With the arrival of Netflix and Spotify, we've begun to see a world where we don't really own our entertainment options anymore.
Because of this, it's not exactly a surprise that this approach has started coming to video games as well. These services were non-existent during the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 eras, but now they're plentiful—and they're here to stay.
The next generation of consoles is quickly approaching, which means that both Microsoft and Sony have opportunities to build up their Xbox Game Pass and PlayStation Now services.
The question is: how are these services going to change?
Online Multiplayer Is a Core Feature Now
Before we look at the specifics of where Xbox Game Pass and PlayStation Now may go, we'll look at the idea as a whole.
While we can't possibly see where things will go with 100 percent certainty, Microsoft's Xbox Live looks like a close comparison.
Xbox Live didn't invent online multiplayer; it didn't even invent online multiplayer on a console since Sega's Dreamcast had done that first.
With the original Xbox implementation and then the improved Xbox 360 implementation, Xbox Live turned multiplayer from a feature in games to a feature of a console.
Now it's simply expected that any gaming console worth its salt will have some sort of centralized multiplayer and a suite of online services to prop it up. Even Nintendo has begun to offer a paid online service.
Could this be where these sorts of instant game library services are headed? At least right now, it seems that may be the case.
The Future of Xbox Game Pass
While Microsoft's Xbox One didn't fare as well as the PlayStation 4 during this console generation, Xbox Game Pass is one of Microsoft's clear victories.
This could also prove to be a major feature in launching the Xbox Series X and other new Microsoft consoles.
For Microsoft's next consoles, a large portion of buyers could be PlayStation 4 owners that switched over, meaning there are a fair number of Xbox One games they missed out on.
Having access to these games while developers work on games for the new hardware could make Microsoft's new consoles much more attractive to potential buyers.
Microsoft's history of day-one Xbox Game Pass releases could help in this respect, too.
The idea of buying a console—possibly on a payment plan that includes Xbox Live and Xbox Game Pass—seems like a more manageable investment when you factor in the new games you'll see added to your library at no additional cost.
If Microsoft regains the top spot in the next console generation, Xbox Game Pass will likely have a lot to do with it.
For Xbox Gamers
Xbox Game Pass unlocks 100+ high-quality games playable on Xbox and PC, plus all the benefits of Xbox Live Gold and EA Play.
The Future of PlayStation Now
While PlayStation Now is much better now than it was in the past, it still has quite a bit of catching up to do.
Reliance on streaming is one major hurdle. While Xbox One gamers can download any Xbox Game Pass game, only PS2 games and PS4 games on PlayStation Now are downloadable. If you want to play a PS3 game, you've got to stream it.
If Sony wants to carry its PlayStation 4 user base with it into the next console generation, you would expect the company to match Microsoft's offering of instant game downloads.
But so far, they haven't. Sony hasn't said a word about day-one PlayStation Now releases, nor have they talked about significant backwards compatibility with the PlayStation 4.
Sony could just be taking a "wait and see" approach, hoping that gamers will flock to the PS5 even without any big innovations or improvements to PlayStation Now.
That said, if the company were to announce day-one PlayStation Now releases alongside a significantly improved back catalog of games from the original PlayStation and forward, that could be a big advantage for the company.
Right now it seems like Microsoft is in the lead, but where we could be in five years is anyone's guess.