I’ve written in the past that Xbox Game Pass is Microsoft’s ace in the hole. Combined with Xbox Cloud Gaming, Microsoft has a super weapon that neither Sony nor Nintendo can match.
When Bethesda announced that its massive AAA space RPG star field was delayed until 2023, many critics of my argument took that as a sign that I was wrong. Lots of random people on Twitter sent me screenshots of my previous opinion pieces with something like “Is that your brother?” suggesting that due to the delay of a single title, the whole argument (which they surely didn’t read) was cancelled.
It’s silly. Xbox Game Pass is good value because of the sum of its parts, not because of a single lineup of games in any given year. Of course, it’s a shame when a game is delayed or when a game is released mired in controversy, like Halo: Infinite, which appears to have been launched as a deeply unfinished product.
But the real strength of Game Pass lies beyond those big AAA games. I was considering buying a copy of the new TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge on my PS5 but I jumped to my Xbox Series X instead and voila, it was on Game Pass. I could even play it without downloading it via the cloud if I wanted to (or didn’t have enough disk space on my console).
Sure, Sony has launched a very impressive new PlayStation Plus service, but its three tiers are a little confusing, and it still doesn’t come with day one games (mostly) or PC cross-buys.
Xbox also revealed that Samsung Smart TVs will now support Xbox Game Pass and Cloud Gaming without even owning an Xbox. You can just play with your Xbox controller on your TV for a monthly fee rather than spending several hundred dollars on a new system. Of course, this limits what you can play Game Pass titles, which is of no use to you if you want to play Call of Duty or any number of non-Game Pass games, but it’s still a terrific entry-level offering that makes gaming more accessible to more people than ever before.
So yeah, it’s a shame star field has been delayed. I guess Bethesda should have focused on quality over quantity (no one needs 1000 planets to explore, just give us a system with six or seven and a few moons), but the highlights of the Xbox platform extend far beyond the latest AAA version. Sony and Nintendo also have their strengths. Sony’s exclusive content is unparalleled, though Microsoft is theoretically closing that gap with all those big studio acquisitions (we’ll see).
Nintendo, of course, has its gimmicks and gimmicks and is on a whole different playing field. The company dominates the Japanese market and that will never change unless Sony can come up with a truly compelling handheld device.
For now, Microsoft is leaving the console business behind, competing on multiple fronts. The company still makes physical console units, but it has also managed to outpace streaming rivals like Amazon and its Google Luna and Stadia system, anticipating a future shift to a market in which the physical box, like the physical disc before that – becomes much less central to the gaming experience.
Whether this is a good or a bad thing remains to be seen. Frankly, I am deeply skeptical of a future based on streaming and subscription. I’m not sure it’ll be good for developers the same way I’m not sure the move from CDs to services like Spotify has been good for musicians. Time will tell us.