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Xbox Game Pass for families and households: Where is the family plan?

Xbox Game Pass at Gamescom 2018
Xbox Game Pass at Gamescom 2018 (Image credit: Matt Brown / Windows Central)

I get this question a lot. Where exactly is a family plan for Xbox Game Pass? Is it something that could realistically happen? And what could be potentially holding it up?

Xbox Game Pass is Microsoft's all-you-can-eat gaming service, taking cues from Netflix and Spotify. For a relatively low monthly fee, you gain access to hundreds of the best Xbox games to play whenever you want. With Xbox Game Pass Ultimate's cloud gaming tier, you can even stream those games to an Android smartphone, with a web version for iOS and PC coming later on.

Xbox Game Pass may seem similar to Spotify and Netflix on the surface, but the similarities are only skin deep. Unlike Netflix, retail buy-to-own native versions of games remain popular, and Xbox Game Pass may actually even be helping drive retail sales of games, unlike Netflix and Spotify, which are potentially killing retail sales in their respective industries. In any case, there is one major advantage Netflix, Spotify, and others have over Xbox Game Pass — the inclusion of a family plan, for sharing the subscription within a single household.

Why doesn't Xbox Game Pass have this? And are we likely to see it in the future?

Why Xbox Game Pass for households is needed

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

Xbox Game Pass is all about improving access to games, lowering the traditional barrier that comes with buying a console or a gaming PC. For many, spending hundreds on a video game console just isn't something worth considering, which is why mobile gaming has become such a popular industry. People are willing and interested in gaming, as long as the barrier to entry is low enough. If they can game on their existing devices, at a low cost, the friction surrounding the Xbox ecosystem is reduced. Therein lies the whole ideology of Xbox Game Pass and its cloud streaming component.

For parents who have multiple kids, the cost of Xbox Game Pass rises exponentially.

This somewhat falters when you consider families. Xbox Game Pass has an opportunity to lock in the next generation of younger gamers and set expectations for what should be the norm moving forward. Nintendo has already likely captured an entire generation of youth with its handheld form factor, and I've argued before that Xbox Game Pass should have an official handheld device, even if an entirely separate topic. For parents who have multiple kids, the cost of Xbox Game Pass rises exponentially, considering each individual kid has to have their own account and subscription. You can use some account-sharing to circumvent some of this, but you lose a lot of the benefits as a result, and it's not seamless — especially if you want multiple kids playing at the same time. Account sharing only works well between two consoles, and it's not something that's even officially endorsed by Microsoft.

Microsoft has robust family controls and features, but they fall apart if you're having to sign in to your account to give your kids access to Xbox Game Pass from your profile. A family or household Xbox Game Pass plan would solve a lot of these needless issues, even if it was only allowed for child accounts.

Beyond giving your kids easy access, there's just a question of value there potentially. It's odd that I can easily share Netflix or Spotify with family members within my household, but I can't do the same with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. Why might this be? I could be a question of licenses and the remaining power of retail.

Could it realistically happen?

Xbox Game Pass

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

I think what could be holding this up is potential skepticism from Microsoft's partners. Xbox Game Pass is still a relatively "unproven" model in the long-term for third-party publishers. Although, there is a ton of data coming out that the service is only a win-win-win for everybody involved. I've seen documents from internal Microsoft presentations that detail how gamers within Xbox Game Pass are not only spending more time gaming, they're actively spending more on games at retail as well.

Why this might be is anyone's guess. Perhaps people still want the sensation of buying-to-own. Perhaps they want to take advantage of the Xbox Game Pass-exclusive discount you get after a game leaves the service. Perhaps the virality of "free-to-play-like" access to the games helps boost their mindshare profile. Or perhaps they just want to support the developers. Either way, Xbox Game Pass seems to boost retail sales of games that are in the service, not hinder them.

