Subscriptions, not specs, could settle the next-gen Xbox vs PlayStation war

Generally speaking, the console wars come down to one of two things for a lot of people: hardware and games. Some people compare spec sheets to determine which console is for them, while others look at launch titles and exclusive game lineups to make their decisions. This generation, though, subscriptions may wind up being the difference maker for some, specifically in the case Xbox Game Pass.

Earlier today, Microsoft held an Xbox Series X game showcase where it revealed a number of first-party titles in development for the new console. There were several big names dropped throughout the showcase, including Halo Infinite, Forza Motorsport, and Fable. Even more impressive, however, is the fact that all of these games will be available through Xbox Game Pass on both Xbox Series X and PC.

Xbox Game Pass is something of a wild card heading into the next generation. Perhaps born out of the fact that Xbox One played second fiddle to PlayStation 4 in terms of sales throughout the current generation, or perhaps the product of some divination when it comes to where the industry is headed, Xbox Game Pass was rolled out in 2017 as something of an all-you-can eat subscription for Xbox One owners (and later, PC players).

Not every Xbox One game is on Game Pass, and not every Xbox Series X game will be on the service either. Microsoft has, however, committed to putting all of its first-party games on Xbox Game Pass, which could be a big deal for people who plan to buy an Xbox Series X. More importantly, Xbox Game Pass could sway those who are on the fence and trying to decide between buying an Xbox Series X or a PlayStation 5.

Think about it: if someone is primarily making their console buying decision based on the exclusives, they stand to save a lot of money by going with Microsoft's console instead of Sony's. On the PlayStation 5, those exclusive games will cost at least $60 a pop (but there's evidence that game prices might be going up with new hardware). Game Pass, on the other hand, costs $10 a month – if you play more than two $60 games a year using Game Pass, you're technically saving money over buying those games outright.

Considering that there are now 14 companies under the Xbox Game Studios umbrella, it seems safe to assume that Microsoft will be releasing more than just a couple first-party games each year. For someone who's interested in the games Microsoft revealed today, Xbox Game Pass can make an Xbox Series X buy look a lot more attractive.

Sony, by comparison, doesn't really have an answer to Xbox Game Pass. It has PlayStation Now, but the hook there is game streaming and not necessarily acting as a "Netflix but for games" type of service. I think PlayStation Now is a good service – especially after it cut prices last year – but it doesn't compete with Xbox Game Pass in terms of getting new games up quickly, let alone on the day they release.

We're just talking about the first-party games here, too. There's also the fact that Xbox Game Pass has been and will be home to a number of big third-party titles, with Bungie even confirming today that Destiny 2 and all of its expansions will be available through Game Pass on Xbox Series X. The more third-party developers Microsoft can woo with its Game Pass pitch, the easier it will be for gamers to justify dropping $10 a month on it.

Granted, Xbox Game Pass may not be the difference maker I think it's capable of being in the next generation. Since Microsoft is offering Game Pass on PC as well – and has committed to bringing first-party game to PC on the same day they launch on Xbox – that could stop some from buying an Xbox Series X at launch.

That's the position I'm in at the moment. Since I already have a capable gaming rig, there's no real reason for me to buy an Xbox Series X next generation; I love the Fable series and I'm excited to see it come back, and Halo Infinite looks great, but I also won't need to buy an Xbox Series X to play them because they'll be coming to PC.

It isn't hard to believe that there are a fair few gamers out there who are in my position and would have bought an Xbox Series X at some point in the next generation were it not for the fact that all of these games are coming to PC.

Then there's also the fact that you never truly own the games you're playing when you're using Xbox Game Pass. That might not be a big deal when it comes to first-party titles from Microsoft because they'll presumably always be available on the service, but third-party games regularly rotate in and out of the Game Pass lineup.

That, by extension, means that a game might rotate out of the lineup before you're finished playing it. Or, say you do finish it but months or years down the line you get the urge to revisit it only to find that it's no longer available through Game Pass. In both cases, you're stuck buying the game anyway if you want continued access to it, though it is worth pointing out that Game Pass subscribers get a discount on the game if they buy it while it's available through Game Pass.

So, Game Pass isn't perfect, but to someone who is about to drop hundreds of dollars on a new console, it could be enough to sway their their decision on which platform to get, especially if they don't have any feelings of brand loyalty as we jump into the next generation. If nothing else, it'll be interesting to see if Game Pass has a quantifiable effect on console and game sales in the next generation, but at the very least, I expect it to be a popular subscription among Xbox Series X owners.