Microsoft announced earlier today in their quarterly earnings call that their subscription service Xbox Game Pass has more than 18 million subscribers. This is a 3 million jump from the last time Microsoft shared Game Pass numbers in September.
GamePass has seen a rapid growth in the past year. There has been at least an 8 million subscriber jump from March 2020 to December 2020, whereas it took Microsoft nearly 3 years to reach 10 million subscribers from June 2017 to March 2020.
It is no secret Microsoft is focusing its entire Xbox approach around Game Pass, and it makes sense. Game Pass is recurring revenue for the Xbox division, and ensures its customers are locked in every month if they want to continue to play games the service offers.
What is most impressive about the 18 million figure isn’t necessarily only how quickly it’s growing, but how quickly it is growing on the back of third party content. Xbox is currently almost exclusively relying on third party deals to draw people into the Game Pass ecosystem. It’s clearly working, but Microsoft knows that cannot be the main draw forever.
Relying on someone else’s content to make your service attractive is tricky and often isn’t sustainable. Netflix, the closest approximation to Game Pass in the gaming industry, learned that first hand. When Netflix started out more than a decade ago, it relied almost exclusively on content that was owned by other companies. In 2021, Netflix is spending billions to fund its own content.
Microsoft is currently in a similar state Netflix was when it began investing in content. Microsoft has spent Billions of dollars to own content that will feed GamePass. The latest acquisition had Microsoft spending 7.5 Billion dollars to acquire Zenimax and subsequently all of Bethesda’s valuable IP. The majority of the money spent on locking up content has yet to pay off, that will come in the next few years when we start to see games release.
Games like Halo Infinite, Starfield, Doom, Indiana Jones, Hellblade II, Fable, Avowed and more will all come to Game Pass day one. We know that a lot of the content created under Xbox’s internal studios will be exclusive to the platform, though it’s not confirmed whether or not Bethesda’s games will be entirely exclusive to Xbox just yet. Regardless, all of these games will be coming to Game Pass day one, which will be a massive boost to the service.
There have been 3 AAA exclusives that have launched directly into GamePass since the service launched in 2017; Forza Horizon 4, Sea of Thieves, and Gears 5. What happens when there are that many AAA games launching into the service in half a year?
There will be a tipping point when Xbox has so many exclusive games coming that Game Pass will not be reliant on third party content, but will be heavily supported by Xbox owned games. When this happens, Game Pass will go from an insanely good deal to a must have service, which will lead to exponential growth in the service. 8 million subscribers in a nine month period is impressive. The numbers when Xbox is releasing ‘must have’ exclusives day one into the service should be exponentially better.
18 million subscribers is a lot, but not anywhere close where Xbox plans to be. The past few years of Game Pass has in many ways been a test run to see if a subscription service to games works. The answer, clearly, is yes. We are at the beginning of the services lifespan, and this upcoming generation should be where Game Pass begins to thrive and becomes a truly ground-breaking service for Microsoft.