On Xbox Game Pass, PlayStation Now, and the future of gaming

Microsoft wowed press, fans, and competition alike with the announcement of backwards compatibility coming to Xbox One at E3 in 2015. Xbox Game Pass, a new game subscription service announced this morning, is the next step along Microsoft’s unique path this generation.

Xbox Game Pass announcement
Xbox Game Pass launches this Spring. Photo courtesy of Microsoft and Xbox

Xbox Game Pass, which launches this spring on Xbox One, will cost $9.99 per month and provide access to more than 100 Xbox games. This includes both Xbox One games and Xbox 360 games available through the aforementioned backwards compatibility. Exactly which titles will be available remains to be seen, but Halo 5: Guardians, PayDay 2, NBA2K16, and SoulCalibur II are specifically mentioned. Other titles, including Mad Max and Saints Row IV: Re-elected, are pictured.

This move comes as Microsoft, despite making amends for the Xbox One’s botched introduction, continues to trail behind Sony in current generation sales. Xbox has occasionally led monthly sales, but PlayStation once again led the holiday season despite no AAA exclusive titles. Microsoft clearly needs to keep reinventing and reinvigorating to move forward. Xbox Game Pass is exactly what was needed.

It’s impossible to say whether Xbox Game Pass will be a difference maker until it launches this spring, but the concept itself makes that very likely. Continued support and consistent addition of new games will be key, though. Whether Xbox Game Pass becomes a rousing success or a cool niche idea, Sony and PlayStation executives should be paying close attention. Everything we know about Xbox Game Pass so far shows it to be a superior service to Sony’s PlayStation Now.

Directly comparing the two services isn’t quite fair, though. Xbox Game Pass is a subscription to games available to play on current generation hardware. Sony’s PlayStation Now provides access to last generation games on current generation consoles as well as PCs.

PlayStation Now, photo courtesy Sony and PlayStation

PlayStation Now officially launched in January 2015 after a lengthy set of closed and open betas in 2014. It started as a digital rental service, with gamers able to pay absurd prices to rent PlayStation 3 games. It has since switched to a subscription model, though it’s more expensive than Xbox Game Pass. One month subscriptions run $19.99, while three month subscriptions cost $44.99. PlayStation Now, thanks to the benefit of being on the market for over two years, boasts a much larger library—currently more than 450 games.

There’s a key difference beyond price and purpose, though. PlayStation Now is a streaming service. Xbox Game Pass isn’t. Games can be downloaded to Xbox One consoles, making issues with spotty or lagging connections irrelevant. They may be apples and oranges, but they’re similar enough that comparisons are inevitable.

Xbox Game Pass, like Netflix, won’t be an all-inclusive service. The key difference here is that Netflix is loaded with original content, with more added on an almost weekly basis. And it’s all new content. Xbox Game Pass simply can’t match that. Microsoft’s first party games and exclusives don’t come out anywhere near that rate, and it’s unlikely they would be immediately included in the subscription anyway.

PlayStation Now began its life as a misguided means of backwards compatibility. It continues today as access to a previous generation. Though their methods and current incarnations differ, there’s a lesson to be learned here:

The future of gaming doesn’t just lie with the games themselves, but also with the ways in which we access those games. Xbox Game Pass just may be the next step in the evolution of how we get (and play) games. There are a lot of questions left to answer about game availability, though, and a service with on demand access to the latest, biggest games would likely carry a much higher price tag. Regardless, Xbox Game Pass has my attention, if not necessarily my money.

With any luck, its introduction will spur further innovation and competition between Xbox and PlayStation. As long as that happens, everybody wins. And isn’t that what we all want?

[Notice that another gaming company is entirely absent from this topic. Nintendo’s Switch launch is just three days away, but we still have no idea how its online service will work. It won’t even have Virtual Console at launch. I think it’s safe to assume this isn’t a space Nintendo will be entering, at least for the foreseeable future.]



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