Aside from the extended Halo Infinite demo — a game that is also coming out for Xbox One — the rest of what we saw at the Microsoft Games Showcase consisted mostly of short teases of what we can expect from studios in the coming years. There was no compelling argument that what these games are doing necessitates the jump in hardware from our original Xbox One or Xbox One X to the upcoming Xbox Series X.
In that sense, Microsoft’s July showcase didn’t really do a great job of selling us on why we should upgrade to an Xbox Series X at launch this fall. But ultimately, that didn’t really matter, because the main takeaway from the presentation, and the true reason why people should be excited to buy into Microsoft’s expanding ecosystem, is Xbox Game Pass is continuing to grow into one of the absolute best deals in all of gaming.
First revealed in 2017, Xbox Game Pass initially just felt like Microsoft’s answer to PlayStation Now and a foray into the “Netflix for games” waters that so many companies have dabbled in. While its initial lineup wasn’t spectacular, the fact that you could download games to your console and not just stream them from a server created a more stable and enjoyable play environment.
Later that year at E3, Game Pass expanded to include some of Microsoft’s growing backwards-compatibility efforts, including select original Xbox and Xbox 360 games. This announcement highlighted how serious Microsoft was about celebrating its legacy and “retro” content, and it felt less like a move out of Sony’s playbook and more akin to something Nintendo would do.
But the true turning point that saw Game Pass evolve from a novelty to a must-have for Xbox owners came in 2018, when Phil Spencer announced that from that point forward, any and all first-party Xbox games — which now fall under the Xbox Game Studios umbrella — would be available day one on Game Pass as well. While that initial offering pointed to games on the horizon like Sea of Thieves, State of Decay 2, and Crackdown 3, it was the promise for what Game Pass held for Xbox’s future that made the service suddenly become extremely noteworthy.
This point was only strengthened as Microsoft went on to acquire more and more studios, which equated to more upcoming games being included in Game Pass. Ninja Theory meant that Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II would be coming to the service. Double Fine meant Psychonauts 2. Obsidian meant The Outer Worlds, its newly announced story DLC, and the upcoming Grounded and Avowed. As Microsoft continues to grow its stable of talented studios, so does the value of Game Pass as a service.
But it’s not just the first-party games that make Game Pass such a necessary subscription. It absolutely opens up a world of indie experiences that many folks might otherwise be wary of pulling the trigger on. In just the past year or so, I’ve played through games like Afterparty, Creature in the Well, Journey to the Savage Planet, Lonely Mountains: Downhill, and Untitled Goose Game thanks to Microsoft’s service. Just in the past few weeks we’ve seen Carrion, CrossCode, and West of Dead debut on Game Pass. And Outer Wilds, my personal favorite game of 2019 and one of my favorites of this entire console generation, launched for free on the service last summer.
Even beyond Xbox Game Studios and indies, Game Pass continues to support major third-party developers as well. Mega-hits like Grand Theft Auto V, Red Dead Redemption 2, the Batman Arkham trilogy, and The Witcher 3 have been available on the service. Last fall, Square Enix announced that most of the modern Final Fantasy series would be coming to Game Pass in 2020, with Final Fantasy IX and XV already available. Sega has been slowly releasing the Yakuza series via Game Pass, and when Dragon Quest XI S hits Xbox in December, it’ll be on Game Pass as well.
The breadth of games available via the service continues to expand, and honestly, I occasionally find myself perusing the list on my Xbox every so often when I’m bored and just want to try out something new. In that respect, its zero-pressure form of browsing reminds me of what it used to be like to wander through the aisles of a video store every Friday night after school when I was a kid and pick out something to play or watch for that weekend. In an age where there’s much discussion around the predatory business models and monetized fragmentation of experiences from certain games, developers, and publishers, Game Pass just feels so aggressively pro-consumer. I genuinely can’t recommend it enough.
With 10 million subscribers and rising, it’s clear that those who are already in the Xbox ecosystem are taking to Game Pass. And with its recent expansion to PC in beta, as well as the news that Microsoft is planning to launch its streaming service Project xCloud free to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscribers in September, it shows that the service is going to be a core pillar of its business strategy and expansion going forward. The thing that these two moves do is increase the number of potential subscribers from the relatively small install base of the Xbox One to the billions of people around the world who have PCs, mobile phones, and tablets. That’s a number of potential users that no physical console will ever be able to reach, no matter how high its popularity.
With both the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X set to launch in a few months — both of which require a 4K television to get their full impact — and more great-looking games announced for the next couple years than I can count, it’s genuinely nice to know that my Game Pass Ultimate subscription will alleviate some of the financial barrier to entry that comes from keeping up with the latest experiences.
So while no single game that Microsoft showed at its Xbox Series X showcase really did the heavy lifting in convincing me that the next generation is truly here, again — that wasn’t required. Knowing that every single one of those experiences shown off would be available to me on day one was enough to get me excited for my new console. While the Xbox Series X might be the keys to a new house, it’s Game Pass that will ultimately help fill it with the experiences necessary to make it a home.