Someone's playing the long game
With the recent Xbox Series X game reveal event, Sony and Microsoft have more or less laid all of their next-gen cards on the table. One might be more aesthetically pleasing or the other might be more powerful, but you really can't go wrong with picking up either console. It's generally accepted that the PS5 will have slightly more exclusive games though. However, Microsoft isn't going down without a fight. Their ace up the sleeve is Xbox Game Pass, which has slowly been expanding into a behemoth of a service since it was first launched.
For those who are unfamiliar with the program, Xbox Game Pass is a subscription service where you pay up to $15 USD per month to get access to a library of over 200 games. You can download as many games as you want and play however long as you want, with the main limiting factor being when the games rotate out of the service. Game Pass is also on PC with cross-save and cross-play features. The PC game library is slightly different, but everything from Halo and Sea of Thieves to Subnautica and The Outer Worlds has shown up on Game Pass at some point or another for both platforms.
Sony has a similar service of course, dubbed PlayStation Now, but it's evident that Xbox Game Pass is in a whole different league. In fact, Game Pass has proven to be such a success that recent estimates allege that there are almost five times as many Game Pass subscribers (more than 10 million people) as there are PlayStation Now subscribers (2.2 million people). Simply put, while PlayStation Now has a respectable library of games, very few of its games are considered new. It's more of a way to catch up with old titles that you may have missed, like the first The Last of Us.
By comparison, practically every single game that was revealed thus far for the Xbox Series X, including the AAA flagship titles, is going to be available on Xbox Game Pass. This includes first party games like Halo Infinite and games by smaller developers like Call of the Sea. If you love artistic games that are presumably story driven, there's Tell Me Why and Everwild. Horror game aficionado? Game Pass is going to get that too with The Medium. Perhaps most surprising of all is that Destiny 2's DLCs are showing up to the party.
There really is no better way to make a new console more appealing than by practically handing out several hundred dollars' worth of games with each and every console. Combined with the sheer variety, it's hard to describe Game Pass without sounding like an ad. Every single one of those next-gen games could be mediocre, and it'd still be an objectively good deal. To put it in a different perspective, the only way you break even on the subscription cost is if it takes you four months or longer to beat one game. That's also assuming that you're only playing that one game.
To reach the same amount of value as Game Pass offers, Sony would have to commit to putting all of the PS5's exclusives onto PlayStation Now, and they're still going to be playing catch up. There is, unfortunately, no sign whatsoever that this is going to happen. Inevitably, this means that the PS5 will always be the more indirectly expensive console, which may be a very relevant factor for some people. After all, it doesn't really matter if your console has more exclusives if you can't afford said exclusives.
It would certainly explain why the recent Xbox Series X game reveal event almost felt like it was more of an advertisement for Game Pass than Microsoft's next-gen console at times. If nothing else, it's more than enough evidence that Microsoft and Sony are approaching next gen in vastly different ways. Sony is hoping that the raw number of flashy-looking exclusives for the PS5 will help sell units. A very traditional, but expensive, strategy. Of course, it also implicitly requires each and every exclusive to be of exceptional quality.
Microsoft's approach is way more consumer friendly, if experimental, by comparison (surprising as it may be). The Xbox Series X marketing can be summed up as "Buy an Xbox, or use a PC. Buy all these games, or get Game Pass to play them at a discount. We've got Halo and cool artistic, story-driven games too! Whatever's convenient for you, dude." It's arguably a rather industry-friendly stance too, as few developers would ever complain that more people are playing their games. The only real mystery is how developers actually make money from Game Pass, though it's presumably quite lucrative given the number of developers associated with it.
In any case, history has shown that people prefer the console that is significantly cheaper than the competition. The Xbox 360 and PS3 era provided more than enough evidence that this habit exists. The difference this time around is that the cheaper option isn't going to be a direct comparison between two price tags. Whether or not Microsoft is successful in conveying that Game Pass, and the Xbox Series X by extension, is the more economical choice remains to be seen.