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Xbox Game Pass is still the best deal in PC gaming

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Xbox Game Pass for PC is a ludicrously good deal. For $5 a month, you can download and play nearly 200 games. Here are just a few of the good ones: Yakuza 0, Carrion, Halo 3, Alien Isolation, Gears 5, No Man's Sky, Sea of Thieves, and Subnautica. On Steam, buying all of those games would cost about $255. 

The Game Pass for PC library is growing, too. Obsidian's new survival game, Grounded, was just added, and later this year it'll get Microsoft Flight Simulator, a bunch of Final Fantasy games, Wasteland 3, and more. (Here are all the games available on Xbox Game Pass, now and coming soon.)

At $5 a month, Game Pass is a good deal even if you're only interested in one or two $30 to $60 games—just subscribe for a month or two and play them to completion, and then unsubscribe and you've saved $20 or more. Even if you subscribe for a full year and only play a few games, you're still probably saving money.

Of course, there are downsides:

  • If you want to keep a game forever, you either have to buy it separately or keep subscribing forever—meaning that if you're not using the subscription to play a variety of games, you were better off just purchasing the one you wanted à la carte.
  • The Microsoft Store versions of games aren't properly moddable. Slay the Spire and Cities Skylines particularly suffer from this, because part of their appeal is their Steam Workshop mod libraries. You don't get that with Game Pass.
  • Sometimes games are removed. Microsoft doesn't make this obvious, but you can see what's leaving the Game Pass library soon at this link. Right now, F1 2018, Rime, and The Banner Saga 3 are about to be cut.

And then there's the final caveat, which is that if something seems too good to be true, it's probably one of those classic Silicon Valley strategies.

In this case, you start with a service that is profitable in theory (but not right now) and a massive pile of money. You offer the product at an outrageously low price to attract users, knowing that you're going to lose money for years. That's OK, though, because you're Microsoft and you've got loads of money to lose. So you amass subscribers and bleed money until, one day, you've got millions of new fans whose cheap, no-brainer subscription turned their attention toward Xbox games and products, subtly guiding their interests. Now they sleep next to Master Chief plushies and they're paying $15 a month instead of $5 a month, but you heated the water so gradually they didn't even notice it happening. And after a little while longer they can't even leave your bubbling cauldron if they want to because there's nowhere else to go, just as we can't rent movies from Blockbuster anymore thanks to Netflix.

Microsoft may even want to become "Netflix for gaming" literally. Like every other gaming-related company, it's working on game streaming, and plans to add Project xCloud streaming support to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate later this year (Ultimate costs $15 a month, works on Xbox consoles and includes Xbox Live Gold). That'll mean that, with a Game Pass Ultimate subscription, you'll not only be able to download and play games locally on a gaming PC or Xbox, you'll also be able to stream them from cloud PCs to tablets and other devices.

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Assuming xCloud tech works reasonably well, Game Pass Ultimate will quickly become more attractive than the cloud streaming competition, even though its monthly subscription fee is higher. That's because Stadia and GeForce Now don't include big libraries of games as part of their subscriptions. For the most part, they let you stream games you've purchased individually, aside from the few free games you get with a Stadia Pro subscription.

If subscriptions and streaming make you uncomfortable, you're not alone.

Streaming is still a janky way to play PC games, and it's not something we've embraced. It'll get better, though, and Game Pass can offer an attractive middle ground: Stream or download a big library of games for one monthly fee. That'll further separate Game Pass from the competition, which it's already beating. EA's Origin Access ($5/month) and Origin Access Premier ($15/month) subscriptions, for example, are decent options for those who normally buy new sports games every year or who want to explore EA's back catalog for a few months, but can't beat the diversity of the Game Pass library right now.

If subscriptions and streaming make you uncomfortable, you're not alone. In most cases, we've already given up game ownership in favor of digital project licenses, but I'm not keen on losing even more ground. And for independent developers, there's still uncertainty over what subscription models will mean for them. Will it be like Spotify? Pay per play, or pay per minute played? How could that affect their fortunes, and game design itself? 

As of April, though, Xbox Game Pass had 10 million subscribers. Subscriptions may not replace regular digital purchases (I hope not!), but they're already a permanent fixture in gaming. There's no stopping something that's already happened, and at least for the moment, the Game Pass for PC offer is so good it's hard to ignore. $5 a month to play through Alan Wake, Dishonored 2, Dead Cells, Frostpunk, Hollow Knight, and both Ori games? Unless owning those games forever is vital to you, that's a lot of entertainment for not very much money.

Tyler has spent over 1,000 hours playing Rocket League, and slightly fewer nitpicking the PC Gamer style guide. His primary news beat is game stores: Steam, Epic, and whatever launcher squeezes into our taskbars next.