Forza Horizon 5 is currently putting up massive numbers in early access, which actually requires you to shell out some money for the game. But if you want to play it a few days later? All that requires is an Xbox Game Pass subscription for its official release on Tuesday. And it’s pretty clear its going to be huge there.
To me, the launch of Forza Horizon 5 feels like the first shot in a sprawling new era for Xbox Game Pass, one that may entirely change the dynamic of the console industry.
Obviously, Xbox Game Pass has drawn no shortage of praise already, and it has been putting Microsoft first party exclusives there for a while, including Forza Horizon 4. And yet here in the Xbox Series X/S era, I think things are about to change now that Microsoft has armed themselves to the teeth with high profile first party releases, both from its own existing series, and from acquisitions (ie. every future Bethesda game).
To this point, while the Xbox Series X/S has sold well, and some decent things have launched or come to Game Pass this past year, we have not seen anything as high profile as what’s about to happen in this next month, where both Forza Horizon 5 and Halo Infinite’s campaign launch on Game Pass (Halo multiplayer is free, even without Game Pass).
These are two massive Microsoft games, and with Halo, for instance, we haven’t seen a full entry for since 2015’s Halo 5. And it’s only the start. Microsoft is going to start cranking out a whole bunch of games that launch day one on Game Pass over the entire rest of this console generation. Hellblade, Fable, Perfect Dark, whatever the next Gears will be and however Halo expands. And then there’s the entire Bethesda catalog, which so far has really only put old games on Game Pass. But starting with Starfield, and then every new entry in existing series like Dishonored, Doom, Wolfenstein, Prey, Fallout, Deathloop and Elder Scrolls seem likely to be day one Game Pass entries as well. In addition to new IPs. In addition to the other studios Microsoft has picked up. In addition to deals Microsoft makes with third parties.
Sony and even Nintendo are the polar opposite of this, sticking with traditional standalone launches for their first party games. Sony in particular has gone the other direction and declared that all their games are worth a $70 price tag.
A lot of this is perception. Xbox Game Pass isn’t free, of course. At a baseline of $10 a month, that’s $120 a year just for Game Pass, separate from XBL or Game Pass for PC options. Get those and Ultimate bumps it to $15. So that’s the cost of 2-3 new games year.
It’s hard to explain, but it does feel free, however, once you already have that subscription rolling. And given what Game Pass offers, it seems kind of hard to have an Xbox and not also more or less automatically sign up for Game Pass as well. So it creates a situation where you have the weigh the pros and cons of a Sony $70 exclusive every time one comes out, or with Xbox, you simply…already have the game. No decision required. Again, this is not “new,” and yet I do think this upcoming era of much higher profile day one releases on Game Pass is really going to change the narrative here, and I do wonder how long Xbox’s competition can ignore this format.