For $10 to 15 a month, you can get access to “hundreds” of Xbox and/or PC games with Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass—sort of like a Netflix for video games. Many sites, from PC Gamer to our own friends at Kotaku, have hailed it as one of the best deals in gaming, but is it right for you?
The math seems simple. Game Pass for Console costs $10 a month, as does Game Pass for PC. If you go with Game Pass Ultimate, which includes both and bundles in Xbox Live Gold for online multiplayer, you’re looking at $15 a month. (And you can get three months of Game Pass Ultimate for $1 right now, if you’ve never tried it before.) That adds up to $120 per year for the lower tier or $180 per year for Ultimate. Considering most AAA games cost $50-70 at launch, you’d only need to play 3 or 4 games per year to come out ahead, right? That seems like a pretty bonkers deal—but as always with these types of services, it comes with some caveats.
Let’s start with what Game Pass does well: You get access to a lot of really good games, both old and new. Microsoft’s own games are basically a given at all times, so if you’re interested in the Gears of War series, the Halo series, and other Microsoft titles like Sea of Thieves, it’s a no-brainer. But it’s not just Microsoft games by any stretch—you’ll also find lots of third-party AAA games from the past few years, like Final Fantasy XV, NieR: Automata, Batman: Arkham Knight, Darksiders Genesis, A Plague Tale: Innocence, and The Outer Worlds on the platform. And that doesn’t even include the games that have come and gone, like Metro Exodus, which was on the service for a good year before being rotated out.
But there’s the rub: Much like Netflix, you’re at the mercy of non-Microsoft publishers for which games appear on the platform (and for now long). A few hundred games is a small fraction of the thousands of games available for Xbox One and Xbox Series X at this time, and the games available may not be the ones you want to play. Some games may have already come and gone—Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption 2 and Grand Theft Auto V had notably short rides, only sticking around for four short months. Other big, popular and/or critically-acclaimed AAA titles from the past few years have yet to appear on the service at all, including Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Hitman 2, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, and ... uh, any Call of Duty game. So you may still be stuck buying some games outside Game Pass if you’re itching to play them.
Game Pass for PC and Game Pass Ultimate stretch their libraries a little further by bundling in EA’s own subscription service, EA Play—so you get titles like Jedi: Fallen Order, Battlefield V, and sports games galore included with your subscription. This can be a bit confusing at times, though, since new games only come to EA Play with 10-hour trials, so getting full access either requires buying the game (for which you get a 10% discount) or waiting until it leaves EA’s vault, usually a year or so later.
This is true for a lot of non-EA games on Game Pass, as well. While you do get some games on day one (including all Microsoft-published titles), other games may take time to appear on the service. Control, for example, just came out on Game Pass this month, after being out for a little over a year. If you like to play games at launch, you might find this a bit of a bummer.
If you don’t care about playing games on day one, then you need to factor that into your math. Game Pass has plenty of fantastic titles from past years, but those cost a lot less to buy outright, too. Titanfall 2 and Dishonored 2, for example, are two of my favorite games from the recent past, but they’re both less than $10 to buy new on Xbox One. The same goes for a lot of indie and pseudo-indie games, with which Game Pass is rife—Ori and the Will of the Wisps and Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night are highly acclaimed and rather affordable to buy on disc. This is not a bad thing; it just means that when you run the numbers to figure out whether Game Pass is right for you, it skews the math a bit. It takes more $10 and $20 games to add up to the total yearly cost of Game Pass than it does $50 games.
It may sound like I’m poo-pooing Game Pass, but I’m merely trying to paint a picture of who it’s good for. If you want to play the latest games on day one, it might be a hard sell unless you play a lot of Microsoft-published games. If you’re a patient gamer who plays a few years behind current trends, you’d need to play more games per year for the subscription cost to be worth it. If you fall in between these two extremes, as many gamers do, Game Pass gets pretty compelling. You just can’t be too particular about which games you play and when, since the publishers control what games are available to you.
To keep the Netflix analogy, I’d say Game Pass is definitely better than Netflix circa 2011, when the library felt padded with too many old and delayed shows. In fact, with Microsoft’s spree of acquisitions lately, Game Pass is going to see a lot more exciting, exclusive AAA day-one titles in the latter half of this console generation—making it more similar to 2016 Netflix, when a bustling library of originals upped the ante. (Doom Eternal, now a Microsoft-owned title, just appeared on Game Pass this month.)
There’s another big advantage to Game Pass: trying out a game without fear of wasting money. It’s hard to drop $30-$50 on a game you aren’t sure you’re going to like, and unless you can borrow a disc from a friend, you always take a bit of a risk by buying certain games—or, if you pass them by, you risk missing games you’d really love. I would have never tried Forza Horizon 4 if it weren’t for Game Pass, but now I’m totally addicted to it—having that opportunity opened my eyes to a game I now love. There’s something priceless about that peace of mind.
Plus, while Game Pass deals aren’t ubiquitous, they’re worth keeping an eye out for. On Black Friday this year, certain retailers were selling 3-month subscriptions for $20, which is more than 50% off—easily tipping the scales from “meh” to “oooh” for plenty of gamers, especially if you stack them up to pay for your whole next year of the service. If you have Xbox Live Gold credits you’ve racked up from good deals in the past, those’ll convert to Game Pass as well.
So is Game Pass the best deal in gaming? For some people, I think it definitely earns that title, and it’s only going to get better over the next few years. Other folks may come out ahead buying games the old fashioned way, though, so take a peek at the Game Pass library and try it for a bit if you aren’t sure—again, Microsoft is offering three months for only $1 right now. There’s really no reason to pass that up.