What the Hell Is an Xbox Game Pass Now?

Games Features Xbox Game Pass
What the Hell Is an Xbox Game Pass Now?

Changes are coming to Xbox Game Pass, Microsoft’s esteemed gaming subscription service. The company announced Tuesday that most tiers of the service will receive price hikes, effective to new subscribers July 10. Existing members will see their prices increase months later on September 12, 2024. 

These price changes, as initially reported by Windows Central, are as follows:

  • Xbox Game Pass Ultimate – $19.99/month ($3/month increase)
  • PC Game Pass – $11.99/month ($2/month increase)
  • Xbox Game Pass Core – $74.99/year ($25/year increase)

The monthly cost of Xbox Game Pass Core will remain $9.99, this increase only affecting subscribers who pay yearly. These figures apply to U.S. members, though prices will increase worldwide

For those less familiar with Game Pass and its offerings, Microsoft provides different subscriptions to PC and console players. PC Game Pass allows access to a library of hundreds of games and the ability to play new games on day one. Xbox Game Pass Core is available to Xbox console players, offering a measly 25 games in its catalog and access to online multiplayer—it’s Xbox Live Gold retooled for a new era. Xbox Game Pass Ultimate bridges the experiences, offering an extensive library of games to both PC and console players including day one releases. There are caveats between platforms as far as games go: the Fable series is available only on console, for example, and the library is not exhaustive by any means. Slightly more obscure games like Mistwalker’s Lost Odyssey, originally released for the Xbox 360, aren’t available at all.

Notably absent from the aforementioned breakdown is Xbox Game Pass for Console (offered at $10.99/month), which Microsoft also announced will be unavailable to new users starting July 10. This tier of the service operated similarly to PC Game Pass, allowing access to a larger library and day one releases for console users. Members currently subscribed to Xbox Game Pass for Console will be able to keep this tier, and a new option will be available in the coming months to replace it: Xbox Game Pass Standard—which curiously does not include day one access to new games. This newer plan will cost users $14.99/month, and will offer online multiplayer where its predecessor did not.

With all of this said: What the hell is a Game Pass? I mean this, seriously. Having delivered these changes and updates, I cannot express enough how stupid I felt while scouring the Xbox Game Pass website to parse this information so I could relay it in a digestible fashion. This is their flagship service, and it contains proviso after proviso. There are issues that have persisted since the dawn of the service: one might expect the library of games under the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate banner to remain consistent between PC and console, since it is tailored to both platforms. They aren’t; see the Fable series. Now there are issues unique to the introduction of Xbox Game Pass Standard: the non-Ultimate tier does not provide access to day one games across both platforms. 

The idea of a “game pass” implies unfettered access to an experience consistent between platforms, a one-stop-shop for games in Microsoft’s catalog. That doesn’t exist, so I spent the evening sifting through an abundance of Xbox verbiage, wondering how someone makes sense of this when it isn’t their job to do so. Does the grandfathered-in Xbox Game Pass for console subscriber commit to an extra $4/month for the online multiplayer Xbox Game Pass Standard will offer—knowing they will lose their day one access to new games? The only sure option someone has is unsurprisingly the most expensive: Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, and you better do the research on the games you’ll want to play ahead of time in case they’re platform exclusive.

In a Paste feature two years ago Marc Normandin bemoaned subscription services ruining the promise of digital storefronts. He detailed the agony of Nintendo Switch Online offering older games behind differently tiered paywalls, but you could at least plainly know that for $49.99/year you can play Star Fox 64 on your Nintendo Switch. This Game Pass situation feels like a different beast entirely. When video streaming platforms rose to prominence, people started dropping cable TV. First came Netflix, then Hulu, HBO Max, Prime Video, etc. People found themselves with enough subscriptions that they were nearing the cost of the cable they’d cut. Consumers started selectively choosing which services were worth their while based on the content each provided. Companies began offering streaming service bundles to entice consumers again. Streaming companies have always attempted to sweeten the deal to attract new members, and these strategies revolve around simplifying the process by which people consume content. These services only ever clash externally, like when Scrubs switches from Netflix to Hulu. Never have I seen an approach like Microsoft employs with Game Pass, where the tiers, available content and accessibility are at odds internally.

So I ask again: What the hell is a Game Pass?

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