Xbox’s Game Pass Is Nice, but Sony Won’t (And Doesn’t Need to) Care

Slow your delicious, probably focaccia (what else?) roll everyone. Game Pass is cool, but it’s really not that big of a deal in the grand, grand scheme of the wold of nerds navigating made-up lands.

First, a recap for those who have better things to do than me: Just the other day, Microsoft announced their Game Pass service for the Xbox One. For $9.99 a month gamers will be able to download and play various Xbox One and backwards compatible games. Over 100 titles will be available at launch (including the likes of Halo 5, Fable III, and Saint’s Row IV, so triple-A multi-plats and exclusives), and subscribers of the program will receive discounts (20% off games and 10% off add-ons) on outright purchasing titles, instead of just enjoying access to them under the umbrella of the Game Pass program.

C’mon, Big Blue!

This announcement has gotten some to call for Sony to ‘step up their game’ in the world of backwards compatibility. But here’s the deal as I see it: the Game Pass program is a solid program, no doubt about it, but there’s no alternate dimension where Andrew House now bolts upright in the middle of the night, sweating bullets, wishing he had shoved a Cell Processor into the PS4. There’s no universe where Sony suddenly needs to scramble to beef up their PlayStation Now Service so they can compete with Microsoft the juggernaut.

(Interesting to note is that PlayStation Now just announced will no longer be available on the Vita, PSTV, PS3, Sony and Samsung TVs, as well as all of Sony’s Blu-ray players. Not a power move, no, but I hardly think anyone’s world has been flipped-turned upside down because gosh-dangit they just can’t stream The Last of Us to their blu-ray player anymore. Still, another reason Game Pass might compare rather favorably to PlayStation Now: it hasn’t made the news because it’s been removing features.)

Anyways, there’s no reason for Sony to respond, either.

Microsoft is slamming Sony in terms of backwards compatibility, sure. The list of Xbox 360 games compatible with the Xbox One grows all the time, but, really, who cares? Seriously. Really, let’s think about it, who does care? The answer is simple and probably pretty obvious: Xbox One owners, who likely came from the Xbox 360, that want to play older titles. There’s probably a smaller subset of Xbox One gamers who never owned a Xbox 360 (or for multi-platform titles, a PS3 or sufficiently powerful PC either) and want to check out games like Red Dead Redemption and Halo 5 for the first time.

Okay, okay. Maybe people care, but how much?

But neither this Game Pass program nor Xbox One’s backwards compatibility is going to move meaningful numbers of Xboxes off the shelves. Not only are there multiple ways to play games included in the Games Pass program (like on another platform, be it PS4, PS3, Xbox 360, PC, or, dare I say it, PlayStation Now), it’s an extra expense that’ll cost you on top of Xbox Live.

Before you say it, no, I don’t think it’s some kind perverse horror Microsoft has the audacity to charge gamers for basically the equivalent of PlayStation Now, which people pay for, but I also don’t think there’s a person out there who’s ready to buy an Xbox One just for the privilege of signing up for the Game Pass program. Hell, even if the Xbox One starts doing crazy Wii numbers of sales because of this program, they would still have an awful tough time matching the PS4’s lifetime sales, estimated in January at 55 million compared to Xbox’s 26 million (not to mention the PS4 has, again, been the bestselling console in November, December, and January).

Plus, this month the console wars got just a little bit bloodier with the launch of the Nintendo Switch. Love or hate it (or what I’m sure is much more likely is that you haven’t got your hands on it yet so you’re tactfully withholding your judgement), it’s another choice someone would have were they to be considering buying a console right now, in addition to the semi-recently released PS4 Pro and the upcoming Xbox Scorpio, of course.

Non-essential isn’t a dirty word

Now, to reiterate, the Games Pass program isn’t bad, and it’s probably better than PlayStation Now, unless you’re a PC gamer looking to try out some console-exclusive titles. The program sure does make me appreciate Microsoft more, because you know Phil Spencer and the boys aren’t expecting these backwards compatibility policies to sell consoles, so it’s really a labor of love (of course Microsoft is going to make money off of subscriptions, but this isn’t going to be a big moneymaker for the company) for the Xbox install-base.

Kudos, Microsoft; sure you’ve gotta pay for it, if you want it, but the choice is by no means a bad thing. Let’s also not forget the Games Pass program isn’t a streaming service, you get to actually download games, which will likely offer better fidelity and responsiveness than the same title streamed via PlayStation Now.

Both programs have their pros and cons. But even if it is better, Sony at least offers gamers a way to play older titles, and really, that’s all they have to do to stay competitive. This is pretty much in-line with Sony’s larger mentality regarding the PlayStation ecosystem of late: they’re not making moves that people will really and truly love them for, but they’re doing solid work and making good money doing it.

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