Microsoft dropped an E3 style announcement for Xbox One owners Tuesday. A new game subscription service called Xbox Game Pass is coming to the console this spring that takes the concept of EA Access and blows it up even larger to challenge Sony's PlayStation Now streaming service.
Xbox Game Pass will launch later in spring 2017 at the cost of $9.99 a month but will start becoming available today to select members of the Xbox Insider Program to beta test. The subscription will give unlimited access to a library of over 100 Xbox One and backward compatible games to download and play.
"With great games from top industry publishers such as 2K, 505 Games, BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment, Capcom, Codemasters, Deep Silver, Focus Home Interactive, SEGA, SNK CORPORATION, THQ Nordic GmbH, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and Microsoft Studios, there's something for everyone to enjoy and you will always find something exciting to play across a variety of genres," Xbox head Phil Spencer stated in the announcement.
The games confirmed so far include Halo 5: Guardians, Payday 2, NBA 2K 16, SoulCalibur II, Saints Row IV, Mad Max, LEGO Batman, Terraria, Fable III, and Gears of War Ultimate Edition. What other games will be announced remains to be seen, but that is a strong mix of genres and publishers to start with.
In many ways, Xbox Game Pass is more similar to Electronic Arts' EA Access than Sony's PlayStation Now subscription service for the PS4 and PC. The Game Pass allows for full game downloads, which Microsoft touts as providing "full-fidelity gameplay without having to worry about streaming, bandwidth or connectivity issues."
Another differentiator between Xbox Game Pass and PS Now is cost. Microsoft's subscription service is only $9.99 a month versus the streaming service's $15 to $20 a month cost.
Game Pass subscribers will also have the opportunity to purchase any games from the library at a 20 percent discounted price along with their add-ons getting 10 percent. The only caveat is that it appears games will only be in the library for a limited time and Xbox LIVE Gold will still be required for multiplayer.
"Every month new games will cycle into the subscription with some cycling out, giving you a constantly-updating library of games," Spencer explained.
How long games will sit in the library will likely depend on the agreement between Microsoft and the individual publishers. Some might stay longer than others. It will be something worth keeping an eye on though as Spencer does not mention if games are already downloaded can still be played once they've been rotated out of the library.
The Netflix-like mode for games has worked well for Electronic Arts and EA Access. It has been an incredibly popular and profitable service for Electronic Arts. During its Q2 2016 earnings call on October 29, 2015, CEO Andrew Wilson described EA Access as "accelerating," with the subscriber base doubling in the two previous quarters.
That growth has continued as Electronic Arts revealed in its most recent earnings call for Q3 2017, via Seeking Alpha. The company stated: "Subscription, advertising and other digital purchases contributed $104 million to net sales, up 16 [percent] year-on-year. EA Access and Origin Access continue to grow."
Electronic Arts proved the subscription-based model for games can work at the publisher scale, but will Microsoft be able to translate that to a console platform level with multiple publishers. It also raises the question of if Xbox One owners will be willing to shell out money for both EA Access and Xbox Game Pass? Also, will this affect the Games with Gold free titles that are given out every month?
Change is a constant in the gaming industry, and Microsoft may have just dropped one of the biggest changes yet midway through the current console lifecycle. Now, how will Sony respond?
[Featured Image by Xbox]