At the launch of the Xbox One, backlash against the original plan to launch with mandatory license checks was still raging online after Microsoft had reversed course. The idea that games would be so pervasively tied to digital licenses, paid subscription programs and require an online connection (even periodically) was anathema to a vocal part of the gaming community.
A few years later, Xbox has returned to much of its original vision with a combination of Games With Gold (free games every month for Gold members), EA Access (early access, 10% off digital purchases & a digital vault) and aggressively marketing digital pre-orders for upcoming games. The controlled rollout of Xbox Play Anywhere with console + PC availability for selected digital games further commits Microsoft to the games as a service approach to Netflix has popularized with video and Spotify with music.
Their latest foray in the Xbox Game Pass is another complementary service that provides a rotating library of Xbox One and 360 games (all backwards compatible) for a monthly fee, starting with a heavy emphasis on first party games but with the promise of expanding to additional publishers over time. We’re starting to see that already with the arrival of Resident Evil 6 in the last title update, a promising sign that recent AAA games will be an important part of the Game Pass.
Games are added to your system quickly, a setup process that mirrors Games With Gold and continues the focus of local installation in sharp contrast to Sony’s streaming service in PlayStation Now. They play exactly as regularly purchased games do with no restrictions on earning achievements or connecting online. The benefit isn’t limited to trying new or library games; existing installs of games purchased on disc will seamlessly recognize the digital entitlement and load upon request. Games that have faded in online player base over time may also experience a small uptick in available players, adding a shot in the arm to previously dormant multiplayer games.
Xbox Game Pass matters because it offers a large library of games at a small fixed price, offering value as either a standalone service or as a complement to Games With Gold, EA Access and the assortment of free to play titles on Xbox One. For about $25 per month, gamers can access a library of over 100 games with regular additions on a nearly weekly basis. It’s a paradigm shift in how we acquire and experience interactive entertainment, one that I’m excited about as a gamer who appreciates both value and the preservation of communities on lesser known titles.