It might be time for an 'Xbox Game Pass Lite'

Xbox Game Pass
Xbox Game Pass (Image credit: Matt Brown | Windows Central)

We already have Xbox Game Pass for Console, for PC, and Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. Do we really need more? Here's why I think the answer to that is yes!

Xbox Game Pass is Microsoft's big Netflix-like gaming service that continues to make headlines. Only recently, Microsoft acquired Bethesda and ZeniMax's subsidiary studios, boosting Game Pass with over 20 new games. Additionally, Microsoft recently revealed that Outriders is dropping day one into the service, which marks a first for a major third-party AAA game.

Xbox Game Pass is at the forefront of Microsoft's lofty ambition to reach all of the world's 2-3 billion gamers, cramming its service with some of the best Xbox games out there. To achieve this, Microsoft is betting on new markets spear-headed by Xbox Game Pass for PC, as well as Xbox Game Pass on mobile phones, and soon, the web. It's with that in mind that I wonder if it's time for a dedicated cloud version for Xbox Game Pass, called "Xbox Game Pass Lite," or "Xbox Game Pass Go," which could also circumvent some potential issues with competing storefront policies.

Entry to cloud gaming

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Right now, to get access to Xbox Game Pass for cloud gaming, you have to buy in at the most expensive tier — Game Pass Ultimate. I've always felt this was a little bit strange if this is supposedly designed to be your most accessible format for the service. With Game Pass Ultimate, you also get Game Pass for console and Game Pass for PC, but I often wonder if cloud-first gamers would be interested in using these services or not.

It could be that the $15 per month Xbox Game Pass Ultimate tier is the best and most cost-effective way to fund the service, given the massive investment to build the server infrastructure. However, do potential users look at Xbox Game Pass for PC and console on Game Pass Ultimate and think "well, I don't have an Xbox or a gaming PC, so why would I subscribe to Ultimate just to get the cloud feature?" In that vein, a cheaper, cloud-only option for Xbox Game Pass be a good way to market the service to new users who perhaps aren't necessarily interested in grabbing an Xbox console or a gaming PC.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

A cheaper, cloud-only "Xbox Game Pass Go" could also be an interesting option for families. I've heard that Microsoft is exploring some form of a "family plan" for Xbox Game Pass, but there are hurdles to overcome with third-party publishers to that end. If you have a younger sibling or child, grabbing a cheaper subscription to give them access to cross-platform games like Minecraft Dungeons could be a cost-effective alternative while we wait for a full-blown family plan option.

Indeed, third-party published games create a range of issues.

An option for third-party stores

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

The Google Play Store and iOS App store have strict rules about how games can be delivered by their partners, and there's a potential conflict for third parties in game distribution. Google, iOS, and others would rather you play games via their storefront. Apple is notorious for blocking competing streaming services, arbitrarily enforcing rules for games that it doesn't enforce for music or entertainment.

Apple anti-competitively wants to block xCloud and similar services, perhaps driven by fear of losing another paradigm shift similar to how they lost out to Spotify and Netflix.

Microsoft would put Xbox Game Pass on PlayStation and Nintendo Switch consoles too, if given the chance.

Apple's app store has already noted that it wants Microsoft to sell every game on Xbox Game Pass as a separate entity, despite not requiring Netflix or Spotify to do the same for the content on their respective platforms. Google Play also has rules about how in-app purchases can happen through its storefront, putting a limitation on the types of games that can be distributed through Xbox Game Pass on Android.

I feel like Microsoft would put Xbox Game Pass on PlayStation and Nintendo Switch consoles too, if given the chance. When Xbox head Phil Spencer was on stage discussing the Bethesda acquisition, he very carefully noted that this was about platforms that support Xbox Game Pass — not necessarily Windows PCs and Xbox consoles. There's a conflict there for Sony and Nintendo, since they would naturally prefer it if you were playing their games sold through their storefronts. The likelihood of PlayStation accepting Xbox Game Pass is pretty slim, but given that the Nintendo Switch has a large performance delta against PC and Xbox, though, I could see a possibility of a slimmed-down, Xbox Game Studios-focused cloud version of Game Pass for Nintendo Switch that wouldn't necessarily compete directly with Nintendo's store.

