There are two things I took away from this year’s E3. One, The era of the game pass is finally here. Two, every publisher out there wants to create the Netflix of gaming. Perhaps that’s not surprising though. In 2006 Netflix reported revenue margins of just under a billion dollars. Over a decade later, this has increased to exceed 15 billion dollars as reported for 2018. That’s a lot of money, but the potential for gaming is arguably far greater.
The TV industry is worth around 64 billion dollars. The videogame industry? 135 billion dollars. That’s over twice the size and the games industry is growing faster than any other entertainment media. Certainly, if a company could convince the world that it’s worth paying monthly fees instead of upfront purchases, a lot of money could be made.
Gaming subscriptions have actually existed for a while now. Meridian 59, a 1996 MMORPG published by 3D0, had a flat monthly subscription rate. RuneScape followed suit in 2001 and World of Warcraft in 2004. Outside of MMOs where subscriptions have become commonplace, Microsoft began charging for Xbox Live as early as 2003 whilst competitor Sony started charging far later in 2013. Finally, Nintendo would cave in for the Switch’s release in 2017.
The kinds of subscriptions listed above are well accepted by the gaming community. Considering the price of servers in MMOs and how much providing a good online platform costs, it’s understandable you’d have to pay. However, that kind of subscription isn’t what the likes of EA, Microsoft, and Ubisoft all have in mind.
The Xbox Live Game Pass Ultimate and UPlay Plus were both revealed at E3. Following suit of Origin Access, EA’s rendition of the game pass, both these companies want to sell you all their games at once. For a price of $14.99 a month, you gain access to everything Ubisoft or Microsoft has to offer depending on which one you choose.
They all come with various unique selling points too. The Game Pass Ultimate comes bundled with Xbox Live Gold and full feature access to all of Microsoft’s major first-party titles at launch. Origin Access gives 10 hour trial periods where you can play upcoming EA games before release as well as various sales on microtransactions. UPlay Plus lets you play Ubisoft’s finest, incomplete, mediocre, recycled open world games. What a deal for just $180 a year of your hard earned cash.
The value of these game passes is going to be extremely subjective depending on your gaming habits. The Game Pass Ultimate gives you over one hundred games on both PC and Xbox One as well as full online access. However, if you only play on one platform and don’t touch online, what’s the point? Equally, Something like Origin Access is probably only worth your time if you play the majority of EA’s sports titles.
So what would it take for these passes to be a good deal? Game Pass Ultimate is $180 a year. Xbox Live Gold alone is $60 a year. That remaining $120 will get you two major AAA titles. Let’s say for this year that’s Gears of War 5 and the Microsoft Flight Simulator reboot. Obviously, you can substitute in whatever game you fancy here. It is fair to say most Xbox gamers would buy Gold and buy at least two major AAAs that are available in Game Pass? Most definitely. This pass becomes an even better deal if you happen to be a PC gamer too.
Both Origin Access Premier and UPlay+ are more questionable deals. To EA’s credit, if you play FIFA and Madden annually, the $99.99 annual price isn’t that bad. It’s not a mindblowing deal but it’s good enough that dedicated sports fans should get their value out of it. Outside of that though I’d stay away at all costs. UPlay+ is a bad deal. $14.99 a month, or even more criminally £14.99 in the UK, for some Ubisoft games and DLC is almost certainly not worth it. Unless you literally play Assassin’s Creed, Siege, The Crew 2, Anno 1800 and Watch Dogs Legion avidly, there’s no way you’ll get your value out of this. Keep in mind on Stadia you will still have to pay $9.99 a month for Pro Membership too.
When the facts are laid out I’d have to stray toward game passes being a future, but not the future of gaming. Prices are steep and I imagine only the most dedicated of gamers will ever get enough value out of these passes. I doubt technology advances will help with pricing either as game development and service costs are climbing every year. I’m hesitant on the direction game companies are taking subscriptions but only time will tell if they end up being worthwhile. For now though, with the exception of the genuinely decent Xbox Game Pass, I’d stray clear.