Xbox Game Pass for PC: From Travesty to Triumph?

Chase Gamwell 2019-12-01

Art by Redline XIII

Swiss is an acquired taste for some, yet delicious to dedicated cheese lovers everywhere. Growing up, the giant holes in it always puzzled me. Why did it have holes? Were they good or bad? I never asked about the impact on flavor or price, just about their presence. Because I noticed.

The Xbox Game Pass for PC is the same. Though it’s got plenty of gaming “flavor,” initial holes detracted from an otherwise fantastic experience. But has it come far enough since E3 to justify Microsoft’s $4.99/month asking price?

Pleasantly Surprised

The initial announcement at E3 got me to sit up and pay attention. I tried the original Game Pass when Sea of Thieves first came out, but came away unimpressed (with the game and the Game Pass). It cost $9.99/month and there just wasn’t enough content to keep me interested for more than a week. But the new, improved Xbox Game Pass for PC was Microsoft really flexing its way into the PC market in a way it hadn’t done before. The move was surprising, but not unwelcome, and far too good to pass up.

I jumped on my PC and paid the $1 Microsoft was asking for the first month (an E3 promo). Excitement ruled the rest of the evening as I browsed the library of games and downloaded all the ones I’d been itching to play, but hadn’t pulled the trigger on – quite a few of which were sitting on my Steam Wishlist. 

All I had to do was start playing, but that’s where the trouble started.

Play Ball?

Forza Horizon 4 had been on my radar since The Crew 2 failed to satisfy. One thing or another kept me from buying a PC copy of the game, but when I saw it was included in the Game Pass, I was out of excuses. The game launched just fine and immediately recognized my Logitech Driving Force GT. After a few minutes of graphical and controller tweaks, I was off to the races. I thought. Except, the game crashed during the opening cut scene. And again when I rebooted the game. And every time I booted it after that…

A quick look online revealed that others have had similar problems with the game on PC. Apparently, the Windows Digital Store version of the game (the same one available through the Game Pass) launched as a UWP app (instead of an executable application), which caused all kinds of issues. There were a variety of suggestions regarding what to do about the crash, including rebooting, tweaking permissions, and reinstalling, but nothing I tried got me any further than the opening cutscene. Eventually, the game refused to boot altogether. I uninstalled it.

Strike one.

Cross Code was next. The Steam Demo piqued my interest, but like any faithful Steam user, I was holding out for a sale. Lucky for me, it was also included in the Game Pass. The game booted fine and it looked just as good as the steam version. But there was no mouse+keyboard. That’s fine…I have a PS4 controller ready just for such occasions. Only, there was no PS4 controller support either. A quick look online showed plenty of people with similar problems. Apparently, some have had success utilizing third-party programs to emulate Xbox keybinds on other types of controllers, but the prevailing advice was to use an Xbox controller. I had one of those, too, but from an older version of the Xbox One, which meant no Bluetooth. The extremely short micro-USB cable I had on hand tethered me to my PC in the most awkward position imaginable, and since I was in no mood to go out and spend nearly $50 on a Bluetooth-enabled Xbox controller or a longer cable (and let’s face it…cables are just terrible in today’s day and age), I shut the game down.

Strike two.

I spent a little bit of time dabbling with State of Decay 2, a fine game that supported mouse+keyboard and ran well, but it wasn’t why I signed up for the XGP. After just a few days, I was already feeling lackluster about Microsoft’s new service, so I took a break. Only a few days passed before the itch to explore more of what the Game Pass for PC had to offer returned, and when I booted the application, there were already more games available to try! It was like the first night all over again, scrolling through the exciting offerings, adding titles to download queue in anticipation of dipping my toes into worlds I’d been thinking about experiencing for quite some time.

But the new games came with a new problem. 

Some of the titles downloaded without a hitch, while others displayed an error within a few seconds. That’s when I noticed it, nestled beneath the game’s title: “Administrator Approval Required for Installation.” The same message appeared on a variety of titles, including a few I’d already installed. And guess what happened when I tried to launch them? Zip. Zilch. Nada. And attempting a reinstall delivered the same error.

Another foray online revealed that a slew of other subscribers were having the same issue. After a dozen threads, I discovered that it supposedly stemmed from a Windows Update. Suggested solutions ranged from reinstalling the XGP app, rolling back the latest Windows update, or even a fresh install of Windows!

