When Xbox Game Pass was announced in early 2017, the concept was easy to understand. With the likes of Netflix having been around for several years as a digital platter of watchable media, everyone knew how Game Pass would work. For a monthly fee, a varied veritable buffet of Xbox One and Xbox 360 (and apparently a few Original Xbox games too) would be open for you to download and play, as long as you keep your monthly fee going. The problem at the time of the announcement and of its initial launch in June of 2017 was there was little to moderate assurance or trust that the program would get the games it needed to get to prove itself to the greater game-playing public. Though it feels as if certain walls are breaking down and more people are more open to trying different and more games, the number of people that own a modern console and only buy a few games each year is still a high number. Even the people that play a ton of different games, big and small, could look at Xbox Game Pass as interesting but not catering to their needs. These folks are usually playing big new releases on release day and able to tell you what independent games have made an impression on the market before or shortly after release.
These were always the two different ends of the gaming spectrum I wasn’t sure Game Pass would be able to entice. The people only buying a few games probably already know what those games are, whether it be the new Call of Duty, Madden or NBA 2K game and every so often the big new release from Rockstar or Naughty Dog, a Game Pass/Netflix like service would never carry the few games they wanted to spend their time playing. The people ingrained in the industry, playing new releases as soon as they release and following smaller indie titles didn’t seem like they would be served by a Game Pass system either because they didn’t want to wait until it hits the service to experience the project they were interested in. Not to mention not knowing how the compensation works for developers having games in the Game Pass service (something that is still unknown to this day) could also be a sticking point for some of these people too as people ingrained in this industry often do want developers to be awarded for their good work.
Xbox rammed through one of these hurdles early this year by revealing all Microsoft first-party games from that point (January 2018) forward would be included day-in-date with Game Pass. So Forza games, new Halo and Gears of War titles, etc. would be there to download on release day for people subscribed to Game Pass. Insert Xbox has no first-party games to speak of during the Xbox One era joke here… Yes the Xbox first-party offerings have been few and far between, and the few have been a mixed bag during the tumultuous tenure of the Xbox One, but this could be construed as something that elevates the value of Game Pass even more. Instead of spending full price or any price on a game that you weren’t interested in or was receiving mixed reviews, Game Pass allowed people to just download the game and give it a go for themselves. Much like rummaging around Netflix and clicking on a movie or show you wouldn’t have sought out or gone to the trouble of buying or renting, it doesn’t cost anything extra to explore the vast library provided to you.
Passing this hurdle made a big splash early in the year for Team Xbox, and it built up even more the ever-growing case to subscribe to Game Pass. But, it wasn’t quite totally and unabashedly there yet, at least for me. It was a big move allowing people to pay for one month of Game Pass to essentially rent the new big Microsoft first-party game and give the player a decision on if it was worth keeping for several months. In my mind, they needed to do something I didn’t think they would or could do. They needed to find the middle ground of games, the indie darlings or triple ‘i’ games that were gaining traction within the industry and give them the first-party treatment for Game Pass. They needed the Journey’s or Dead Cell’s or Celeste’s or Gone Home’s of the world to be included with Game Pass day-in-date to fill out the gaps that first-party can’t always fill. So instead of every few months being reminded that, hey, Sea of Thieves is included with Game Pass or Forza Horizon 4 is included with Game Pass, it’s every month or so that hey Forza Horizon 4 is included with Game Pass, oh, and Mutant Year Zero, Ashen and Below, those indie games that you have been or are now really starting to hear about are all on Game Pass too. Including these three games in the same month provided a huge win for Xbox and for Game Pass. Without a shadow of a doubt, Xbox Game Pass passed the next hurdle standing in its way. The 3rd party / ID @ Xbox / Game Pass teams were able to identify upcoming independent games that looked cool to them / were starting to create some buzz and make deals to get them on Game Pass on release day. It not only potentially takes away players from competing consoles but gives people who would play these types of games on PC an opportunity to turn on their Xbox Ones and give it a go there. Even if only paying for one month it gives players a more financially friendly opportunity to try not only one of these December games but all three.
The ever-evolving and improving Game Pass isn’t going to save the Xbox One, but it is going a long way on people not instantly pre-ordering a PlayStation 5 in a few years. The Xbox team is going full force on at least giving players an interesting option by the time new consoles come around and 2018 has hopefully shown what they want to do with Game Pass in the future.