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What is Xbox Game Pass? Here’s everything you need to know

We dig into Xbox Game Pass, Ultimate, and Xbox Live Gold.

Key art for Gears 5, featuring Kait Diaz and Marcus Fenix. Credit: The Coalition

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With Game Pass expanding onto mobile devices, and an increasing supply of next-gen Xbox Series consoles being made available, Microsoft’s subscription service has reportedly amassed more than 20 million subscribers. At the same time, the company’s Xbox Live branding is being phased out—at least in part—after almost 20 years. Between Xbox Game Pass, Ultimate, and Xbox Live Gold, there’s a confusing array of options. So which one do you need?

Below, we’ll give you a rundown of the different subscription plans, touching on the roughly 370 games in the current console library and how much each one costs, to help you decide which option is right for you.

What is Xbox Game Pass?

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Credit: Playground Games

‘Forza’ is one of Xbox’s most consistently excellent first-party series.

Game Pass is the new cornerstone of Microsoft’s gaming business, not just on Xbox consoles but also on PC and mobile devices. For a single monthly subscription fee (available in three different plans), players get access to a large library of console and PC games, exclusive discounts, and various deals and perks.

Where it gets a little tricky is in looking at the three different plans and deciding which one, if any, makes sense for you. Xbox Game Pass for Console will run you $9.99 a month, and offers launch-day access to all Xbox Game Studios titles on consoles, numerous other games, and member discounts. If you’re only playing on PC, Game Pass for PC costs $9.99 a month and includes all the same perks as the console plan—plus the EA Play catalog, which is a considerable value. (There’s a lot of overlap between the game selection on these two plans, but some titles are only available on one or the other.)

What do you get with Game Pass Ultimate?

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Credit: Bethesda

‘Fallout 4’ is a must-play RPG from Bethesda.

At $14.99 per month, Xbox Game Pass Ultimate is Microsoft’s big all-in-one offering, and it’s a good value for folks who play a lot of online multiplayer games. Ultimate gives you access to all three libraries: console, PC, and cloud gaming on the Game Pass mobile app. On top of that, you get Ultimate-exclusive in-game perks (like free GTA Online cash each week you log in), all the benefits of Xbox’s online multiplayer service, Xbox Live Gold, and full access to the EA Play catalog.

In addition to all the games on Game Pass and EA Play, Ultimate also includes member discounts, various exclusive perks (in-game items and subscription credits for things like Disney+, Spotify Premium, and other services), and everything associated with Xbox Live Gold, including playing games online and chatting with friends (via party chat) across the entire Xbox network. Without Ultimate or Gold, you can only participate in “free-to-play” multiplayer games. This is a recent change to Xbox; Microsoft used to require Gold even for online free-to-play games.

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Xbox Live Gold also grants digital licenses for about four games per month—typically two or three recent titles and two backward-compatible games from the Xbox 360 and original Xbox consoles. As long as you’ve got an active Gold or Ultimate subscription, your games library is growing. Past “Games with Gold” freebies included Back to the Future: The Game, Battlefield 1, Dead Rising, For Honor, Friday the 13th: The Game, Gears 5, Hitman, Jurassic World: Evolution, Project Cars 2, Resident Evil, Sunset Overdrive, and The Witness.

Game Pass vs. Xbox Live Gold: What’s the difference?

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Credit: Mojang

Mojang’s masterpiece is available on Game Pass for Console.

For years, Xbox Live Gold was Microsoft’s premiere subscription service. At $9.99 a month or $24.99 quarterly, it gives you full access to online multiplayer, party chat, and benefits like the Games with Gold catalog, which gets about four new titles added each month.

But if you want to play the hundreds of games in the Game Pass and EA Play libraries (about 370 in total), sooner or later you might consider upgrading to a Game Pass Ultimate subscription. When you do this, any Xbox Live Gold credit on your account will be “converted”—12 months of Gold is presently valued at four months of Ultimate.

What happened to Xbox Live?

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Credit: Rare

‘Sea of Thieves’ has a thriving online community.

For the time being, Xbox Live Gold is still alive and kicking, but the baseline Xbox Live service is being phased out as Game Pass moves to the forefront of Microsoft’s branding and free-to-play games become truly free on Xbox. The service that launched in 2002 as Xbox Live is now referred to simply as the Xbox network.

“Xbox network refers to the underlying Xbox online service, which was updated in the Microsoft Services Agreement,” Microsoft told The Verge earlier this year. “The update from ‘Xbox Live’ to ‘Xbox network’ is intended to distinguish the underlying service from Xbox Live Gold memberships,” the company said.

What kinds of games can you expect on Xbox Game Pass?

Artwork made in celebration of Halo’s 20th anniversary. A pair of Spartans take on the Covenant and the Flood.
Credit: 343 Industries

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Of course, Xbox Game Pass Ultimate certainly isn’t worth $15 a month if you’re not interested in the games—but both Game Pass and the EA Play catalog have a lot to offer. As of this writing, Game Pass includes third-party gems like Batman: Arkham Knight, Control, Dead by Daylight, Night in the Woods, and Red Dead Redemption II. It’s also packed with titles from the Xbox Game Studios umbrella: Dishonored 2, Doom Eternal, Morrowind, The Elder Scrolls Online, Skyrim, Fallout 4, Fallout 76, New Vegas, Forza Horizon 4, the Gears of War series, the Halo franchise, Sea of Thieves, and more.

Some highlights of the EA Play library—included with Game Pass ultimate—are Battlefield V, Burnout Paradise, Dragon Age, all four Mass Effect games, Need for Speed, The Sims 4, Jedi: Fallen Order, Star Wars Battlefront II, Star Wars: Squadrons, and Titanfall 2. Smaller games tend to hit Game Pass at launch, while bigger titles might hit the service a year or two after release, and they generally stick around for at least six months. First-party Xbox games like Halo Infinite, Microsoft Flight Simulator, and Bethesda’s upcoming Starfield are available with Game Pass on day one.

New games get added frequently, so you’ll always have something new to try.

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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.

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