Strike Three.

I’m not mad…I’m just Disappointed

I canceled my subscription to the Game Pass that night, furious yet heartbroken. For the longest time, Microsoft has been espousing support for PC gamers. And though they continue to say it loud and proud year after year, the statements ring hollow because of just how little Microsoft is doing. After all, actions speak louder than words. So, when the announcement for a PC version of the Game Pass was made at E3, real excitement was warranted. Especially considering the games it shipped with and the ones that would become available throughout the rest of the year (including Halo, Gears, and The Outer Worlds). 

Perhaps I expected too much of Microsoft. Or maybe those expectations were based in a reality of sky-high hopes. After all, the landscape of PC gaming in 2019 is a fractured archipelago of companies vying for a piece of the pie. Subscription services are beginning to shift the industry focus away from the customer. And value is drowning in the slowly rising waters of monthly fees. For a brief moment, the Game Pass felt like a momentary respite. Five bucks a month is a small price to pay for so much access, especially held up against EA Access at $10/mo or Ubisoft Club at $15/mo. But in spite of all the games Microsoft planned to include with the subscription, there were just too many gripes that stabbed at the heart of proud PC Gamers.

But…surely, Microsoft could do better!

One Last Chance

As much as I wanted to set the Game Pass aside, it offered too much promise. So, with very low expectations, I renewed my subscription. And I’m glad I did.

The “Administrator Approval Required for Installation” issue was resolved, allowing me to install and launch every game with the tag. That meant Hollow Knight, Cross Code, and other games were, once again, available. Further, a quick Google search reminded me about the Wireless Adapter for Windows 10; it’s only $20 (US) and works with any Xbox One controller. After a quick trip to Best Buy, I was untethered and ready to go.

Feels Like the First Time

Over the last two months, I’ve played through Hollow Knight and Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, dabbled in Moonlighter, The Messenger, and Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden, and I’m currently investing a ridiculous amount of hours in The Outer Worlds.

The current version of the Game Pass is far from perfect, and even though Microsoft has rolled out plenty of updates since E3, there’s more that can be done to smooth out plenty of the bumps still present. But, believe it or not, Microsoft is sticking to its word with the Game Pass. They’re offering a HUGE library of currently available games and making all of their new releases available on day one. Rather than letting issues lie – like Microsoft normally does with Windows – they’re rolling out fixes faster than I’ve ever seen.

Considering all the games I’ve  played, the Game Pass has allowed me to save over a hundred dollars had I bought the titles on Steam (or elsewhere). And I can’t believe I’m saying this, but since renewing my subscription, I’ve barely touched Steam! Bottom line? The Xbox Game Pass for PC is absolutely worth the $1 price of admission (a friend signed up this week to play The Outer Worlds and the introductory pricing from E3 is still available), and there are enough games available to justify a few months of the $4.99 monthly fee. If you haven’t tried it yet and are interested, head over to the Microsoft virtual store and download the Xbox (beta) app. And, as always, let me know what you think in the comments below!

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Comments

  • chimpy

    XBOXGP for PC can be an exercise in banging your head against the wall. It’s like the guys and gals Microsoft just can’t help themselves. But when you’ve jumped through the last hoop it is worth it. You get a ton of games, including the new ones for a very low price. I think you should mention one aspect that is missing from the article. Some of the games on XBOXGP for PC are only on there for an unknown window of time. Every so often XBOXGP tells you a game is leaving soon, and once it’s left you can no longer play it.
    If you are happy to play something once and forget about it this is fine, but some people like to hoard stuff, and if you are one of those people you might be gutted when a game you like is removed from XBOXGP. It will probably be on sale cheap elsewhere if you have to own it. Whilst XBOXGP does let you know a week or so before a game is about to leave I don’t think there is a way to know right from the very start how long a game will be on there for. It’s not a big issue for me, but it could be for some people.
    Overall I think XBOXGP PC is very good in terms of market competetion between Nexflix for games services. It’s also nice to see Microsoft recognising that they took a battering from Sony in the last console generation and need to up their consumer friendly game. I’d like to see MS really put a lot of effort into offering the gaming consumer value for money and I think despite the technical problems XBOXGP PC is a good statement and indicator of Microsoft’s intent. Hopefully this and the Epic Game Store will force Steam to wake up and put a bit more effort in.

    December 4, 2019 at 11:44 AM