Game Past?

Ah Game Pass. To prove that nothing in the games industry is safe, this week saw Microsoft’s once untouchable and universally loved subscription service come under fire after a number of social media personalities announced their intention to unsubscribe. Gene Park of The Washington Post was first, “I’m unsubscribing from Xbox game pass for the first time ever. Gotta admit to myself I barely use it and barely have use for it now. I’ll be back but for now there’s no point.” This was followed shortly after by Tony Polanco of Tom’s Guide, “Unsubbed from Game Pass.” He said, “The service is great but there aren’t any AAA exclusives to compel me to stay. I’ll be back when the titles start dropping.”

Pretty innocuous really, but it doesn’t take much to cause a stir on the internet. Before long a tide of similar comments started to pour in and suddenly questions were being asked of what was previously agreed to be the ‘Best Deal in Gaming’. This prompted a typically blunt headline from Kotaku, “After years of hype,” they said. “Xbox Game Pass burnout is here.

Microsoft was quick to respond, their cheeky retort of “Tell me you limit yourself to only AAA games without telling me you limit yourself to only AAA games…” continuing the rather breezy social media persona it has built in recent times whilst also somewhat unintentionally confirming what the article was suggesting; that despite the gargantuan studio acquisition spree it’s been on, Xbox still has a problem when it comes to AAA releases, and that Game Pass has become something of a home for indies.

Many have questioned the viability of Game Pass and how putting all of its games straight into the service could be profitable. But Microsoft has always claimed that subscribers still purchase multiple games outright too. Still, the challenge for Microsoft was always going to be keeping the momentum up, and a lack of big-hitters has made the service seem a little stagnant of late. Is it possible that in their eagerness to justify the risk of such a bold new distribution model and ensure its instant success that they simply went too big too soon? Perhaps spreading these games out over a longer period would have seen a slower but more sustainable route to long-term viability?

Of course, many people don’t cancel subscriptions even when they’re not using them, and there’s a very real chance that, as is so often the case, the issue here is being blown out of proportion – Game Pass is still one hell of a deal after all. But the simple fact that this once infallible and universally adored service is suddenly being so publicly questioned will be a concern to Microsoft. Especially following the high-profile delays to Starfield and Redfall – the service’s two biggest upcoming games.

The quantity of games on offer can’t really be questioned, and with the Xbox TV app and cloud streaming device on the way Microsoft’s plan to make Game Pass available to anybody is only just beginning. But consumers like to see change, they like new additions and fresh, exciting content. Because Microsoft have already included pretty much every game available to them in the service, it leaves them with few big announcements to make, and means Game Pass rarely generates the kind of headlines it once did.

Microsoft shook the industry with Game Pass and made consumers question the very method in which games are accessed, but the company’s studio buys need to start bearing fruit soon, or Game Pass apathy could set in sooner than anybody expected.

This article is an extract from The Week in Games newsletter.

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