The End of Ownership? (Premium)


I signed up for an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription yesterday, and now I feel like I’ve taken a step into the future.

It’s only a step, to be sure. The real future, the not-so-distant future, isn’t just about accessing a subscription library of Xbox games. It’s about a subscription library of games that works anywhere, on any device. That future, of course, is called xCloud. Or Google Stadia. Or PlayStation something-something. Or whatever.

But these things happen gradually, in stages. When it first launched, some incorrectly called Xbox Game Pass the “Netflix of video games.” It wasn’t that, and it still isn’t: Sony’s PlayStation Now, which lets gamers stream games over that service, is the closer fit; Xbox Game Pass requires you to download games—often really big games—before you can play them.

That distinction is critical, and it is the first important difference between the world of today and that of the future, at least here in Xbox-land. Where streaming content allows for instantaneous (or at least near-instantaneous) choices, downloading requires you to wait. The future is on-demand.

How on-demand remains an open question. Today, Xbox Game Pass Ultimate promises over 100 games on Xbox One plus another 100 on the PC. But those collections are small compared to the broader library of games available on each platform. And as bad, the collection changes over time: New titles are added all the time, yes. But titles are removed as well.

This is the way of things. Several years ago, I was visiting friends in France, and they were quite interested in Netflix, which was then officially unavailable there, so they needed a U.S. credit card and a VPN solution to make it work. Back then, Netflix wasn’t the original content powerhouse it is today, and its collection consisted mostly of middling TV series and straight to video movies, with just a handful of reasonably decent content.

My French friends hated Netflix. What they were expecting was a sort of iTunes Movies and TV shows experience, but on-demand. The shows and movies they wanted to watch were not available on the service. My response to this was that they needed to think a bit differently, that instead of expecting specific titles, they should browse through what was available, create a queue of those titles, and then choose from that when they wanted to watch Netflix.

That’s what Xbox Game Pass is like today: If you can find games you want to play, it’s a good value. If you can’t—I’ve spent the past 15 years playing Call of Duty games semi-exclusively, and there are no COD titles available on the service—then it probably seems like a huge waste of money.

Microsoft is counting on two things here. One, that the library will improve to the point where it will attract a wider audience. And two, that there are fewer gamers like me than there are those who like to experiment and play a diverse range of games.

It’s a good idea. But I’ll point out that the game library in what’s now called Xbox Game Pass for console hasn’t exactly grown by leaps and bounds since the service was first announced two years ago. Back then, Microsoft was talking up “over 100 games.” Today, it’s still marketing that same rough figure.

Adding PC support is interesting, though, and it represents another step forward towards a more heterogeneous future. I’m not a PC gamer per se—I switched to the console semi-exclusively when the Xbox 360 launched in 2005, leaving mouse and keyboard behind—but I do like the idea of gaming on the go, and that’s not really possible with Xbox consoles.

In anticipation of this future, I’ve spent some time recently with PC games, though the PCs I’ve been using—my All In One (AIO) desktop and my laptop—are not exactly gaming-class PCs. This has consisted mostly of Epic Games, which you should explore—they offer a free game every month, too—plus some classic games I played to death many years ago, like the original DOOM.

I can say that PC gaming is a bit like riding a bike: It never really leaves you. And with this weekend’s release of the new Xbox app and the availability of Xbox Game Pass on PC, I’m finding that PC gaming has evolved to the point where it can be simple enough. Not as simple as on a console, of course, especially given the different PC configurations that are possible. But simple enough.

This gives me hope for that real future, of game streaming that is not bound by a particular device (a console or a PC) or even by a small set of devices (a console and a PC). One where there is a reasonable library of content, as with today’s Netflix. Where I will almost certainly find something I want to watch—sorry, play—no matter my mood.

Hey, it’s happened before, to music, to books, to movies and TV shows, and more. And it’s happened in broader ways out in the world, too.

I assume many of you are Star Trek fans. I’ve always been fascinated by Star Trek and its hopeful take on a future in which money and the accumulation of things are obsolete. This is science fiction in every sense–I don’t believe that money will ever really disappear—but recent technological advances have perhaps forever altered our sense of ownership of physical things.

Regarding money, I do feel like we’re witnessing the beginning of the end for cash money. But we’re still paying for things. It’s just that we’re doing so differently. In a very short period of time, we’ve added tap to pay capabilities to credit and debit cards, and usage of phone-based electronics payments—-Apple Pay, Google Pay, Samsung, Pay, and so on—has exploded and is even more secure than using credit cards.

