Microsoft's E3 2021 was one of its strongest showings in years, and the message was clear: Xbox Game Pass is for you. An absurd amount of content was revealed at the show, detailing a huge parade of high-quality games launching day and date into Game Pass, alongside some major first-party announcements from the likes of Bethesda, 343 Industries, and Playground Games.
Here are some thoughts of mine about the show itself, what it means for Xbox's future, and why right now is the best time to be an Xbox gamer.
Xbox Game Pass value is absurd
Microsoft opened the show by revealing that 27 of the over 30 games shown throughout the showcase would be hitting Xbox Game Pass at launch, and variety was the name of the game. Every genre and audience was wholly catered for, while Microsoft dished out announcement after announcement of day-one Game Pass titles.
Halo Infinite, Forza Horizon 5, Microsoft Flight Simulator, Starfield, and many more all showed up in force. Executive vice-president of Gaming at Microsoft, Phil Spencer, reiterated on stage that Game Pass will see monthly additions in perpetuity, as Microsoft bets big on its nascent all-you-can-eat service. Even the biggest and staunchest Microsoft detractors cannot deny the value of Xbox Game Pass, and the showcase literally had something for everyone.
There were recent hints from Microsoft about how it plans to grow the service further, although this event was entirely about games. Still, we could hear something fairly soon about a potential cloud-only streaming service, or perhaps a family or household plan, but it wasn't present at this time.
It's almost getting tough to keep up with the volume of content that is already in, and coming later to Xbox Game Pass, but the variety and value continue to ramp up, akin to the early days of Netflix.
Despite showing so much, the full picture even bigger
From its first-party stable, Microsoft showed a variety of games from its studios. Bethesda showed up with Starfield, which is a space-opera "Skyrim-like" from legendary creator Todd Howard and his team. Arkane came in with RedFall, a four-player immersive sim set in a vampire-infested world. Obsidian showed off a huge update for Grounded, alongside The Outer Worlds 2. Playground Games showed off an immaculate video detailing Forza Horizon 5, although Fable was a no-show. We saw Project Typhoon outed as Contraband, in partnership with Avalanche. Psychonauts 2 showed up with a slick action-packed showcase. Age of Empires IV dropped its launch date with some exciting gameplay footage. We also saw Microsoft Flight Simulator shown off on Xbox Series X, with some of the most impressive visuals we've yet to see this gen. Halo Infinite made a grand return too, showing off more details about its mysterious story, alongside a frenetic multiplayer trailer, and much more.
What is remarkable about this massive 30-game showcase from Microsoft, is that there are so many we still haven't seen detailed. Senua's Saga: Hellblade II, Avowed, State of Decay 3, Perfect Dark, and various others remain shrouded in mystery, poised for a full announcement at one of the year's various other showcases. What is Compulsion Games working on? What is inXile Entertainment's mysterious next project? What about Indiana Jones, and the rumored IO Interactive project codenamed "Dragon?" When Xbox Game Studios and Bethesda start the engine rolling, Xbox gamers will be inundated with new content on a near-constant basis.
A recipe for global expansion
Microsoft repeatedly touts to investors that they want to see global expansion for the Xbox brand, using Xbox Game Pass as a vehicle. The sheer variety of content, broad-appeal partnerships like the Pirates of the Caribbean expansion for Sea of Thieves, and the heavy hitters like Halo Infinite and Starfield could really start driving that success story. Microsoft's "three billion gamers" north star might actually be vaguely plausible, if they can continue this upward trend of content, without losing sight of the need for high quality.
Despite the pandemic, Microsoft showed up to deliver not only a traditional E3 showcase but an exceptional one, while many other publishers floundered or declined to make an appearance at all. The pandemic will no doubt put a big dent in the timeline for some of these releases, but it would be a lie to suggest Microsoft's first-party content wheelhouse has been firing on all cylinders. However, Microsoft does have a ton of work to do on the platform side, as pertains to its PC content delivery systems on Windows, and localization issues that repeatedly surface. As pertains to content, though, this is the first and largely undeniable proof of real, serious change at the house of Xbox.
With cloud gaming on Game Pass, the support of Win32 and Steam on PC, and the more affordable Xbox Series S console SKU, Microsoft has a recipe for global expansion that other platforms will struggle to can't meet. It's only a matter of execution now, and as the world begins to cautiously err back towards some semblance of normality, Microsoft is better-placed than most to deliver on these promises. It's a great time to be an Xbox gamer.
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!
Well said Jez. I think it's only a matter of time before the others offer their Game Pass equivalent. At this point, it's really a no-brainer. It's already showing benefits as game studios are less reluctant to take on risky ideas or new IP, since it's no longer as make-or-break for them. They can now do their best work.
I think it's a win-win arrangement. Most consumers get far more quality day-one content than they would ever have been able to afford (I have only ever bought any games on sale lol!), while game studios get more financial stability and can focus on actually creating great games.
Gamepass = = Netflix of Games. The fact that you can try out game pass for 3 months for £1 or $1 dollar makes it a complete and utter no brainer.