Much has been made of Microsoft's Game Pass subscription allegedly being the "best value in gaming". The acquisition of Bethesda, inclusion of EA Play, and expansion to PC and mobile have certainly bolstered that case. While saving $60 on every first party game I would have bought and getting to experience indie games I never would have played are both great aspects of Game Pass, the real value to me has been playing with my friends.
Last November, a buddy in our social group signed up for the promo that upgraded your Live Gold sub to Game Pass for only $1. He wanted to play World War Z, a title recently added to the service, which was in many ways a spiritual successor to the Left 4 Dead games we spent hundreds of hours playing as kids. Within a week, every one of our friends had followed suit and spent the $1 to get Game Pass – except me.
At that point, I was less than a year removed from transitioning from discs to all-digital purchases. The value of the former had stopped outweighing the convenience of the latter, but I wasn't open to the idea of a "Netflix for Gaming". World War Z was a game I'd been trying to get the guys to pick up for months, however – so I did the $1 promo and turned off auto-renewal, thinking I'd go back to Gold when it lapsed. We ended up having a ton of fun with the game, and at the time I was glad Game Pass gave us that opportunity.
For a few months after that, I mostly just used Game Pass for indie titles and games I missed: Talos Principle, Observation, Hellblade, Blair Witch, Wolfenstein, Deliver Us the Moon, Untitled Goose Game, Journey to the Savage Planet, and several failed attempts at getting into a survival game. At the start of quarantine this ended up being a great way to try out new games without having to spend much money (or any, technically). But still, once my subscription lapsed, I figured I'd leave it that way.
Then I played Forza Horizon 4. One friend in our group had bought the game a while back, so he and I played a bunch together – a couple guys who had Game Pass and liked racing games joined us. Then Minecraft Dungeons released. Then we got into State of Decay 2 and Grounded. Payday 2 was recently added to the rotation. All multiplayer games that I maybe could have convinced one or two of us to buy, but never could have gotten a full group together for (RIP to my failed attempts to build a crew in Sea of Thieves).
All of these games pale in comparison to Golf with Your Friends. We've spent most nights over the past 2 weeks playing this game together – often until 1 or 2 in the morning – and it has been a fucking blast. Like the first few weeks of us playing Rocket League together, or how it was when we were kids and a new Halo or Call of Duty dropped. Such a simple game has brought so much enjoyment (and grief) to this aging group of friends... but there's no shot all of us could have been convinced to spend $20 on it beforehand.
And I think that's where the true value in Game Pass lies, at least for me. It isn't like the old days when there was a new game every few months that we'd all buy together at launch and play for hours on end. We've gotten older, our lives and tastes and free time have all changed, and getting on the same page about what we're playing next – let alone getting everyone to buy it – is sometimes an incredibly difficult proposition. This $15 subscription has finally solved that problem.
I don't know if this business model is sustainable for gaming, any more than F2P+MTX are. For now, I'm just glad I get to beat my friends' asses at mini golf across (several) state lines.