Mention Xbox Game Pass to a Microsoft fan and you’ll likely hear the phrase “best deal in gaming” within seconds. The service has gradually grown over the years, starting as a modest attempt at a Netflix-style gaming platform and evolving into the linchpin in Microsoft’s entire next-gen strategy.
By the end of 2020, it started to feel like the service had reached its full potential. It turned out Microsoft was only getting started. Last week, a whole batch of Bethesda games came to the service and now Square Enix’s Outriders will be part of Game Pass the same day the game launches. Both of those additions aren’t just exciting at face value — they carry some major implications for the future of the service itself.
Microsoft already hooked its own fans by bundling its exclusives into the service. The newfound push toward third-party games is the final piece of the puzzle that’s going to make Game Pass into something no gamer can resist, regardless of allegiances.
Getting the third-party started
Up to this point, there’s been a predictable flow to how Game Pass rolls out library additions. Big Microsoft-published exclusives served as the main attraction that brought subscribers in. A few choice indies would get a day one release on Game Pass every month, giving players a nice variety of brand-new titles to play.
When it came to AAA third-party games, the strategy has been more scattershot. Games like Doom Eternal and Control were added to the service long after their initial launch. That was great news for players who don’t buy new releases on day one, though not terribly exciting for those who do. It’s always been difficult to predict when third-party games will come to the service or if they’ll be added to it all. That meant that Game Pass wasn’t necessarily the best deal for those who keep up with a wide variety of studios.
Microsoft seemed to understand that it had a blind spot on its hands. Last year, Xbox Chief Phil Spencer tweeted the following: “In addition to all our first-party games arriving day and date to @xboxgamepass – the team is focused on bringing many more third-party games as well to the service.”
Microsoft followed up on that promise by adding EA Play to Game Pass, bringing games from the biggest third-party studio in the world to the platform. Then, of course, Microsoft bought Bethesda outright with the intention of locking down its library of classics and turning future games into exclusives.
With Outriders coming to Game Pass, Microsoft has made its biggest move yet. The shooter is one of this spring’s most high-profile third-party releases. It’ll launch on PC, Xbox, and PlayStation, meaning players will have to choose where they buy it. Xbox owners don’t even have to make that decision; they’ll just have it if they bite the bullet on Game Pass. Considering how cheap a subscription is at the moment, signing up for a month to try it out winds up being more cost-effective than even waiting half a year for a big price cut.
Before the news, I figured I’d buy Outriders on my PlayStation 5, which is where I played the game’s demo. Now I’ll be downloading it on Xbox instead without dropping an extra penny. Just like that, I now have one less reason to boot up my PS5 this spring. That’s the potential power of a move like this.
Rewriting the rules
All of this presents a radical shift to how we usually think about consoles and third-party releases. In the past, deciding on which system to buy was a matter of first-party exclusives. Do you like Halo? Get an Xbox. Want to play God of War? PlayStation’s the pick for you. Where players chose to get third-party games like Destiny 2 was dependent on that first decision.
Microsoft is slowly inverting that idea. Now, third-party games are turning into the top consideration when deciding whether or not to buy a Series X over a PS5. Players might miss out on Sony’s greatest hits, but they could stand to save a lot of money by investing in Microsoft’s ecosystem. It’s not about exclusives anymore; it’s about convenience.
Microsoft still has a long way to go before the service reaches its full potential. Sony’s strategy hinges on locking down high-profile timed exclusives, holding them away from Microsoft for up to a year. Microsoft is also inconsistent about which version of Game Pass gets new games. Outriders is available for console subscribers, but not PC ones. Meanwhile, the latest batch of Bethesda games are scattered between console and PC, which is often frustrating for subscribers.
If Microsoft can more consistently lock new releases down and get them on both ends of its service, Game Pass will truly become a more universal steal for gamers of all stripes. The “best deal in gaming” is in the right position to become “the only deal that matters.”
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