Still, I've heard in the past that some third-party publishers had pushed back on the idea of a family-style plan for Xbox Game Pass, worrying that their games in the service were potentially going to be split multiple ways, instead of just one. It's potentially a fair concern. Netflix and other's family-sharing features are often "abused" and shared with friends far beyond the account owner's household.

Xbox Game Pass Ea Play

Source: Microsoft (Image credit: Source: Microsoft)

Netflix hadn't begun cracking down on out-of-home sharing until recently when it began testing blocks for users who are clearly using a different IP to the account holder. It's hard to determine exactly how many users and how much mindshare Netflix may lose through this. Perhaps they're concerned that those removed from the service won't come back, impacting the user numbers they can report to shareholders.

In any case, this is why I've argued previously that Microsoft should consider an Xbox Game Pass "Lite" which includes solely its own content. Microsoft has a mountain of Xbox exclusives built in-house, and even more with Bethesda on the service now. It could circumvent the concerns of third-party devs this way, and also bring Xbox Game Pass to platforms that otherwise wouldn't be able to sell that content, such as the Nintendo Switch. Nintendo would naturally like to be able to sell third-party games through its own store, but I don't think it would say no to a service that included the likes of Halo, if it were the only way to get those games.

The other option is simply that Microsoft convinces third-parties like EA, Capcom, etc, that are potentially skeptical that a family sharing plan would only help, not hinder, their investments in the service. The data certainly seems to suggest that the boosted ease of access for games like Outriders and others are helping buy mindshare and retail sales, so giving access to more users within a household would only help increase adoption and users in the service. It may even help Xbox console sales too.

Xbox Game Pass for households is probably on the way

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

I've heard several times over the years from trusted sources that Microsoft has long been exploring some form of Xbox Game Pass for households and families. It's certainly something that is at least on their mind. That doesn't mean it will materialize in reality for certain, due to the licensing complexity, but I personally believe that it's probably on the way in some form. Whether that's the full Xbox Game Pass library sharing only to child accounts, a "lite" version with Microsoft's IP only, or the full-blown thing based on IP addresses or people within your Microsoft Family, I have no idea. What I do know is that Microsoft already has these features for Office 365, so it's not as if there's no precedent within the company for this sort of feature.

Xbox Game Pass is still definitely a work in progress, with new features always in the works, alongside Xbox Series X upgrades for the cloud streaming servers. A family-sharing plan or policy would be wildly popular I expect, and it's certainly something I hope Microsoft can deliver in the near future.

Jez Corden is a Senior 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!

