How Microsoft’s Game Pass is becoming the Netflix of gaming

The launch of Google’s game streaming service, Stadia, had the hype machine in overdrive this week. Not because streaming games over the Internet is a particularly new idea, but because it’s Google.

Apple didn’t invent the MP3 player, touchscreen smartphone, or tablet PC, but it’s Apple. People expect the tech giants to get ideas right, to think of things that others did not, to do things that those who came before just could not.

It is in this context that Google Stadia was a let-down.

The service’s commercial model was a dead give-away that it would not be the Netflix of gaming. Not at launch, at least.

Rather than a single monthly subscription, Stadia requires that you “buy” games at normal retail prices. “Buy”, because you can only play your purchases by streaming them through Stadia.

This doesn’t stop Google from launching a subscription service for games on top of Stadia in future, but the launch of the platform did not live up to the hope of a true Netflix-like service for gaming.

Metacritic shows that there are zero extremely positive reviews about Stadia, a handful of positive reviews, and a glut of mixed reviews.

There are also several high-profile reviews that Metacritic classifies as negative: Ars Technica, Business Insider, CNET, Forbes, Kotaku, The New York Times, PC Gamer, Screen Rant, and VentureBeat all panned Stadia.

“I am genuinely amazed with how shockingly bad Stadia has performed at my home over the course of many sessions,” the review on Forbes said.

Xbox Game Pass for console and PC – the Netflix of gaming you can have right now

While Stadia has generated a lot of mainstream attention for game streaming, there are several solid subscription services that already offer a more realistic take on “Netflix for games”.

PlayStation Now lets subscribers stream a large catalogue of games to their PC or console, and includes the ability to download a large proportion of them for when latency is a significant concern. Sadly, it is not officially available in South Africa.

Game publishers like Electronic Arts and Ubisoft have launched their own subscription services for the games they own the rights to.

Similarly, platform owners like Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo, Apple, and Google have subscription services for their various operating systems or gaming hardware.

On PC, where gamers are spoiled for choice, Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass is emerging as the king of subscription services. It is available in 4o countries, including South Africa, and launched at the end of May with over 100 titles.

Xbox Game Pass for PC currently lists 161 games in its catalogue. Among those it recently added are Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition, The Outer Worlds, Subnautica, and Rage 2.

Microsoft also announced that for the 2019 holiday season it will be adding more than 40 games to Xbox Game Pass, including Darksiders III.

In 2020, it will add several games from the Final Fantasy and Yakuza franchises. Games published under the Xbox Game Studios banner will be automatically added to Game Pass on launch day.

At around R70 per month on PC and R160 on Xbox (or R200 for both), Xbox Game Pass offers exceptional value for the variety of high-quality games on offer.

For those who are as-yet unconvinced, Microsoft has launched a promotion: three months of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate for $1. In South Africa, it is billed at R15.90 for 3 months.

Game Pass does require a Microsoft-sanctioned platform on which to run the games – either a gaming PC running Windows 10 or an Xbox One. However, completely platform-agnostic game streaming is not a reality just yet.

Subscription services

If you want a “Netflix for games” that is a reality today, forget the game-streaming hype.

There is a stack of subscription services for games to choose from, most of them are available in South Africa, and they work today.

Game subscription services Price Platform(s) Catalogue Game ownership
Xbox Game Pass for PC (beta) R69/month Windows Various licensed titles and Microsoft Studios games No
Xbox Game Pass for console R159/month Xbox One Various licensed titles and Microsoft Studios games No
Xbox Game Pass Ultimate R199/month Windows & Xbox One Various licensed titles and Microsoft Studios games No
Origin Access Basic/EA Access R48.50/month Windows/Mac, PlayStation, Xbox EA games No
Origin Access Premier R199.95/month Windows/Mac EA games No
Uplay+ 14,99€/month Windows, Stadia Ubisoft games No
Humble Monthly $12/month Windows/Mac/Linux Rotates monthly. You snooze you lose. “Vault” of licensed titles. Yes
PlayStation Now N/A (in ZA) Windows, PlayStation Various licensed titles. Streaming and download. No
Xbox Live Gold R159/month Xbox Rotates monthly. You snooze you lose. No
PlayStation Plus R109/month PlayStation Rotates monthly. You snooze you lose. No
Nintendo Switch Online $3.99/month Switch Old NES/SNES games No
Apple Arcade R84.99/month iOS, macOS Collection of iOS/Mac games with no ads or in-app purchases No
Google Play Pass N/A (in ZA) Android Collection of Android games with no ads or in-app purchases No

This is an opinion piece.

Now read: HBO Max priced at $14.99 a month to take on Netflix

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How Microsoft’s Game Pass is becoming the Netflix of gaming