A smaller library of games that are wholly owned by Microsoft would reduce conflict with other storefronts, potentially, allow Microsoft to use those storefront's payment systems for in-app purchases, and allow them to deliver its own games to platforms that might not be powerful enough to run them natively.

Absorbing Xbox Live Gold

Xbox Live Sign

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Recently, people noticed that Microsoft had de-emphasized the "Xbox Live" branding in some aspects of the Xbox OS. Microsoft later noted that while it isn't removing the Xbox Live branding completely, it is decoupling it from some system features that are now just commonplace components of owning an Xbox.

I've written before about my belief that years down the line, Xbox Live Gold as a subscription service could go away. I think one way to start a shift in mentality about Xbox Live Gold is to perhaps fold it into any prospective cloud-only "Game Pass Lite" service. Xbox Live Gold has already been a contentious issue in the community, given that Xbox Game Pass PC players don't have to pay for it to access multiplayer. And with the rise of cross-platform competitive gaming in titles like Call of Duty and Fortnite, the argument for paywalling multiplayer is waning.

Folding Xbox Live Gold into an entry-level form of Xbox Game Pass would help to further the adoption of Xbox Game Pass, and help grow Xbox's cloud aspirations at the same time.

More options on Xbox Game Pass, more users

Xbox Game Pass at Gamescom 2018

Source: Matt Brown / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Matt Brown / Windows Central)

Xbox Game Pass is all about accessibility and ease of use. The fewer barriers your service has, the more users you will acquire. Obviously, there are profitability constraints to consider, but the fundamental barriers tend to be price and platform.

Getting Xbox Game Pass to more platforms will increase its growth. If a cheaper version, potentially with fewer games, can circumvent skepticism from Apple, Nintendo, and others, it may be worthwhile considering to further grow the platform. A cheaper variant may also serve as a gateway to higher-tier subscriptions to Game Pass regular up to Ultimate, in similar way to how Netflix has higher-paid tiers for 4K streaming.

It could also be the case that Xbox Game Pass is already cheap as it possibly can be without losing tons of money. I don't have the data to back that up, but I feel it in my gaming guts that a subscription tier that is, at least, cloud-only is missing from the lineup right now. Either way, the future of Game Pass is an intriguing one.

