We're quite accustomed to Xbox Game Pass and PlayStation Plus now, aren't we? It's kind of taken for granted that for a reasonable sum of money we can get access to an absolute truckload of games. It's pretty great, when you think about it. I can still remember the first time I tried Netflix, the sense of magic as an entire catalogue of films and TV shows could be played in an instant. With cloud gaming, that instant access is now a thing for these game services, too. But what would it have been like back when I was a child? A time when TVs were tiny at the front, but absolutely massive in the rear. When people used to record songs off the radio... onto tapes. When Christmas was organised around the TV schedule in the bumper issue of the Radio Times. What a time it was.
Imagine you’re 12 years old – for some of you that’s more of a stretch than it is for others. It’s also the early ‘90s and everyone is wearing a fire hazard because it’s fashionable. Video games are a luxury, and rightly so. They're expensive and you are happy for what you get given by your parents - maybe two new games over a year. Think hard about what you're going to choose as you'll be playing it many, many times. You might get to play a handful more by doing the odd rental or if your friends didn't also go for the big hitters like you did. Most games are experienced via the pages of video game magazines, often more pictures than words, but that's fine. You live to see what delights are on show in next month’s mags.
You got Street Fighter 2 Special Champion Edition for Mega Drive (Genesis if you use the inferior US name) on Christmas Day, a game you could play with your brother and friends, endlessly. It's a great day. No one is denying that. Later that day you give the latest issue of Mean Machines another read. Maybe, you think, you should have asked for Sonic Spinball. But is Sonic really that good of have you fallen for the hype that it’s better than Mario?
Then Santa drops in. It's now 4pm on Christmas Day, you’ve eaten too many Quality Street from a tin and five chocolate oranges, but who cares? You don't argue with the big man. He's holding a golden ticket, emblazoned with the words "Game Pass Ultimate" and he's giving it to you. On the flip side it reads “PS Plus Premium,” but you quickly flick back over to Game Pass.
Suddenly your stocking swells in size, then bursts open, Mega Drive games piling high to the ceiling (SNES games if you want, but let’s not kid ourselves, only the rich kids had a SNES in the UK). You can't believe your "up since 4am" eyes. It's a Christmas miracle. You're switching between Aladdin, Gods, and Chuck Rock 2, and yes, even Sonic Spinball. What is this magic? And yes, it does seem to be that Spinball definitely would have been the inferior choice?
It was a different time, of course. Digital games weren't a thing. The internet wasn't even a thing. We had phones connected to walls that you could carry to the living room if the cable was long/stretchy enough. If you wanted to see a game outside of a screenshot before buying it, you had to get your mum to convince the person in Dixons to let you give it a whirl on the demo unit (no, I definitely didn’t demo Mortal Kombat 3 on a big screen in front of everyone). But I do think about what it's like to be a kid these days, and potentially having so many games so easily accessible. I would have been over the moon.
There is of course an argument against Game Pass and PlayStation Plus, primarily centered around not owning games and the service eventually skewing development to maximise engagement and keep subscriptions going. I was never a collector of games. I'd sell the few I had to part-fund the buying of new games, and sell entire consoles to get my hands on something else. So Game Pass cycling titles in and out of the service wouldn't have bothered me in the slightest. If games are being changed to keep people subscribing, I don’t think we’ve seen it happen yet.
My counter argument to those against game subscription services is that it opens games up to more people. As a child, the feeling of missing out is perhaps at its greatest. There's always a kid who gets everything or, worse still, a family member who has it all – the SNES, complete with that Turtles game you really wanted and a Super Scope. It's not possible to have everything, most of us know that, but if little Jimmy and Julie really want to be playing Forza Horizon 5 with kids in their class, and Game Pass makes that possible, that's brilliant. PS Plus isn’t as good as giving you the feeling of being up to date with the biggest games, but it’s getting there (sans Sony’s new releases, anyway).
Questionable disregard for age ratings aside, 12-year-old me would be in for an outrageously good Christmas Day this year with a Game Pass Ultimate membership: On top of the likes of Halo Infinite, Forza Horizon 5, Minecraft, Psychonauts 2, The Master Chief Collection, Sea of Thieves, Deathloop, and Grounded, there’s Hello Neighbour 2, Lego Star Wars The Skywalker Saga, Football Manager, Dreamlight Valley, Among Us and loads more. That's not even including the games I'd only discover and play thanks to Game Pass.
As a child of the 80s and 90s, the idea of a service like Game Pass would have been unthinkable. The kind of idea laughed about in the school playground. Now it's hard to imagine it not existing. Kids today have got it good, at least in the world of video games.