Here’s why Xbox Game Pass may help Microsoft win this gen’s “console war”

Sony may have a stronger exclusive line-up, but is it enough anymore?

There’s a small contingent of our people – you might call them fanboys; I might call them asshats – who would delight in reeling off all the reasons why Microsoft “lost” last generation’s “console war”.

Whizz back another half-decade and another subset of gamers would assert that the victors were Microsoft, and Sony’s PS3 was left languishing in the shadows of the former’s Xbox 360. For the record, I don’t disagree with either of these perspectives – as unit sales go, they’re undeniably true – but the real question underlying all of this manufactured furore is: does it matter?

I suspect Sony and Microsoft secretly love the polarisation. They’re each chasing your allegiance, delighting every time someone drops a snarky “dead console” comment on social media that widens the gap between Sony fans and Microsoft lovers. Fevered tribalism means you’ll make decisions based on emotion, not hard facts, and blindly ignore the benefits and features a “rival” console may have for no reason other than it sports the wrong console logo.

Xbox Series S Assets

Features like Xbox Game Pass

For those not in the know, Xbox Game Pass is a subscription service that gives Xbox players the opportunity to select from over a hundred games for a fixed monthly price. You can play as many as you like – in full, without any limitations on playtime – including many first-party Microsoft exclusives from the day they’re out, such as Halo Infinite when it launches later this year.

Admittedly, Sony offers a similar system via PS Now – a streaming and/or download service you can tap into for a modest £50 a year – but honestly? It’s like comparing apples with orangutans. A dispassionate review of both puts Xbox’s service firmly out in front – not because the Xbox has better graphics or more hard disk space or whatever, but because it’s undoubtedly the best value for money.

You see, Microsoft also offers Xbox All Access, a hire-purchase scheme that permits players to take away a new Xbox console, 24-months of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate – that’s a combined subscription to Xbox Game Pass and Xbox Live Gold, the latter of which enables you to play online games with your buddies – for £21 a month, no money down. It means people with a lower disposable income can get involved, keep up with their pals, and play the latest games without breaking the bank – something that’s been unavoidable with prior “next-gen” launches, particularly when you start factoring in other peripherals such as headsets and spare controllers, or extra consoles and games for homes with more than one gamer in it.

I’ve talked before about how important the Xbox Series S is to the fight to make new tech financially accessible to all so I’m not going to rehash it again now, but don’t let that detract from how impressive it’s been to see Microsoft work to bring next-gen technology and games to people who can’t afford to be hi-tech early adopters. Coupled with its Games Pass, it feels as though there’s been a sincere effort to make gaming much more accessible, and now when someone asks me if they should go for a PS5 or an Xbox Series S|X – you know, on the understanding that one day there be enough consoles to match demand, of course – it’s getting harder and harder to justify the former when the latter can be yours for zero outlay and gives you day-one access to all of Xbox’s first-party exclusives.

Xbox Series X Controller
Xbox Series X Controller. Credit: Mircosoft

Are they the best exclusives? Okay, that’s a little more debatable. The PS5’s exclusive line-up – which includes Returnal, the life-affirming Sackboy: A Big Adventure and the latest, wondrous Ratchet & Clank instalment, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart – is impressive, granted, but given Microsoft has been busy hoovering up all and any indie studios not fully tethered down, that too might be about to change.

Of course, we can’t forget that subscriptions are just that: a means of temporarily gaining access to something. Let your sub lapse, and you’ll lose all access, which means you’re chucking £10 a month away on games you will never actually own and, in some instances, will never get back even if you sign up again. That’s not for everyone – particularly if you prefer to sell on or share your physical games – but for those of us who like to experiment with different genres and studios we’ve not tried before, it’s a fantastic opportunity to try before you buy.

When it comes down to it, you can play next-gen games – including Xbox exclusives on the day they’re released – on a brand-new Microsoft console for £250 a year all-in. Or you can fork out £500+ for a PS5, and then still have to pay an extra £60+ every time a game tickles your fancy. Yes, you’ll get two freebies a month via PS Plus – and you’ll have to have one of those if you plan to play online with your mates – but rarely are they new and exclusive in the same way Xbox Game Pass offerings are. This means if Sony wants to win this console war, too, it needs to offer something comparable to Xbox Game Pass, and quickly.

Xbox Game Pass is a thing you can pay for right now. If you’re curious about what the deal is with E3, you can see our E3 2021 coverage here.

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