Xbox Game Pass is branded by Microsoft as the “best deal in gaming”. I personally believe they’ve earned that title. In fact, it’s become almost a parody at this stage how much we, at Thumb Culture, love Xbox Game Pass. Not only does it provide a lot of content at an affordable price, but it also delivers it across multiple platforms. Originally announced, rather unceremoniously via an Xbox blog post, it was immediately apparent that it was going to be a good deal for gamers. The service has grown a lot since those days, and is talked about weekly by media and gamers at large. This is thanks to the regular updates and content provided by Xbox and their partners.
What is it?
Xbox Game Pass is a subscription model; just like Netflix, Disney+ or Amazon Prime. It offers a list of games that you can download or play on various devices. What you might not realise is that you’re able to be part of the Xbox ecosystem without an Xbox Console itself. Some fans will prefer the dedicated machine under their TV. These come in the form of the Xbox Series S|X or the older Xbox One range. Thanks to Microsoft though, you’re now also able to play games on your PC or Phone with the Xbox Game Pass subscription. Just like any other subscription service, you’re also not locked in. Whilst you might find some savings by buying an entire year at a time, you’ll also be able to have a running monthly subscription that can be cancelled at any time. The key focus here is the fact it is an optional and flexible gaming service.
Does it deliver on Microsoft’s promise?
Microsoft of course has their own way of marketing Xbox Game Pass. Do they deliver on these promises? Below are a few of the key advertising points taken from their official website and my thoughts on them:
- Access to over 100 games. Actually Microsoft undersell themselves here, when you look at the official Xbox Game Pass library you’ll be able to, ironically, find 404 titles (at time of writing). These will include add-ons, or other DLC components but in reality they’re comfortably over the 300 full game mark.
- There are different pricing options. Ultimately where you choose to play can determine how much you might spend. I detail these options a little more below.
- Play Microsoft first party titles on day one. This is one of the biggest elements to Xbox Game Pass. All Microsoft made games, from their now 23 game development studios, will land on day one. This means the upcoming Forza Motorsport, Fable, Halo Infinite, Elder Scrolls and all future titles made by Xbox Games Studios will be on the service from day one.
- Due to partnerships, third party studios will also launch games on day one. Looking back at the Xbox Game Showcase in August 2020, they announced that every game shown during the conference will land on Xbox Game Pass at launch too. That is ridiculously impressive value.
- Free perks for being a member. If you load up your Xbox Game Pass app you will find various packs and add-ons you can add to games. These act as a free perk of Xbox Game Pass.
- EA Play is bundled in to the service. Another partnership from Microsoft means that EA Play is part of the subscription; this starts on console from 10th November 2020, but will land later in 2020 for PC. This means that you access to the EA Play vault. That’s nearly another 100 games available on the service, not to mention trials to upcoming games and more.
- Play on the devices you own. That’s right, as I’ve mentioned above you can play Xbox Game Pass titles on an Xbox console, PC and mobile. The latter utilises cloud streaming, meaning you can play whilst out and about or from the comfort of your own home.
Overall yes, I think Microsoft really are delivering on their promises. If anything, they’re underselling the amount of content they offer.
What are the different options?
There are 3 basic options when it comes to Game Pass; a lot of that depends on where you choose to play. If you’re only interested in the console or PC side of the service, you can sign up for as little as £7.99 (as at time of writing). Though if you’re a multiplatform gamer, like myself, you’ll probably find benefit in Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. This gives you Xbox Game Pass on your Xbox console, your PC, and the Xbox Cloud Streaming to your phone. Game Pass Ultimate and Xbox Game Pass for PC also nets you the EA Play Subscription. Finally with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate you’ll also be signed up for Xbox Live Gold. This allows you to play online multiplayer on console and nets you 4 monthly games free for your Xbox console.
There is a final option not detailed on the graphic above. That is Xbox All Access; a service that grants you Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, but also the Xbox console itself courtesy of a monthly instalment. Only available at select retailers, and of course subject to credit checks relevant to your region. On paper these deals are excellent, priced from £20.99 here in the UK they do offer a slight discount on the overall total. Of course they do come with the huge asterisk that they are ultimately a credit plan; these sorts of plans are not to be taken lightly and should be thought of reflective of your own circumstances.
Where can you play?
