Today, Microsoft revealed prices for its next-gen consoles: $299 or $499 for an Xbox Series S or Xbox Series X, respectively, starting November 10. But Microsoft is also talking up a smartphone-style program that lets players get either system for no money upfront as part of a subscription plan called Xbox All Access.
We’ve seen “no money down” Xbox hardware plans like this before—a similar All Access program has been available for the Xbox One line since 2018. But we’re using this high-profile occasion to remind you of a little-known fact about Xbox All Access: it can save new console buyers money in the long run, as well as upfront.
What’s the deal?
First, let’s run the numbers. With Xbox All Access, you make a two-year commitment to pay $24.99/month (for the Xbox Series S) or $34.99/month (for the Xbox Series X). In exchange for that commitment, you get the relevant hardware upfront, to keep, as well as a two-year subscription to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate.
Game Pass Ultimate usually costs $14.99/month, so your All Access monthly payments end up a bit higher to make up for that “free” upfront hardware. But in addition to not having to spend hundreds of dollars in one lump sum, All Access subscribers can actually come out ahead at the end of two years.
For the Xbox Series S:
- With All Access: $0 upfront + $24.99/month * 24 months = $599.67
- Without All Access: $299 upfront + $14.99/month * 24 months = $658.76
- All Access savings: $59.09
For the Xbox Series X:
- With All Access: $0 upfront + $34.99/month * 24 months = $839.76
- Without All Access: $499 upfront + $14.99 * 24 months = $858.76
- All Access savings: $19.00
So All Access subscribers save a lot of money upfront and a little money in the long run over players who buy their console and Game Pass separately. Not a bad deal, all things considered.
What’s the catch?
Before you jump on the All Access train, there are a few things to keep in mind.
First off, All Access is obviously only worthwhile if you’re interested in Microsoft’s Game Pass Ultimate subscription in the first place. That subscription is already a pretty good value, though, providing downloadable and xCloud streaming access to hundreds of titles across Xbox history, as well as over 200 Windows games for PC players. A Game Pass subscription also includes every Microsoft Game Studios game on the day it’s released and now comes with the entire EA Play library as a bonus.
Still, if you prefer to buy your games individually and not be stuck with Microsoft’s subscription selection, you’re better off buying your console upfront.
Even if you think Game Pass seems appealing, keep in mind that All Access also locks you in to that subscription for a full two years. If you try out Game Pass and find you want to cancel the subscription after 6 months, or 12 months, or 23 months, you’ll still be on the hook for the remainder of the full two years of monthly payments. If you want more flexibility to sample the subscription plan, All Access is not for you.
It’s also important to remember that Game Pass Ultimate subscriptions are frequently offered at significant discounts over the $14.99/month list price. Taking advantage of those deals could save a savvy console buyer a bit of money over the Xbox All Access plan.
The final thing to keep in mind is that Xbox All Access isn’t actually available for every Xbox buyer. Microsoft has announced 11 countries where participating retailers will offer the subscription deal this holiday season, with more planned for next year:
- Australia at Telstra
- Canada at EB Games
- Denmark at Elgiganten
- Finland at Gigantti
- France at FNAC
- New Zealand at Spark
- Norway at Elkjøp
- Poland at Media Expert
- South Korea at SK Telecom
- Sweden at Elgiganten
- UK at GAME and Smyths Toys
- United States at Best Buy, GameStop, Target, Microsoft Store, and Walmart
Even in those countries, not every customer will be able to take advantage of the All Access subscription. Participation is subject to a credit check and approval of a line of credit from Citizens One bank, which is partnering with Microsoft for the program. That credit line doesn’t carry any fees or interest and can be paid off early without penalty. Still, customers who have had credit problems in the past might find they can’t get approved for All Access in the first place.
Microsoft’s shifting focus
For a while now, Microsoft has said that it no longer measures success based purely on the console market share for Xbox hardware. “We’re not motivated by beating Sony, we’re motivated by gaining as many customers as we can,” Xbox chief Phil Spencer said in 2015. More recently, Spencer said that he sees streaming giants like Amazon and Google “as the main competition going forward,” rather than the likes of Nintendo and Sony.
All Access reflects that new focus to a large extent. Rather than demanding upfront payment to offset the cost of its hardware, Microsoft is playing the long game by tying All Access customers into a two-year subscription program. For Microsoft, the loss of upfront and overall revenue during that two years (compared to “standard” pricing) is a small cost to bear to get more players accustomed to the idea of a Game Pass subscription.
And Microsoft isn’t just hoping those All Access subscribers forget to cancel their costly monthly subscriptions after two years. A Microsoft representative told Ars Technica, “Once the 24-month subscription to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate included with Xbox All Access expires, you will need to purchase a new Xbox Game Pass Ultimate membership or purchase standalone Xbox Live Gold and Xbox Game Pass memberships in order to continue taking advantage of Xbox Live Gold and Xbox Game Pass benefits.”
In other words: Microsoft is not going to stick you with an auto-renewing plan that docks your credit card until you remember to tell them to stop. After 24 months, it’s up to you to renew or renege.
Microsoft seems confident that some proportion of its All Access customers will renew after getting a two-year taste of the service. Even those who don’t, though, will be locked into the Microsoft’s console ecosystem rather than Sony’s, without needing to commit hundreds of dollars upfront.
When combined with Game Pass, Xbox All Access is one of the most interesting changes in the way we think about buying a new generation of console hardware in a long time. We’ll be watching with interest to see if this no-upfront-cost program attracts a critical mass of consumers looking for a new console this holiday season.