Xbox Games Pass, Microsoft’s subscription service that includes over 100 Xbox One and Xbox 360 games for $9.99 a month, will celebrate its first anniversary on June 1. Microsoft has yet to share how many gamers subscribed to the service over the past 12 months, but given that the company now only discloses the number of active Xbox Live users, it probably won’t happen any time soon.
Since launch, Xbox Games Pass has often been described as a “Netflix for video games,” but that’s not exactly true: it’s not a video games streaming service yet, even though this is probably something that Microsoft’s new cloud gaming division is actively exploring. Moreover, Microsoft isn’t exactly marketing its own games in the catalog like Netflix does with its original TV shows and movies.
As a matter of fact, it’s quite surprising that the Xbox Games Pass catalog is missing so many Xbox exclusives published by Microsoft Studios over the years. As an example, the critically-acclaimed Forza racing video games series is completely absent, even though Forza Horizon 3 is probably one of the best Xbox One exclusives of this generation.
The same can be said about Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Halo: Reach (not included in Halo: MCC), the Rare Replay anthology, the hugely popular Minecraft and other second-party games such as the Crackdown series, Ori and the Blind Forest or Quantum Break. Even PUBG, which was released by Microsoft Studios for the Xbox One via its Xbox Game Preview program, would be a great addition to the Xbox Games Pass catalog.
Earlier this year, Microsoft announced that all future first-party games would be available on Xbox Games Pass on day one, and that includes future Halo, Forza, and Gears of War titles. This is a really big deal, and it shows that Microsoft isn’t afraid of losing some $70 sales in the short-term if it leads to more Xbox gamers subscribing to Xbox Games Pass in the long run.
For now, though, the company apparently wants to keep some of its biggest cash cows such as Minecraft and Forza Horizon 3 out of the service, and that’s probably a missed opportunity. These two titles are service-based games, and these are an excellent fit for Xbox Games Pass. Why would Microsoft prefer gamers prefer to pay $19.99 once for Minecraft when they could pay $9.99/month to get access to the constantly updated sandbox game?
One of the reasons Microsoft may not want to add Minecraft and other first-party games to Minecraft may well be the fear of angering video games retailers. When Microsoft announced that all future first-party titles would be available on Games Pass on launch day, some independent game retailers threatened to no longer stock Xbox products or even third-party titles. Microsoft addressed the backlash by letting select retailers sell 6-month Xbox Game Pass subscription cards, and the company said that it has been "pleasantly surprised with the breadth of demand from retailers so far."
Video games retailers probably don't need to worry too much because there will always be gamers who prefer to buy games instead of renting them. Just a week after the launch of Sea of Thieves, which was the first Microsoft Studios game to launch on Games Pass on day one, the company announced that the pirate game was "the fastest-selling first-party new IP of this generation," without giving a specific sales number. Anyway, this is quite notable considering that Sea of Thieves has been priced at $59.99 like any other AAA games, and the mixed reviews apparently didn't hurt sales.
Adding all new Microsoft Studios games to Games Pass was an important first step, but Microsoft now needs to make its subscription service the best place to play all Microsoft Studios titles. This is especially true since Microsoft's latest first-party games such as State of Decay 2 or Sea of Thieves have received mixed reviews. As a consequence, the Xbox Games Pass catalog could really use the best Microsoft Studios games to raise the quality bar.
Eventually, the future of Xbox Games Pass is probably a true Netflix-style service. But until this becomes reality, Microsoft really needs to leverage all of its IPs to make the subscription service a must-have for Xbox One owners. And since first-party games are now being developed for both Xbox One and Windows 10, it would also be great if Microsoft's PC-exclusive games such as Age of Empires: Definitive Edition or the upcoming Age of Empires IV could also be added to the catalog in the future.