Decay 2 and Crackdown 3 sometime later this year.
Microsoft is also coming out with a subscription card that you can buy in-store, so if you just prefer to make all your games purchases in a brick and mortar store rather than from your couch, you can still grab a six-month subscription while you’re there.
The similarities between Xbox Games Pass and Netflix are obvious, and that’s the genius of it. Microsoft tried to make the Xbox One a subscription-only console back when they first announced it back in 2013 and people balked. Not own the games you buy? Preposterous! Outrageous! And perhaps most importantly it would put stores like GameStop out of business.
So chastened, Microsoft went back to a more traditional model of games distribution and everyone was happy. But the model of “games as a service” was still very much in the back of their minds. The only question was how to convince a gaming public to embrace it the same way they embraced Netflix.
Thus, Microsoft just copied the Netflix model. Start by offering a selection of good but older titles at a great price so people adopt the service. That’s what Netflix did with TV shows like Breaking Bad and Star Trek—classic titles that people can watch for the first time or watch it again if they feel like it.
Next, after you’ve got a large enough audience, start offering original content. Instead of Stranger Things, Microsoft puts out Sea of Thieves. This is a great thing for blockbuster titles since a gamer is far more inclined to pick up a cheap game, and at $10 a month there’s basically no reason not to try a brand new exclusive title. With the entire Games Pass audience as potential players, it almost guarantees that Sea of Thieves will have sufficient players at launch to make it a fun multiplayer game.
But here’s where things differ between Netflix and Microsoft. With Netflix, all their original content isn’t sold anywhere else—you either have Netflix or you don’t. With Microsoft, Sea of Thieves will still go on sale in brick and mortar stores for the full price of a new game. The better deal is to simply subscribe to Games Pass for a few months, get as much as you can out of the game, and then let the subscription lapse. This nets you Sea of Thieves at a discount rather than paying full price.
Essentially, Microsoft is gambling that enough people will like the service that they won’t cancel their subscriptions. It may be a gamble, but it’s one that Netflix took and they’ve gone from mailing DVDs to being one of the biggest media companies on the planet.
That’s about as close to a sure thing as you can get.
There’s only one way this whole thing blows up in Microsoft’s face. Right now, titles rotate in and out of Games Pass, so if your game is pulled you have to buy it. Microsoft could pull a bait and switch, putting Sea of Thieves in the catalog just long enough to get player’s hooked before pulling it and forcing them to buy it. But it seems doubtful considering Netflix didn’t build their brand by taking Stranger Things off their service to start selling box sets at Walmart.
But it’s 2018— you never know what’s going to happen.