Back in 2013, the Xbox brand as we know it today was in a very different state of mind. With “always online,” mandatory Kinect connectivity, and the blocking of used games being the headlines of their reveal event, to say that Microsoft stumbled out of the gate would be a gross understatement.
Don Mattrick, the President of the Xbox division at that time even went so far as to say that people who didn’t like or want the proposed changes already had a device that could use, referring to the Xbox 360, which at the time was still the dominate console on the market. It didn’t take long for fans, influencers, and the gaming press to react to the news, and the sales figures quickly mirrored the sentiment of many, this was not the next-generation Xbox experience that many were anticipating.
Enter, Phil Spencer! Just one year after the announcement and release of the Xbox One, Microsoft announced that the chief of Microsoft Studios would be taking over the entire Xbox division, which included Xbox Live, Xbox Music, and Xbox Video. Phil’s new title, Head of Xbox. I would now like to publicly thank Phil, and every board member responsible for putting him on the Xbox Throne of Power. Under Phil’s guidance, Xbox has turned 180 degrees in the right direction, and I could not be happier for fans of the platform.
Just one year after taking over the brand, Phil introduced gamers to the de facto standard in customer service. At E3 2015, Xbox announced a new initiative known simply as Backwards Compatibility. At the time of this writing, there are now 607 titles playable from Xbox’s library, which consists of games from both the Xbox 360 and, more surprisingly, the OG Xbox. Not only that, but it should come as a surprise to absolutely nobody, but Microsoft has said that on release date, Xbox Series X will continue the tradition will full compatibility for the ever-growing service. This is how you retain your audience, and this is how you let people know you care about them and their gaming library.
Not content to give players the ability to play games from all eras of Xbox on their current, and future generations of hardware, Phil once again surprised gamers with the announcement of Xbox Game Pass. Touted as “Netflix for Gamers,” Game Pass launched in June of 2017 and has quickly become one of, if not the single best value in gaming. For just $10/month (less than that when it’s on sale, which is often), gamers get access to over 240 games to play as long as they subscribe to the service.
Unlike their most direct competitor, games are downloaded directly to the console, so players with weak or less than ideal internet connections don’t have to worry about streaming games across their network. “Netflix for gamers” sounds cool on its own right, but that’s not even close to the cherry on top. In all his infinite wisdom, Phil Spencer [and team] decided that a library of over 200 games wasn’t enough; no, they chose to release ALL FIRST-PARTY EXCLUSIVES day and date on the service for the same $10 a month subscription!
Yea, that’s right, if you subscribe to Game Pass you automatically gain access to all new (and several retroactive) first-party titles such as the entire Gears of War franchise, the Forza franchise (both Motorsport and Horizon), Minecraft, and oh yeah, a little franchise you might have heard of called Halo.
Too good to be true, right? Yep, but hold onto your butts because Phil still wasn’t done with his master vision. Phil knows that gamers exist outside of the Xbox ecosystem, and he had a plan to fix that… WITH XBOX GAME PASS FOR PC (beta)! While not as extensive as it’s console brother, Xbox Game Pass for PC comes with over 190 games of its own, some of which are exclusive to the PC platform itself such as genre-defining classics like Age of Empires 1 and 2, newly released action/adventure game Deliver Us The Moon, and even spin-off titles from major Xbox franchise like Gears Tactics!
Here’s the best part, all those first-party titles that are coming to the Xbox platform, such as Halo, future Gears games, Forza, and more, are also being ported to the PC! For just $10 a month, PC gamers can now experience some of the best IPs from the gaming landscape in a way never before possible on our RGB-filled, liquid-cooled battle stations. Those who choose to double-dip into both the console and PC versions of Game Pass can do so at a discount of just $15 a month, with several of the titles being cross-save and cross-play compatible, so gamers can take their progress with them regardless of which platform they currently have access to.
There is no arguing that Xbox Game Pass is not only an incredible deal for gamers, but the real star here is the PC component. What sets the major consoles apart from each other, aside from a few proprietary features and their controller layout, is their first-party exclusives. As a PC gamer, the only real reason to own these consoles is for access to titles like Gears of War, Forza Motorsport, The Last of Us, Uncharted, and other notable “system sellers.” With Microsoft’s commitment to bringing it’s AAA exclusives to their Game Pass initiative, the divide between console and PC is rapidly shrinking, which brings me to the point of the entire article.
Phil Spencer and the rest of the Xbox team have done such an incredible job with their player-focused services, that I actually have no desire or need to purchase another Xbox console for the foreseeable future.
Over the last several months, I have played several first-party Xbox titles without having turned on my Xbox One S, and that includes multiplayer titles such as Gears 5 and the Master Chief Collection. The Xbox Series X is sure to be a powerhouse of a console, but even that won’t hold a candle to the custom-built PC I use on a daily basis, and even without owning the console itself, gamers like me will still reap the benefits of “next-gen.” As developers gain access to new tools and super-fast hard drives that, despite marketing speak, are absolutely available on PC, games across the board will look and play better than ever before, and with Xbox Game Pass for PC (beta), I’ll have access to all the new IP and new sequels by the ever-growing roster of incredibly talented studios under the Xbox umbrella.
The future of gaming looks bright, and as someone who prefers his mouse and keyboard, an RTX 2080ti, and a 144Mhz, 1440p gaming monitor over a 60” TV and an un-modifiable console, I am thankful that Phil Spencer and his team have bent over backward to ensure that I only need to pick up one $500 console this holiday season; too bad it’s not an Xbox Series X.