Xbox Game Pass respects my time

I’ve previously written Xbox Game Pass off as a poor fit for my busy schedule. I’m someone who rarely has more than an hour or two to play in one sitting and saw the service valuing quantity over quality. To my logic, instead of paying $15 a month for a lot of games I would never have time to play, I’d rather buy what interested me directly, without being restricted to the selection available on Game Pass.

But a few weeks ago, I pulled the trigger on an unexpected in stock Xbox Series X on impulse. A month later, having sampled many titles on Game Pass, it’s clear my initial hunch was wrong. Game Pass has ended up saving, not wasting, my time. I feel more engaged with my tastes and I have a better sense of where I’ll spend money on gaming a la carte in the future.

That’s because Game Pass games are effectively demos on steroids. There’s no barrier to entry; I can explore as much or as little of any game on the service. If a game isn’t working for me, I delete it and move on. Thanks to a fast fiber internet connection, the wait for that next game is rarely long; to date, I have multiple downloaded games “on deck” for this purpose. Over some time far shorter than it would take to complete your average AAA blockbuster I’ve trimmed my playlist to a handful of games that resonate with me.

My eureka moment with Game Pass happened after sampling three widely different games on the service: Call of the Sea, Atomic Racing, and Streets of Rage 4. Call was a small indie puzzler I had previously passed over. Given its availability on Game Pass, I decided to give it a shot. I got hooked an hour in with a unique setting, some gorgeous visuals, all with relaxed puzzle gameplay. Over the next two weeks, I played through to the game’s conclusion, squeezing in an unusually high amount of gameplay time alongside a busy period at work.

In contrast, Atomic and SoR4 were games that I initially considered a match for my tastes (retro arcade racers, beat ’em up brawlers) and were on the verge of purchasing before I got the Series X. However, neither had much staying power in practice; I ended up tiring of both games after an hour or two of gameplay.

So with a few hours of my time, I found an unexpected winner and avoided paying for two misses. After the success of Call, I followed up with other “artsy” puzzlers – Genesis Noir, The Gardens Between – both short experiences well worth my time. Now I’m actively looking for future puzzle titles to buy or appear on Game Pass, knowing the genre clicks for me.

Game Pass is not only a time saver, but also offers clear monetary value. For every Game Pass download that outperforms my expectations, I feel like I’m getting away with something. Spot checking the sticker price for the games I’ve finished or otherwise put substantial time into with just a month of pay, I’ve already “paid” for over a year of Game Pass. Games coming later in 2021 like Halo Infinite and Flight Simulator should only sweeten that deal.

Perhaps I’m still in the honeymoon stage, but Game Pass feels like a step up from the traditional console sales model. I love what the PS5 offers, but I couldn’t play a demo for Demon’s Souls. Instead, I had to read reviews, watch YouTube impressions, and take a $70 leap of faith that it would work for me. The game started as a blast but devolved into a slog: midway through I hit some difficulty spikes and struggled to push through to convince myself the game was worth the price of admission. I look back at Demon’s Souls as an uneven experience, one that leaves me skittish about impulse buying my next full priced PS5 title.

That said, Game Pass isn’t without significant flaws. The game library has an uneven quality. Zero games feel “next gen” compared to what I’ve experienced on the PS5. Hopefully, by the end of 2021, this will change. I also worry that the lack of friction for trying new Game Pass games will lead to me missing out on good experiences that take time to develop. It’s analogous to the benefits of buying a full record LP: the large cover art, warmer sound, and higher physical bar to change songs forces you to “slow down” and explore the album as a complete work.

But Game Pass isn’t an either or choice for gaming procurement. I can still buy games individually on the Microsoft Store like I can on PSN for the PS5. I also anticipate dry periods where Game Pass shifts to the background and the Series X feels like a traditional console. But it’s hard for me to imagine a future at this point without Game Pass; I suspect that’s precisely Microsoft’s goal.