As momentous, our relationship with things, especially things we could only purchase and own in the past, is changing dramatically. Ownership just isn’t as important anymore.

Consider Uber, Lyft, and other ride-sharing services. The discussion there often centers on local laws and regulations, and whether these services unfairly harm traditional services like taxis and even public transportation. But the bigger impact, perhaps, is that Uber and its ilk eliminate the need for many to even own a car because they are so inexpensive compared to traditional taxis. And a coming generation of people, accompanied to using their smartphones to order everything from pizza to a ride to a weekend getaway vacation, don’t really value owning their own vehicles in the way that we older folk tend to.

They may be on to something. Car ownership, like home ownership, was once just an assumed purchase for many, despite there being a reasonable debate over the relative merits of doing so. 30 years into home ownership—we’ve now “owned” four homes in three different states in the U.S.—I’m not convinced we’ve come out ahead financially.

I know there’s more to it than the money, and that most people understand, I hope, that many homes are not investments at all. Or don’t care. Homes, like cars, are expensive, and they’re often life-altering milestones too. But it’s still interesting that this conversation about ownership applies to so many things these days.

Back to gaming…

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Comments (26)

26 responses to “The End of Ownership? (Premium)”

  1. lvthunder

    The reason Uber and Lyft are so cheap is because those companies are losing money on every ride. Once they are forced to stop subsidizing the rides it won't be as competitive. That's why they are really hoping self driving cars come soon so they can cut out all the drivers. It's the only chance they have at becoming profitable.

    • richfrantz

      In reply to lvthunder:

      Are they losing money? IDK, but the drivers of these services don't make much. My daughter drives for Grubhub and Postmates and usually makes less than minimum wage. Gig economy is for the math impaired.

  2. Elan Gabriel

    The fact that titles will get pulled, are a deal breaker for me. Just like Netflix, it can become a supporting service for junk games and play-once titles. I like to re-watch movies/TV, re-play games and re-listen to music and I wish they will be able to offer that in the future. Until then, it's not good enough. Also, the just announced Ubisoft subscription is bad move, expect more and more publisher to have their own service and potentially pull their titles from other services, and you'll need to work real hard to play your games.

  3. Jhambi

    They should go all in and bundle the game pass with a surface all access pass. You get the hardware (surface studio), productivity(office 365) and gaming (game pass and elite controller)

    All for a reasonable $500 per month :)

  4. Calibr21

    For anyone thinking of signing up for Game Pass Ultimate, Microsoft is doing a 1 time only conversion of all your remaining Xbox Live subscription months to Game Pass Ultimate to you sign up, up to 36 months. What this means is if you are in it for the long haul, max our your Xbox Live gold prior to signing up for Game Pass Ultimate.

    I bought a 24 month Xbox Live subscription at Costco for $95. When I signed up for Gamepass Ultimate for $1, all my Xbox live time converted over. I now have GamePass Ultimate for 25 months at the cost of $96.

    After you sign up, Xbox Live subscription time will only convert to Gamepass ultimate at the MSRP value. So a 1 year ($60) Xbox live code will only convert into 4 months of GamePass ultimate.

  5. justme

    Hello - been around for quite a while as a Basic member or lurker. The recent gaming (and W10 1903) discussion(s) have lead me to sub, at least for a month, to give Premium a go. Now then...

    From a consumer perspective, I have never understood the fascination with digital subscriptions, apart from the fact that they make tons of money for the companies that offer them. I too like an array of game types and styles. But access a subscription library of games? No. As a PC gamer, I have a decent library of games via Steam and Gog. My game time is limited due to work and life. I dont want to troll through a subscription library, only to find either nothing I am interested in, or that I have to pay for the title I want (on top of the subscription). I also dont want The Political Correctness Police of XYZ subscription service to suddenly yank a title because someone protested/yelled/whined/cried/whathaveyou. Additionally, what happens if the shelf life of a game expires (read: XYZ subscription service decides to take it out of their subscription) and I havent played it yet or am only part way through it? If I am into it or want to get into it, I am going to end up buying the game anyway.

    This leads to the next portion of this - games anywhere, on any device. Do you really see yourself needing your Call of Duty fix via a tablet or phone(!) while riding a bus or a train? I suspect the vast majority of folks that game on the go likely play "casual" titles. OK, so maybe you dont game in transit - what about a hotel? I can see where you might want to do that, but hotel wifi isnt exactly known for its speed or robustness, which could impact your stream. You cant do it on international flights, either. I can see someone wanting to play their XBox collection on a PC, but the honest answer is that there are simply not enough exclusives that I cant get on another platform (for me, anyway) to really care - and if I cant get the titles I want, why subscribe?

