By Terris Harned (NWOrpheus)
The “Games as a Service” business model isn’t anything new. There are a few different ways this model has been exercised, such as DLCs, year or season passes, and the recurring subscription fee. Many in the industry see the “Games as a Service” model as exploitative, and many gamers are resistant to jump on board for a variety of reasons, which have mixed validity in my opinion.
Whatever the case, they’re making developers, from Indie studios to the big AAA’s, considerably more money. I personally don’t see an issue with this, especially because the consumer base, gamers like you and I, seem to have it set in our minds that should the MSRP of a new release game ever rise above $59.99 (barring special and collector’s editions) that the very sky will fall from the heavens, and the end times will begin.
I won’t get overly into the politics of certain companies’ CEOs having a salary in the upper $35 million range in 2018, while the company pays zero federal taxes (just one example), but I will say that rising industry wages suggest that the revenue is going to have to come from somewhere. Without an increase in industry wages, we’re not going to see experienced developers working on projects, and that means a lack of quality increase in games.
So, politics and economics aside, I decided to bring you readers a little glimpse into my thoughts of the XBox Game Pass for PC, which debuted during the Microsoft conference at the 2019 E3 showcase. For one thing, when I got it, it was a buck. That being said, it’s also in beta currently, so technically this should be a preview? But whatever, we’re going to just roll onward.
When my $1.00 subscription (plus sales tax where applicable) runs out, and the beta continues, the price will be $4.99 per month, and when it releases it will be $9.99. XBox Live Gold is an additional $5.00 per month if I want to play online games with other XBox members, which I personally don’t. That being said, for $14.99 per month there will be an XBox Ultimate pass which will include XBox Live Gold, and the XBox Game pass for both XBox One and for PC, all for one price. Thus, the best value package for the service would definitely be for those who own both a gaming PC and XBox One console, and wish to play online games.
Back to economics for a second: Let’s talk about that $14.99 price point. This seems to be a sort of magical number for monthly fees. It’s the base subscription rate for World of Warcraft, and for Final Fantasy XIV (well, 12.99 for a single character account). This is an interesting point because this is the same price as a subscription for EverQuest in 1999, 20 years ago. To put things in perspective, movie tickets in 1999 were $5.08. The average movie ticket price in 2019 is $9.01. An increase of 80%. If video games had followed this same trend, new releases would be about $110 and subs would be in the range of $27 per month.
All of this is relevant because what it really comes down to when considering things like a game pass is ultimately value. Is what you pay worth what you get out of it? So let’s talk about what you actually get. According to the conference at E3, Microsoft plans to have over 100 games available on the game pass by August of 2019. Hand curated games, mind you, and not the piles and piles of trash that Steam has. And speaking of Steam, Metro: Exodus is on the XBox Game Pass for PC, which is something Steam cannot claim. Forza Horizon 4, the Borderlands Handsome Collection, Into the Breach, Imperator: Rome, Slay the Spire, Wolfenstein II, Football Manager 2019, Gears of War 4, Everspace, and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice are just some of the examples of what’s available, and all of which I installed since getting the app. And if you’re bored, or overwhelmed, and not sure what game you want to play, there’s a handy dandy little randomizer to help you out!
Feature wise, the XBox app isn’t quite as flush as Steam, but it does have a bit more than the Epic store currently does. It would definitely be well served with more features, but at least it does have a search function, friend list, and the ability to sort games by genre.
One prominent dislike that I have with the XBox Game Pass, compared to say the Origin pass or Ubisoft’s recently announced Ultimate Game Pass, is that it only includes the base game for most titles. Forza Horizon 4, for example, only includes the standard edition, which means that I would have to pay extra for the LEGO DLC announced at E3. Minor bummer, there. And then if I do buy a DLC, but I cancel my game pass, I’ll have to buy the base game anyway or lose function with the DLC.
To test download speeds, I compared the one game that I have both on Steam and that is available on the XBox Game Pass, Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden. On the XBox Game Pass, I downloaded the 6.9GB game in 15 minutes, with an average download speed of 9.4 MB/s, and a peak of about 13 MB/s. Conversely on Steam it took me about 3 minutes with 32 MB/s download peak and an average of 30 MB/s. While this is hardly scientific, as it was only one example, it was such a large disparity that I considered it fairly telling: Download speed isn’t a deciding factor in favor of XBox.
I will say that I found the interface easy to use though, and in fact I prefer it to Steam. It felt overall cleaner, and the games that I have installed appeared on the left side of the app for quick access. Mind, this is going to come largely down to personal preference, but I just have a general dislike of Steam’s layout, and have for years. It was also very easy to navigate to my account and cancel the recurring subscription. Not only that, but I was given the option for a full refund if I wanted to end my subscription now, or to simply cancel the recurring charge and keep using XBox Game Pass until my time runs out. I’m not exactly sure what the criteria is for the refund, but I found it very refreshing.
So, do I think that the game pass has value? I do. I think it could even be worth as much as the full $9.99 when it releases. If I had an XBox One I would likely find that value to be increased exponentially. That value to me comes from my tendency to spend at least $14.99 per month on niche and indie games, though. There are several games on the XBox Game Pass that were on my Steam Wishlist that I just didn’t have the desire to devote the money to just yet. Now, however, I’ll get that chance. Games like Vampyr, State of Decay 2, and Astroneer.
My fiancée on the other hand has a much smaller game library, though she’s every bit the gamer I am. Her style consists more of finding a single title she loves, and then putting thousands and thousands of hours into it, such as Crusader Kings: II and The Long Dark. For her, the value just isn’t there, and she’s not interested, and I respect that.
My biggest fear in regards to “Games as a Service” in general is basically the same as my fear in regards to show streaming services: It’s something that everyone is going to start doing, and I’m going to have to pick between one or two services, or constantly be cancelling one service to start a different one to play the game that I want. What I’d honestly love to see most would be for Stadia to offer one big package of say $40.00/mo to have access to all games, including Ubisoft and other AAA titles, and new releases. Whether or not we get something like that remains to be seen.