Promoting your service as the “Netflix of X” has been a goal of many companies for ages now. I literally just logged into my home workout’s website and was told that thanks to a new streaming plan, P90X was now part of the “Netflix of fitness,” no more discs required.
But the “Netflix of gaming” has been a more elusive goal than most due to the challenges it faces. The idea of livestreaming full games to home consoles has been so daunting we’ve seen some services fail outright (OnLive) and others struggle for relevance (PS Now). But with Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass, which goes fully live June 1st, this is definitely the closest we’ve ever come to the idea being fully realized.
After toying around with Game Pass for the last day or so, I’ve found that the reason it works, and why it’s a bright feather in Microsoft’s cap going forward, is because of the simplicity of both its price and its concept.
– There’s a library of 100 games
– You can download any of them
– You can buy some of them at a discount if you want to keep them forever
– $10 a month
While currently boasting a smaller library than PS Now, the Netflix-like price of the service combined with the fact that you can download games outright to play them is what gives Microsoft the clear advantage.
If you’re like me and unable to plug an Ethernet cable directly into your console, the idea of a streaming-based subscription service for games is daunting, as it requires a lot more from your internet than streaming say, a TV show. It can work sometimes, but others? Not so much, and I’ve had a general sense of some streamed games just feeling “off” when I play them. A tiny bit of lag. Some slight visual issues. And then larger problems, like it just not working at all if the internet decides to be really horrible during a particular period of time.
But with Xbox Game Pass, if I can battle my Wifi to at least get through one download of a game, that’s it, I’ve won. From then on out, I can play that game as much as I want as long as it remains on the service. I tried this with several titles last night, and it was a breeze. No complicated rental options, no fiddling with internet settings. Just here’s a bunch of games, download any of them you want, and have fun.
Dollar for dollar, Xbox Game Pass might be one of the best overall deals in console gaming right now. I say that as someone who knows this service is probably not aimed at me specifically, a games journalist who plays all new releases practically the moment they come out, but for those with not that much time to play games and not that much money in the budget to spend on them, Game Pass is a hell of a deal. The amount of content you have access to for $10 is vast, and there are some heavy hitters included here like Halo 5, Sunset Overdrive, Mad Max and more. Plenty of these would cost you $10 used at GameStop by themselves.
Still, I will admit that the catalog is probably the weak link so far in Xbox Games Pass, but it’s month one, so that’s probably not fair. Netflix has a lot of crap on it, yes, but it also has huge deals with many shows to air them right after the TV season ends, and now it’s producing its own high quality content. In contrast, Microsoft’s offerings, though many are good, are often pretty old (two thirds of the offerings are 360 games), and its “original content” is almost certainly not going to pop up on Game Pass as soon as it’s launched. The video game industry is just not at the point where Microsoft could say, release Gears of War 5 as a Game Pass-only title, though who knows what the (probably distant) future could hold for that concept.
But we can’t really compare Game Pass to Netflix, we have to compare it to its actual rivals, which these days would be PS Now and probably Steam, to a certain extent. It’s not a subscription service, but it’s certainly a good place to get a lot of old games for cheap.
By that metric, I think Game Pass is a great gaming product, and arguably the best Microsoft has produced, even with a legacy like Games with Gold and Play Anywhere, which are also fine offerings. I have lambasted Microsoft time and time again for failing to cultivate must-have original games like Sony and Nintendo, but they are inarguably creating the best gaming programs out there, starting with Xbox Live, which became the model for all online play, and now up to this point where we have Game Pass, the first gaming subscription service that seems like the total package.
While I’m not sure how much use I personally will get out of Game Pass because of how I’m forced to consume most new releases, I can easily see this model catching on with many gamers, particularly if the library continues to expand. Microsoft has done something very, very right here, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Game Pass evolves, and if someday maybe we will see service like Game Pass dismantle the industry’s monetization model like we’re seeing Netflix rewrite the script on TV and film.