I’ve mentioned it quite a few times above, but you can take advantage of Xbox Game Pass across multiple devices:
- The Xbox family of console – Xbox has become synonymous with game consoles. The Xbox first launched as a competitor to Sony, and whilst there’s still fierce competition between the 2 gaming giants it is clear Microsoft are changing their path as they move forward. Still, the Xbox console is Microsoft’s primary focus and primary device. The Xbox Series X is touted as the world’s most powerful console. They’re also launching a smaller, digital only model called the Xbox Series S. If you’re an Xbox One owner, or invested in the upcoming Xbox Series range then you’re already able to take advantage of Xbox Game Pass.
- PC – Naturally Microsoft’s roots are with the PC. They famously abandoned PC gamers for quite some time, focusing on the Xbox console. With weak efforts like Games For Windows Live and a general lack of content on the PC it was really just the formality of running Windows that linked your machine to Microsoft. Since Phil Spencer took over he has repaired a lot of these bridges. Whilst it doesn’t have the range of Xbox Game Pass for console, Xbox Game Pass for PC is still a very good service. EA Play will be joining too, just like on console and will also mean you’ll be able to access that EA Vault very soon. All first party titles are designed with PC and Console in mind.
- Mobile devices – Xbox Game Pass is also an option for android users. Whilst still in beta the poorly named Cloud Gaming with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate does exactly what it says on the tin. It allows you to play games right from the cloud on your mobile device. This is a free perk of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate and is still very much in the early stages of life. It works, but it’s not exactly the best experience compared to dedicated hardware. Hooking up a bluetooth device, or a third party peripheral such as the recent Razer Kishi will allow you to play Xbox games as if your phone was a Nintendo Switch.
That’s right, you’ll be able to play games where ever you choose. This means you’re not forced to buy a £450 box to sit under your TV if you’re already the owner of a gaming PC, or you just want to casually dip into games on your phone.
Room for improvement…
Xbox Game Pass has delivered quality and value since its inception, but there are still areas for Microsoft to improve. One of the biggest issues is the discrepancies between platforms. Often announcements are made about games landing on Xbox Game Pass, but those titles aren’t available for PC or are landing at a later date. For example, we know EA Play is bundled in to Xbox Game Pass for console from the 10th November 2020, but won’t land on PC until “late 2020”. Doom Eternal, now deemed an Xbox Game Studios first party title, landed on Xbox Game Pass but not for PC. It is worth noting the Zenimax/Bethesda deal won’t finalise until mid-2021, but it’s still a sign that the 2 options do have discrepancies. It’s likely this stems from the fact the games need to be on Microsoft’s own storefronts, and PC exclusivity deals with Steam or Epic can get in the way.
On top of that it is early days for Cloud Streaming being a viable option in the gaming space. Cloud Gaming with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, formerly known as XCloud (and frankly, what I still call it) works brilliantly on my 5G Samsung S20+, but offers inconsistent quality over wi-fi or if my signal dips into the 4G space. The good thing is XCloud is a free add-on to the service. It does, however, make you wonder about how things will grow and how that will impact price in the future.
Also, just like other streaming services, titles can come and go. They do announce in advance titles leaving the platform, and even offer a discount on the digital purchase of those titles. Sometimes though it feels like a big win to get titles like The Witcher 3, Red Dead Redemption 2 or Grand Theft Auto 5… but equally a huge loss when those titles leave the service. With these larger titles it can make you second guess investing a lot of time in to a game, and then losing it before you make it through to the credits. Maybe that’s just me?
Xbox Game Pass really is the best deal in gaming. PlayStation has PSNow and PC has services like Ubisoft+, but they haven’t hit the same level or price balance of what Microsoft is offering. Xbox Game Pass is not only cheaper than most of the competitors, it offers a lot more for the money; key of which are the day one launches of all first party games, and some third party ones too. In this day and age of seeking out bargains, Xbox Game Pass is a must have for any Xbox or PC gamer. Equally the perks, discounts and mobile streaming side offer a very streamlined service which makes it feel almost premium.
In a day and age of financial troubles and being in lockdown, having a cheap and affordable way to access gaming is important. Video games are an expensive hobby, and for some the promise of next gen is too much to invest in. With a monthly subscription, and access to over 100 games (seriously Microsoft, you are underselling yourself there) you’d be mad not to invest. Where games like Spider-Man: Miles Morales or Halo Infinite may be deemed as “system selling games”, I would say Xbox also has Game Pass as a system selling service. Fortunately a system selling service that gives you options if you’re not wanting the Xbox console itself.