Gaming is an expensive hobby—consoles and gaming PCs cost hundreds of dollars and the newest releases can be upwards of $60. Over time though, there have been efforts made to make gaming more affordable. We wanted to talk about one of those today: the Xbox Game Pass, a monthly subscription run by Microsoft which gives you access to around 200 quality titles for the low starting price of $5 a month.
Update: Since publishing this article, Microsoft increased the price of Game Pass for PC to $10 a month. Despite that higher price, we still feel it presents the best value in gaming and have left the rest of the article as is.
What is Game Pass and How Does it Work?
There are actually two different versions of Game Pass: the console pass covers all Xbox One systems (and the Series X once it releases) and the PC pass works on any Windows 10 computer. There are a few differences between the two when it comes to software, game library, and price, but we’ll talk about all of that in more detail later.
Besides that, Game Pass system is pretty simple: you pay the monthly subscription fee and get to download games included on the pass without any additional charges. One thing we want to make very clear right away is that this is not a streaming service. These games will be installed on and run off of your PC or console, meaning for PC gamers, your hardware will need to be up to the task.
Are the Games Even Worth it?
Having 200 games for $5 a month doesn’t matter if those games are bad, so let’s talk a bit about the Xbox Game Pass catalog.
First off, the game list is different between PC and console, with 194 games available on PC and 265 on console. New games are added fairly frequently, and Microsoft keeps a list of the games available for both console and PC that you can look over to see how much of the catalog interests you.
The game selection is pretty great actually, with most genres being well-represented. There are indie darlings like Undertale and Hollow Knight, Microsoft’s own triple AAA productions such as Halo: The Master Chief Collection and Gears 5, and games you can easily sink hundreds of hours into like Farming Simulator 2017 and Ark: Survival Evolved.
There are so many more great games available on the service that I can’t mention (because it would take far too long) but I think you get my point. Microsoft didn’t take the easy route and pad out of the game selection with shovelware and bad games; the library is chock-full of quality and variety.
One of the best parts about Game Pass’ library is that every new Microsoft published game will be added to Game Pass the same day as release. So when games like Minecraft: Dungeons and even Halo Infinite release later this year, you’ll be playing them on day one. The Outer Worlds, one of last year’s most anticipated titles, launched on the Xbox and PC Game Pass on day one.
DLC should also be noted, as it does vary per game. For the most part, DLC packs are not included with Game Pass. Most DLC will be discounted for Game Pass members, although the discounts are pretty meager—you’re only saving a few dollars here and there. So, unfortunately, if you want to buy Game Pass so that you can drive a LEGO McLaren through England in Forza Horizon 4, you’ll have to pay for the respective DLC packs yourself.
But even with that slight exception, you’re definitely getting your money’s worth here. Taking into account that Game Pass is $5 or $10 a month depending on your platform (and there will be more on pricing later) and that most of the games on Game Pass retail anywhere from $15 to $60, it’s extremely cost-efficient (assuming Game Pass offers a decent amount of games that appeal to you).
How’s the Software?
On both platforms, the user experience is pretty good. On console, Game Pass is just an extension of the Xbox One UI accessible on a separate tab from the Home and Store pages. Games are organized by genre and popularity and you can search and sort through them as you wish.
On PC it’s mostly the same story, but you use the Xbox app for Windows to access Game Pass. Once again, games are organized by genre and popularity and you can search and sort through them.
The PC version is actually in beta currently with no estimated 1.0 release date. However, that shouldn’t be a cause for concern—in all my time using it I haven’t run across a single bug.
For both platforms, games are easy to find, install, and launch from the respective Game Pass storefronts which, when it comes to game launchers, is all you can really ask for. There are some fun bonus features like a “Surprise Me” button that will give you a random game to play if you can’t choose yourself but besides little stuff like that, it’s all fairly standard.
Multiplayer on console works the same as it does for any Xbox One game, but PC players can rest assured that multiplayer is easy to use on PC as well. The friend system works nearly identically to storefronts like Steam and the Epic Games Store, allowing you to join friend’s games and invite them to yours at the click of a button.
The only real problem with the software is that it requires an internet connection. Since Microsoft wants to check your membership status every time you launch a game, it requires you to be online to play any game—whether or not the game actually makes use of the internet. It’s frustrating to be sure (especially when Microsoft’s servers are down) and my only major issue with the Game Pass system as a whole. Gaming laptop users used to easy access to games on the go might be particularly off-put by the always-on requirement.
There are a few different options when it comes to paying for Game Pass.
The cheapest plan is for PC, currently $4.99 a month (although, once it’s out of beta it’ll be $9.99 a month). After that is the console plan, which gives you access to Game Pass on your various Xbox One systems for $9.99 a month.
The final plan for Game Pass is the “Ultimate” plan. This includes Xbox Game Pass for Console, Xbox Game Pass for PC, and Xbox Live Gold for $14.99 a month. Now for the PC exclusive gamers reading this, the ultimate plan won’t do you any good, as Xbox Live isn’t required on PC at all (even for playing online multiplayer games).
But for console players, the price of Xbox Live Gold and Game Pass individually are both $9.99 a month, which makes the Ultimate plan quite the bargain if you’re planning on getting both anyway—especially since it includes PC.
Existing Xbox Live Gold members can upgrade their membership to Game Pass Ultimate without increasing their monthly payment of $9.99 a month. This also includes annual plans, so if you’ve got months (or years) of backed-up Xbox Live Gold credit, all of it will be upgraded for the one-time payment of $1, which is a pretty great deal (and Microsoft has an entire page dedicated to the upgrade process, which also answers some more FAQs).
For the budget-conscious gamer, the Xbox Game Pass is one of the best purchases you can make today. While not every game on Pass will appeal to you, the selection is vast and ever-expanding, so you should be able to find enough games to play every month to make that subscription price worth it. And of course, you can always cancel it when you’ve burned through the last game you want to play.
If you want to sign up for Xbox Game Pass and see the pricing options in full, then just head over to the Game Pass website. Signing up is quick and easy, so you’ll be able to start downloading and playing some games real soon.