29 Comments
  • I would like Ubisoft to allow family members play my purchased season pass. As it is now family members can play the main game that i bought with my MS accounts. But they need their own MS account since only ONE save slot is allowed per account. If i try to create a new game (in ex. Watch Dogs Legion) it will tell me that existing save slot will be erased. Season Pass will be bound to the Ubisoft account that is linked to the MS account that bought the game. So. all family members can play Immortals, Valhalla, Legion. But even though i bought Gold editions each family member must buy their own Season Pass, even though we use the same console.. End of rant...
  • You can already share your game pass if your child is part of your Microsoft family.
  • Huh? Only if on your Home console, and they don't have to be in your MS family. Anyone can play games on your Home console. That doesn't fix the problem of multiple consoles. If you have 2 kids with different consoles one will have to have you signed in as well. This means you can't play on a 3rd console or in Xcloud while this is happening. Xbox also makes it to where you are limited on the number of times you can change home consoles.
  • How many households do you think have 3 or more Xboxes though? I don't think even 2 is particularly common.
  • You are missing the point, but either way I am sure 2 is very normal for a family with kids, especially with several kids.
  • Maybe time changed, but having 2 identical console seems really not the most common situation, even with kids.
    But as you said, that's not the point.
    To share you Game Pass subscription you need either to set a console as your home console, or simply be connected to the console (session opened).
    So you could : Have your own console, set as home console.
    And simply connect to your kids consoles (maybe have to download games for them) and they should be able to play them, as long as your session is still opened.
  • They don't have to be identical. I always have 2. I have an Xbox one and an Xbox oneX. When I get my Series X I'll trade/sell the One, and move the oneX into the bedroom.
  • This. I personally have 3. One X, Series S and Series X. None of these are identical, yet they are treated the same by the MS servers.
  • The problem with your solution comes in when you want to play something and your account has to remain signed on the console that isn't the home console. I am pretty sure that signing in on another console will sign you out and kick the person out of their game. With 2 consoles it isn't as much of a problem, it is when you add a third that you can't do anything else if that other console that isn't the home needs you signed in.
  • When all of my kids lived at home I had 4 360's and a PS3. As of right now I have a Series X, Xbox One X, Xbox One, PS4 and a PS5. I know alot of people with multiple consoles throughout their house.
  • While I agree few would have three, but our house does, and I have been longing for a family plan option for Game Pass. My son got his one XBONE S for his birthday last year and I gave my OG XBONE to my daughter when I upgraded to a Series X. This is going to happen more frequently too as people upgrade and find a new spot in the home for their old console.
  • If you have two Switches and you want to play Mario kart on both you need two copies. Games have ALWAYS worked this way. This is nothing new. In a very few limited cases Nintendo let you get around this. But mostly, if you had two consoles and you want both to play Madden, you need two copies. Same for my steam account on PC. And everything else. Would a family pass be nice? Sure. But do I think MS will do it? Probably not. You can always go back to buying multiple copies of the same game instead. Or you can get one game pass ultimate for yourself and get the base one for your kids. I know it sucks paying for a service you’re getting and using but, all things considered, even paying for two passes myself it’s a great deal.
  • I think in the current day of Game Pass disruption, one should not hold on to what has ALWAYS happened in games. Also, Nintendo isn't a company to talk about value and providing it to their customers. They will charge you for the same Mario game from the 80s every time they can.
  • I have three consoles myself. A family plan would be great.
  • I've been pining for this for a long time, but I'd rather see a family library feature. As someone that has two Series X and a One X with a partner and kid that all play the same games it's very expensive. Otherwise I stream from one Series X and my partner and kid double up on the "Home" Xbox so they can use my library.
  • I think this might be the reason for not having a Game Pass Family subscription yet. The entitlement system is quite old and hasn't seen much improvement since the beginning of the 360 era. I think they are working on how you can share your content with your family, including your library, Game Pass and Gold, and not make it tied to the console physically. At least I hope.
  • I suspect the real reason, beyond publisher hesitation, is that not enough people own more than one Xbox to make this worthwhile for MS to pursue except for PR reasons. It'll mostly be a way for people to get a break on paying for Game Pass by splitting it with friends who don't even live in the same house. If and when xCloud becomes a bigger part of how people play games, the need for a family bundle will become more significant as the home xbox functionality won't work to cover for individual family members playing on their phones or Smart TVs or tablets. So I'm sure it'll come eventually, but I don't think it needs to be there now or even soon for the vast vast majority of users.