Jez Corden
Managing Editor

Jez Corden is the Managing Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

  • In your opinion, what would be the appropriate price for Game Pass Go or Lite? I have wondered this myself for just the streaming access. Maybe $5 a month?
  • Yeah maybe, with a slimmed-down first-party-only library @720p? Game Pass regular gets you xCloud and local downloads of first and third-party games. Game Pass Ultimate gets you EA, PC, xCloud @ 1080p/4K? There's some logistics/maths to work out there, lol. But it just feels odd that there isn't a cloud-only tier.
  • I'm wondering if MS will ever offer just cloud access to bought games without Game Pass access. Maybe even merge it with Live Gold and offer Games with Gold for cloud gaming. It might boost Gold value a little bit even though it's not their priority and it will probably go away in the future.
  • I wish, but I think it will remain a GP feature. This fine though now that GP is well over 100 games and climbing.
  • I think there is more of a need for gamepass family than a game pass light.
  • Exactly, I should just be able to have my existing Microsoft Family accounts associated with Gamepass and allow everyone in the house to enjoy the games.
  • These things should not be mutually exclusive. We should be able to have both.
  • Oh i agree... but i think a family plan would resolve a lot of the light plan demand since most people could be members of a family
  • You are aware you can share your benefits of Gamepass in your family, right? All you gotta do is logon to the XBox with the profile associated with Gamepass, download the game from Gamepass and then logout and your other family member would login with their account and voila. They can play it on that XBox. I do this for my kids all the time.
  • Disagree. Google and Amazon both have shown there is no market for a standalone streaming service at this time. Having the streaming be an add-on is the only logical course of action. Console games are meant to be sat down and enjoyed. Even in my "short" sessions on my Xbox, I'm there an hour. Mobile games are made to be played in a few minutes. I just don't see a compelling way to duplicate that with X-cloud. It is good filler for when you cannot be near a console but it isn't good enough to replace a console. Microsoft's largest market is still the US and due to the size of that market geographically, it just cannot depend on the type of high-speed internet penetration markets like Japan and South Korea can rely on. If anything, Microsoft needs to offer a family plan. They offer one for Office; why they don't offer one for Xbox is beyond me given that Xbox is one of the most family-oriented things in Microsoft's entire product stack.
  • Why can't they do both? Also, why are you limiting yourself to only people that have a console or a PC that can handle games? That seems like a waste when Xcloud will soon be on ANY device with an internet connection.
  • Because there is no demand for streaming (meaning masses) to support the costs. Ask Sony how deploying to TVs, phones, and consoles worked out. Shadow Gaming cloud service has been the latest victim of the game streaming stupidity... they filed for bankruptcy a few weeks back. I mean we are use to Microsoft copying good services/products.... in this case all they are doing is copying services nobody wants. LOL
  • Your point doesn't explain why they can't do something they are essentially already doing. There would be very little risk to expand the service to a mobile only teir. According to you the demand of the service would not be enough to overload the servers to the point to where a $5 a month fee per person could not support the upgrades needed.
  • If there is no demand, there is no reason to keep the product/service operating. (see Microsoft history) There simply is no game streaming business see Google, Shadow Gaming, OnLive, Gaikai, Sony, etc. The whole game rental business is kind of silly... meaning most people are lucky to play 1 game a year. If you were right, things like Groove Music would still be a thing... they're not... why? No demand. All this game subscription nonsense was Phil's lie to keep Satya from completely cancelling gaming at Microsoft.
  • I'm curious about this no demand claim as streaming services for the other prominent media entertainment industries are pretty much the cornerstone now. I can see how gaming as a streaming service is less convincing given its time intensive nature but there must be some potential if Microsoft is investing & promoting the service. The difference between the companies you've mentioned above and Microsoft is pretty much capital reserves. So it might be the case where the incurred costs are long winded before their revenue creeps up to profitable means for xcloud.
  • Well, Microsoft does have cash to burn but so does Google, Sony and Nvidia. Just because you have cash to burn doesn't mean there is demand. Literally, what MS is doing has already been done... but unlike their other failed consumer products this is a loser... why copy a loser? (I guess what else are they going to do with it... other than burn the cash?) Normally, if you are copying something... you copy the winners, not the loser products. Game streaming is nothing new... heck the tech is more or less 15 years old, see the PS3/PSP (beta game streaming). OnLive/Gaikai were offering services back in 2009-2010... no demand. Let's be honest, Microsoft couldn't compete with Valve with Steam, and was slowly losing it to Sony/Nintendo on the console side. I don't see how making subscriptions really helps anyone. Sometimes you only have one chance see Windows Phone.
  • True... Google has similar cash on hand but little to no prior experience with gaming pre-stadia I believe. I think that indie games will be an interesting variable given their greater accessibility & lower level of commitment. Point of contention is... how much market share do indie games really have? If anything, it's smart that Microsoft have xcloud embedded in gamepass since it can be used as a trial to gather userbase data.
  • The cash on hand is meaningless as there is no demand. There isn't going to be any demand just like they was no demand back in 2010 with OnLive or 2015 with Sony with PS Now, or Nvidia with their streaming offerings in 2014. There is nothing new about any of this, the simply copied a service that has no demand. It was smart of Phil to lie to Satya so that Phil has a job for another 5 years or so.... other than that nothing smart about any of this.
  • Daisy, as bobsentell pointed out above, the real reason for the lack of major commercial success with Stadia and others on mobile is the different gaming experience desired on console (long-form) and on mobile devices (casual, short-form). But Google has a different incentive here than MS: they already have a vibrant and successful Google Play store, where they make money on mobile games. They gain nothing by putting mobile-oriented games on their Stadia system. MS could reasonably offer indie developers an opportunity to put the power of an Xbox in every mobile gamer's hands, which would also fit with Jez' suggestion of a Game Pass lite targeted at mobile gamers. Further, if MS is already making money or at break even (appears it's profitable already) with Game Pass Ultimate, then the there is negligible incremental cost to offer a Game Pass