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Is Xbox Game Pass really worth it anymore?

Games on Xbox Game Pass.
Xbox

Xbox Game Pass is changing. On Tuesday night, Microsoft quietly announced that it was retooling its game subscription service. The change would bring new tiers, including one that doesn’t feature “day one” releases, and a price hike to the Ultimate tier. Naturally, fans didn’t take the news well. The decision has already been dissected by players who theorize that the end of Xbox’s subscription service is nigh — or at least that it’s turning into a bum deal.

Are players overreacting over a couple of dollars or is there legitimacy to the doomsaying? It’s likely a bit of both, but there’s no doubt that Xbox Game Pass’ value wanes with the new change. The question is whether or not it’s still a good deal even if it’s a pricier one. That’s where things get complicated. What used to be a no-brainer for all Xbox players now feels like its geared toward a narrower audience. And I know for sure that I’m not the target anymore.

Is Xbox Game Pass worth it?

Let’s recap what exactly is changing on Xbox’s service. For starters, Xbox Game Pass for Console is going away for new subscribers. That will more or less be replaced by Xbox Game Pass Standard, a new tier that is missing one key perk: It will not feature “day one” games like Call of Duty: Black Ops 6. Each remaining tier is getting a price hike. Xbox Game Pass PC will go from $10 to $12 per month, while Xbox Game Pass Ultimate will jump from $17 to $20 per month. Those are the tiers players will need to subscribe to in order to get “day one” games.

Those changes may not sound like a lot on paper. What’s another $3 a month if you get a lot of use out of the service currently? It’s an annual rise from $204 to $240 (before taxes), which is about half the cost of one major release. It’s a much bigger jump for those who only use Game Pass on console, which creates a bigger starting investment for new subscribers. The difference between $11 and $20 a month is fairly massive.

A woman holding a remote while looking at an Amazon Fire TV with the Xbox app on it. It's on the Cloud Gaming menu with Fallout 76, Senua's Saga Hellblade 2 and more on it.
Amazon

The thing to keep in mind, though, is that Game Pass’ price has always been suspiciously low. For years, the selling point of the service was that you would immediately get your money’s worth just by playing two exclusives on it. Were you a Console subscriber that checked out Starfield and Redfall last year? Congratulations, your investment paid off. That’s before factoring in the rest of Game Pass’ catalog, which still expands every month with pricey third-party games like Dead Space. You didn’t even have to wonder if you were getting your money’s worth out of it.

Now, with a $240 annual ask, players might have to think twice to determine if it adds up — and the math doesn’t inherently work in Xbox’s favor anymore. In 2023, Xbox put out five major exclusives: Hi-Fi Rush, Minecraft Legends, Redfall, Starfield, and Forza Motorsport. If you bought all of those games, they’d cost $280. You still would have saved $40 by spending $20 a month, but that’s only if you played five games built for entirely different audiences. These tentpole releases have long been Game Pass’ primary hook, and that hook isn’t quite as shiny now.

Yes, there are plenty of other games on the service beyond those few games. Xbox Game Pass still gives players a sizable library of games that’s always adding new and old releases. Whether or not those games are worthwhile, though, can wildly vary from subscriber to subscriber. As someone who stays up to date on a fairly wide range of games, it’s rare that Game Pass adds an old hit I’ve yet to play. Oftentimes, it’s getting hidden indie gems several years after they were released. Anytime I scroll through the service looking for something new to try, I find that there’s not terribly much I’m interested in. Those who benefit the most are the ones who play the least, which creates a sort of catch-22.

Of course, Xbox is changing, which is likely why the price increase is happening at all. With Activision Blizzard and Bethesda now pumping out more work under Microsoft ownership, we can expect a lot more first-party games from Xbox in the future. Barring any last-minute delays, 2024 will bring roughly seven major first-party games. That list includes Call of Duty: Black Ops 6, Indiana Jones and the Great Circle, and Avowed. The extra cash feels proportional to that increase in volume if Microsoft can keep that momentum up.

A squad stands together in Call of Duty: Black Ops 6.
Activision

Reason to be skeptical

Should players trust Microsoft to deliver? There’s good reason to be skeptical. Earlier this year, the company shut down three studios, including Arkane Austin and Tango Gameworks, the team behind the critically acclaimed Hi-Fi Rush. At the time, Xbox leadership admitted that it had bit off more than it could chew when it came to juggling so many studios and their respective projects. There’s fair reason to believe that mismanagement at Xbox could lead to a scaling back of its first-party efforts just as a renewed push begins. This year’s volume of big Game Pass releases may wind up being an anomaly. Xbox needed to prove that its not before overhauling Game Pass, not after.

Whether or not Xbox Game Pass Ultimate is worth $20 a month is going to vary wildly from person to person now. It doesn’t make sense for me anymore and it likely won’t work out for those who only subscribe for those high-value day one releases. It still is a deal for a certain kind of gamer, though. If you’re the kind of person who likes sampling a ton of games, but doesn’t stay up to date on new releases, Game Pass will still likely pay off month after month. The big change is that subscribers didn’t really have to consider any of this previously. It made sense to subscribe on a curious impulse. Now, Xbox has given players a reason to think twice, and that’s not a feature that any subscription service wants.

Giovanni Colantonio
Giovanni is a writer and video producer focusing on happenings in the video game industry. He has contributed stories to…
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