    Now lets look at the Lyft/Uber analogy. Streaming games is fine as long as you have fast internet. If that internet connection goes down or slows down, you're stuck. As a previous poster mentioned - think Austin, New York, or London for a time with regards to Uber/Lyft.

    While I am fascinated with the technology, subscribing to a game service isnt for me. I wish my console gamer brethren well, but I'll stick to buying my PC games.

  6. Patrick3D

    A future of poverty in which you own nothing and are beholden to corporations for your very survival? No thanks. Youtube, Twitter, Facebook have already shown they do not support Freedom Of Speech.

  7. wright_is

    I have Amazon Prime, but there isn't much there that I want to watch. Oh, there are hundreds of series and films, but not much that I actually want to watch - or I'll start watching a series and it will "disappear" or the rest of the season will be for purchase only.

    A lot of the series I would like to watch aren't on Amazon (or Netflix), either on Prime or to rent or buy. It means that I still search the bargain bins at my local electronics store for boxed series.

    If gaming goes the same way, what happens when I have nearly completed a game and it is no longer part of the "100"? I would have been better off buying in the first place.

    I haven't had a console since my PS2 broke sometime in 2006/2007. But I bought it in 2001 and over that time, I bought 5 games and only really played 3 of them regularly - GTA3 + San Andreas and Gran Turismo 3. For players like me, who play a few hours a month and only play a couple of games, a rental scheme just doesn't make any sense.

  8. hrlngrv

    An argument can be made (has been many times) that Uber and Lyft are as affordable as they are because drivers for those services are clueless about depreciation. Taxi medallion owners can deduct depreciation of their owned taxis as well as many other expenses. Uber and Lyft drivers can't deduct depreciation, lease payments, maintenance and repairs, gasoline (including gasoline taxes), oil, insurance, or vehicle registration fees. Thus the minor advantage taxi fleet owners still have. However, the implication is that after factoring in these nondeductible costs, Uber and Lyft drivers make less than minimum wage. And more pollution and congestion too! Progress!!

    As for home ownership, the only way it works out financially is living in the same house for decades AND being lucky enough to have lived in an area in which house prices have risen consistently throughout that time. Moving more frequently than once a decade, thus selling houses that often, is a guaranteed way not to make much on houses because of the costs of getting the old house ready to sell, then paying brokers' commissions and in some states lawyers' fees. Moving frequently may be required as one rises through an organization, but the pay increase with each move needs to be at least 25%. OTOH, if property taxes and assessments are rising, it may be necessary to move in order to cut losses.

  9. red.radar

    I guess the argument for renting your content is that the medium is perishable. You may own the disc but eventually the console dies... you may own the dvd but then.... TVs move to 20k resolution and your movie looks terrible. Or your device doesn’t even have a disc.

    I get it .. but I like the freedom of watching what I want when I want it no questions and no license limitations. I hate not being able to watch something because two fat cats in the board room couldn’t split the difference between a few cents.

    And storage is getting really cheep. Music and ebooks are pretty stable. WAV is fairly stable as an Audio format.

    I think It’s worth owning your music and books but Renting your movies and games.

  10. Matt Lohr

    Subscriptions and streaming are great until Google or Microsoft vetos a game due to a single heckler. Whether for politics, PR, or profit, big tech firms will always find it easiest to remove a title and ignore your disappointment. See Amazon with books, or Netflix and Disney with movies and shows.

    Forgoing a car because of Uber and Lyft is also great, until your municipality bans ridesharing due to politics. See Austin and NY.

  11. Thom77

    Sorry Thurott, but 12 years ago you were overheard making a sexist comment by a woman, therefore your subscription account will be revoked including all access to your games.


  12. james_wilson

    I don't think cash is in any danger of going away in the US. Whenever I visit, the amount of cash tipping that goes on is incredible. Tipping porters at the airport, the taxi, the guy who takes the bags out of the car, the guy who brings the bags to the room, the guy who gives you towels at the pool, the maitre d', the waiters, etc etc. How do you carry around all those dollar bills? I hear two dollar bills are a thing. I think I need some of those.

  13. harmjr

    I rarely play games but to think that a game I am playing is going to be pulled from my subscription and swapped out with something else has me on edge of buying this. I would much rather have a Movies Anywhere style.

  14. Skolvikings

    I semi-exclusively get my gaming news from Paul.