‘Free’ Gears 5 Expansion Highlights Growing Divide For Game Pass Subscribers

‘Free’ Gears 5 Expansion Highlights Growing Divide For Game Pass Subscribers

Gears 5 is getting a new campaign expansion next week. It’ll be available at no extra cost for members of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, a $15.95-monthly subscription. Everyone else will have to pay up. It’s just one more perk suggesting a growing gulf between the entry-level and premium tiers of Microsoft’s games-on-demand service.

The new expansion, officially titled Gears 5: Hivebusters, is a full-on campaign expansion. Rather than the characters from the main game — Kait Diaz, Del Walker, and some other sentient biceps — you’ll play as three characters from the main game’s Escape mode. They’re part of a team called “Scorpio Squad” and sent on an apparent “suicide mission.” Hmm…If only some of those words were reordered, maybe we could get a poorly received superhero flick instead.

Gears 5: Hivebusters will be available on December 15. Those who aren’t members of Game Pass can pick it up for about $28, while members of the $13-monthly starter tier can snag it at a discount. The value proposition Microsoft has created here is unmistakable: You can get this expansion for the price of one month and change of Game Pass Ultimate. If you’re a member of Game Pass already, that same dollar amount could upgrade your membership to the Ultimate tier for four months.

All of this is in line with Microsoft’s not even remotely opaque business model of “getting everyone in the world to sign up for Xbox Game Pass Ultimate.” As of last month, members of the premium tier also enjoy bundled-in access to EA Play, which includes a robust catalogue of games from the California-based publisher. (Yes, all of BioWare’s Dragon Age and Mass Effect games are on there. As is Skate 3.) As a result, members on the higher tier now have access to nearly twice as many games as those on the starter tier.

There’s also the matter of cloud gaming, which allows you to stream Game Pass games to your mobile devices. The service is spotty, sure, but technically works fine. It’s only available to members of the higher Game Pass tier.

Top that off with the fact that Xbox Game Pass Ultimate also comes with an Xbox Live Gold membership, allowing access to online multiplayer plus the company’s monthly Games With Gold program. The standard tier does not offer such a perk.

This might sound like I’m shilling for Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. For sure, I enjoy the service, and think it’s a terrific deal for the time being. But make no mistake: I say this all as a heads up.

You’ve no doubt heard people suggest Game Pass is the “Netflix for games,” or something similar. Let’s take a walk down memory lane. In 2014, Netflix’s premium tier — which allows perks like the ability to stream 4K video and watch on four screens at once — was available for $US12 ($16). Three years later it jumped to $US14 ($19). Last year, that figure spiked to $US16 ($22). Currently, it’s $US18 ($24). Yet Netflix’s perkless basic tier is $US9 ($12), just one dollar more than it was in 2014.

That’s the nature of the subscription model: Loop customers in at a lower tier, slowly add perks that become irresistible (particularly once you’ve had a taste), and periodically ramp up the price. According to the most recent figures, Xbox Game Pass has 15 million members. That’s up from 10 million in the spring.

To date, Microsoft has not made public how many of those are paying for the Ultimate tier.

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