Xbox Game Pass has one big advantage over Netflix, says Phil Spencer

Xbox Game Pass
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Xbox Game Pass is here to stay, according to Phil Spencer — but then again, so is buying games the old-fashioned way. Spencer, the head of the Xbox brand, recently appeared on “Sway,” a New York Times podcast hosted by Kara Swisher. There, he discussed the metaverse, Xbox’s potential role in it and what video games have to teach us about the way people interact online.

(In related news, Microsoft has finally discontinued the Xbox One.)

The interview is too long and eclectic to sum up briefly, but Spencer did hit on a few particular topics of interest for Xbox fans. He explained Microsoft’s plans for Xbox Game Pass to Swisher in great detail, but also reminded her that subscription services aren’t going to replace traditional game downloads — or even physical discs — anytime soon.

“We want you to be able to play Xbox on any device, a device that you might already own, a phone, a tablet, a smart TV,” said Spencer. “You should be able to play on your Mac. You should be able to play on your PC … Xbox Cloud is our product that allows people to stream Xbox games on any device.”

It’s worth noting that, aside from smart TVs, Xbox Game Pass Ultimate does allow you to stream to any of those devices. And smart TV functionality for Game Pass is in the works.

Swisher was not the first to compare Xbox Game Pass to a “Netflix for video games.” Spencer both agreed and disagreed with this assessment.

“Your cloud gaming model’s a Netflix for video games, correct?” Swisher asked.

“From a streaming standpoint, it is,” Spencer replied. “I’d say the difference for us is in the business model of — you can buy every game that’s available on the subscription, which is a little different than a music subscription or a movie subscription

“I think the option of allowing people to buy, it’s just been a traditional part of a gaming. The retail market continues to be very strong and grow. So let’s make sure we offer our customers choice between subscriptions and transactions.”

In other words, Xbox Game Pass is like Netflix is that it offers users a ton of different games to stream or download for one fixed monthly price. It’s different, though, in that users can buy those games directly through Xbox, if they so choose. If you want to buy a movie that you see on Netflix, you have to do so through a completely different service.

At the same time, Spencer reminded Swisher that “transaction is bigger than subscription,” and Xbox Game Pass has experienced faster growth because it’s still such a new technology. It’s not going to be the dominant form of Xbox gaming for a while, if ever.

The interview is an interesting listen otherwise, too, covering topics from Xbox Series X supply chain woes to community moderation. But for now, it seems that Xbox Game Pass fans and naysayers can both rest easy. The service isn’t going anywhere (neither are the best Xbox Game Pass games), but if you don’t want to use it, you’re currently in the majority.

Marshall Honorof

Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.