  • A family plan would result in more Xbox sales. How it's set up now is so difficult, confusing and you have to use a PC for restrictions and crap. Make it simple just add a family plan and put in your members, add restrictions and there you have it, all from the console. Please, please add this should be simple feature.
  • Who cares if it leads to more Xbox sales? Selling Xboxes isn't the goal, it's selling the software. The software and services (and accessories) are where Microsoft make their money. Decreasing profits from Game Pass to sell more hardware that's sold at a loss (or very low profit margins) is poor business.
  • Lol, that's funny. The more devices you have in your consumers hands the more applications (software) they buy for said devices. Just ask Apple and their multi billion dollar App store, it wouldn't exist had they not had multi million unit iPhone sales. They go together. Having Game Pass has lead to more people buying more games they wouldn't have had they not had Game pass. They see and play games they just would not have taken the time to look at before. Win win for Microsoft and the game Publishers and we get exposed to more games. Gotta love it.
  • Only if your business is focused on hardware.
    Look at Windows or Android software sales.
  • You can't sell software unless there is hardware that will run it. Microsoft Windows and Android work very closely with the hardware companies that run their software. The hardware companies are always requesting from them things they would like to see based on user experience feedback. So they implement those changes so they keep/grow their customers. So even a software company is hardware focused.
  • Xbox and GamePass already have family share if you set it up correctly. I do agree family plans are a great way to split a service like Netflix or Spotify with a few friends you don't live with for less money, if that was the hint hint of the article and ask from MS.
  • No, they don't. Home consoles are not the same thing.
  • I don't think this needs to happen. With as pricey as games typically are, the "home console" sharing is more than adequate. Game Pass already overflows with value for a single person. The Netflix comparison doesn't work terribly well because they sell very different content (particularly looking at TV shows, where purchasing vs one-time viewing on TV is much cheaper and common than, say, buying DVDs/Blu-Rays). Spotify is also handling content that usually sells for MUCH less (usually $1/song or $7-10/album). IMO, Game Pass' value is already well beyond what anyone should reasonably expect. For $180/year (less, if you get it on sale or through the $1 XBL Gold upgrade), you typically can purchase 3 AAA games at launch or maybe 6-8 at lower prices after launch. Game Pass throws you a large library of games, including AAA launch titles like MLB The Show and the stable of content from Xbox Game Studios, plus a bunch of older things. Oh, and you get xCloud and streaming from your console. The idea that they need to give blanket access to more than one console seems like you're asking WAY Too much for your money. Game Pass already feels like a big step back in per-user profits than game sales used to offer. I don't think Microsoft has any real incentive to open up a family plan, if staying profitable is the goal. If they considered it, I think you'd have to see the annual cost climb to $250-300.
  • I'd gladly pay $30 a month for a shared family library and Xbox Game pass for my family. Paying double would still be cheaper since we're a three Xbox and three gamer household. As the account holder I basically just have to stream constantly now so that my partner and kid can take turns playing games from my library on the "Home" Xbox with their accounts.
  • This.
    Or, say $25 a month for dual consoles, $30 for three. Off a common router to prevent abuses.
    Technically, it is doable. However, how many folks would really go for GAMEPASS on those terms?
    Other than kids in dorms? I do think MS does need to allow some limited form of library sharing. If only for games that allow coop. My sister can only tap my library when I'm not on the box, using my account on her XBOX. Playing tbe occasional coop session requires two copies of the game which we can't do often enough to justify the cost given our tastes are different. A session invite for two player games would actually suffice. It would even serve as word of mouth try before you buy promotion. For your needs, a game-loan mechanism strictly for family would be a fair balance. In the ebook world book publishers can flag individual books as lendable on KINDLE which makes the book inaccessible for a one-time, fixed period. Not all publishers do it but some do and keep on doing it so their sales aren't impacted. With a bit of care some form of library sharing *can* be done without gutting the economics of sales. If MS can't get partners to buy in, they could try it themselves with a couple of their own, older properties. Say Forza Horizon, Gears 4, Fallout 76. Even a temporary trial might gauge the actual real world interest. Because while it is easy to float ideas in a vacuum there's no telling just how much demand truly exists for these things.
  • Ultimately, Microsoft should have a family plan for Xbox Game Pass like they do for Office 365.
  • So, I have 3 XBox's. XBox One, XBox One X, and XBox Series X. I believe my "Home" XBox is the XBox One. My kids use that XBox. To install games from GamePass on the XBox One I simply Sign out of the Series X, Sign in as myself on the XBox One, download the game, Sign out and now my kids switch their profile to theirs and they can play the downloaded Gamepass game while I Sign back into the Series X and play my games. I haven't tried installing anything with my account on the One X or playing the same game that was just downloaded to the XBox One. This has worked well so far for me.