Free Xbox Game Pass with ads is a great idea, on just one condition

Xbox CFO Tim Stuart wants to make streaming games with Xbox Game Pass free with ads and there's really only one way this concept would work.

Xbox Game Pass free ads concept: an image of Master Chief and Xbox logos

In recent weeks, the future of Xbox Game Pass – beyond the next set of new games being added to the subscription service for Xbox players to enjoy – has been a little up in the air. We’ve had one Microsoft executive state that the company’s aim is to bring Xbox Game Pass to both PlayStation and Nintendo consoles, another clearly refute that, and now the concept that you could earn free Xbox Game Pass access through adverts is out there – and it has some legs. Sure, watching ads sounds like a pain, but this is actually quite a good idea – that is, on the one condition that you can bank your time.

While in-game ads are commonplace in almost all of the best mobile games available at the moment, they’re still thankfully something we’re yet to see infiltrate new PS5 games and new Xbox games. However, with the ever-increasing cost of subscription services like Xbox Game Pass and Microsoft’s goal to bring this particular subscription service to as many players as possible – but, you shouldn’t expect to see Xbox Game Pass on PS5 anytime soon – using adverts to make Xbox Game Pass free is far from a bad thing. But, where there are obvious upsides to this concept on both sides, there’s one major issue with the idea and we just can’t see Microsoft being able to solve it – not enough, anyway.

In an interview held during the Wells Fargo TMT Summit in late November, Xbox chief financial officer Tim Stuart briefly expressed his “vision” for the future of Xbox’s cloud gaming streaming services – a future where players could “watch 30 seconds of an ad and then get two hours of game streaming”. While those numbers are just an example, it does simplify the concept well enough to make it instantly understandable and Stuart expresses that a transaction like this would help Microsoft bring Xbox Game Pass to areas of the world where the target demographic (seemingly young adults) don’t have the disposable income to fully engage with Xbox through Series X|S consoles and an active Xbox Game Pass membership.

Specifically, as reported by TweakTown, Stuart says the following:

“It also helps us, maybe lastly, on geographic expansion. The vision I like to talk about is we have xCloud game streaming, so you can subscribe to Game Pass Ultimate and you can stream hundreds of games to really any endpoint that has a browser experience.

“For models like Africa, or India, Southeast Asia, maybe places that aren’t console-first, you can say, ‘hey, do you want to watch 30 seconds of an ad and then get two hours of game streaming?’

“Africa is, you know, 50% of the population is 23 years old or younger with a growing disposable income base, all with cell phones and mobile devices, not a lot of high-end disposable income, generally-speaking.

“So we can go in with our own business models and say…there’s millions and millions of gamers we would never have been able to address there, and now we can go in with our business models.”

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Sure, this sounds like something of a ‘pipe dream’ angled towards mobile gamers above all, but it’s also something that could be a fantastic way for existing Xbox Series X|S players around the world to check out the best Xbox Game Pass games without needing to purchase an entire month of Xbox Game Pass access. It’s also a concept that could actually become a reality in the future; WindowsCentral reports that researcher ‘Title_OS‘ has datamined several strings of code from the Xbox operating system describing “systems that would provide access to Xbox Game Pass on an ‘Earned Time’ basis, complete in 15-minute blocks”.

There is, though, one thing (as alluded to above) that could really make or break this concept in practice and that’s whether players can bank their time.

Two hours of game-time, if we’re using Stuart’s suggestions, is a decent amount of time to spend with any one of the best racing games, best multiplayer games, or best fighting games available on Xbox Game Pass. Sure, you’re going to have some menus to get through, but the gameplay loops of videogames in these genres are often short (with racing game races anything from five minutes to 15 minutes and fighting game matches taking a matter of seconds sometimes), and there wouldn’t be a huge amount of disruption if you were to unexpectedly lose access to the game – or find yourself with an ad pop-up – after a couple of hours.

However, when you look at the gameplay loops for the best open world games and best RPG games, you’re often looking at a continuous experience with no real natural stopping points. This, if you’re not save-scumming your way through the game you’re playing or met with an onslaught of autosaves, would then making losing access after two hours – or facing a pop-up advert – a little more disruptive.

To push this hypothetical reality just a little further, if you’re in the middle of a treacherous boss battle in one of the best soulslike games available through Xbox Game Pass, or perhaps mid-run in one of the best roguelike games on the subscription service, even a 30 second pop-up ad on the side of the screen could be enough of a disruption to ruin your experience – quite-possibly costing you hours of progress in the process.

Of course, there are a few ways you could get around this – like waiting for a natural break in gameplay before showing an advert or cutting off access – but it would take quite a lot of hard work and collaboration to ensure this works effectively across all the Xbox Game Pass games available and we just can’t see Microsoft being able to do that. You could, though, implement a ten-minute warning system and let players know their time is almost up, but even then that amount of time might not be enough time for someone to reach a safe-enough point to watch an advert; a number of games also feature static save points that are often spaced far-enough apart that you may not see one for well over ten minutes of playing. Then, there’s the issue of internet connectivity; if someone loses their internet connection halfway through their ‘Earned Time’, would Microsoft save any time left over for when that player is able to return or would they just have to start from scratch?

Ultimately, it’s a nice idea and one that would open up Xbox Game Pass to huge communities around the world who would otherwise not benefit from everything the subscription service offers; however, it’s one fraught with issues and only sounds less viable the more you think about it. Being able to bank your time is really one of the only ways this would work, allowing players to build up more than enough time for an extended play session beforehand, but it’s one we can’t see Xbox adhering to if this does see the light of day.

So, for now, your best bet is to check out the best Xbox deals and keep an eye out for any seasonal Xbox Game Pass offers on the Xbox Store. The list of Xbox Game Pass Core games is excellent, though, so if you’re stuck for something to play, you might not even need to invest into Xbox Game Pass Ultimate to find something you like.