On paper, Xbox Game Pass sounds like an incredible deal. Paying £7.99 to £10.99 a month gives you access to hundreds of games on your Xbox consoles and PC, and if you’re the kind of gamer who likes to play a little bit of a lot of games this is likely fantastic value for you. Yet when I had Xbox Game Pass for a year, I think I could count the games from it that I seriously played on one hand.
To preface this, I’m one of the hosts of the podcast Gaming Fyx and write about games every now and then, so I am not going to play games in the same way as everyone else. My favourite kinds of games are a tie between big AAA story-focused experiences like Control, The Last of Us Part II and 100+ hour long JRPGs like the Trails of Cold Steel series.
When I look at Xbox Game Pass I actually see something that’s pretty poor value for money for me and the way that I consume games. Reflecting on my personal top ten games from the past few years, only a handful are on Xbox Game Pass and that’s without getting into the top half of each list.
Not only that, but out of the 10 best Xbox Game Pass titles (as rated by Metacritic), only Forza Horizon 4 and Ori and the Will of the Wisps were available on Microsoft’s service on launch day. As with many gamers, I like to keep up with the latest titles, and so usually play games as soon as they come out. It’s awesome that big hits such as Control, Monster Hunter World and Nier: Automata are all on Game Pass, but by the time they were added I’d already been done with them for almost a year.
One of the biggest factors in Xbox Game Pass is the line-up of Microsoft exclusives. Every game developed by their first party studios will be available, day one, as part of your Xbox Game Pass subscription. Much like Netflix and its glut of original TV series and movies, this could be a key selling point, yet truly spectacular Xbox exclusives have become something of a rarity. Aside from the aforementioned Forza Horizon 4, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, and the overlooked Gears 5: Hivebusters, Microsoft aren’t able to compete with Sony right in terms of blockbuster exclusives. Games like The Last of Us Part II, Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Ghost of Tsushima, and Final Fantasy VII Remake, all of which launched in 2020.
Of course, there’s another side to this. Although PlayStation Now is slowly offering subscribers more value for their membership, Sony’s own games-on-demand service is trailing way behind Xbox Game Pass. Right now, there’s no way of streaming or downloading PS5 games through the service, and the game selection is far less inspiring too, mostly comprised of older titles compared to Microsoft’s more up-to-date line-up. They’re quite competitive with adding third party games, like Borderlands 3 and Marvel’s Avengers to PS Now, but Sony haven’t seriously tapped their own first party line-up.
However, going back to my point made about the lack of compelling exclusives, that’s hopefully going to change. Over the last few years, Microsoft has been aggressively snapping up world class studios left, right, and centre, from Obsidian and Double Fine to Ninja Theory. That’s before you think of the landmark acquisition of Elder Scrolls and Fallout publisher, Bethesda earlier this year. When you factor in what other Xbox Game Studios currently have in the pipeline (Halo: Infinite, a new Forza, a new Fable), there’s a good chance Xbox will soon be be able to match PlayStation blow for blow when it comes to killer exclusives.
Right now, Xbox Game Pass isn’t guaranteed to be a great deal for gamers who are truly plugged into the hobby, picking up games at launch on a regular basis. It’s easy to see that £132 yearly cost being more justifiable once Microsoft’s studios are fully spun up, but we could be waiting another few years.