Game Pass, the industry's most transformative new subscription service, is having a radical effect on Microsoft's gaming business. It's spiking game sales, improving discovery of titles, and boosting total games played.
Game Pass is so big for Microsoft that it's now the center of Xbox. The previous glue--Xbox LIVE--is just part of the infrastructure now, complemented by ancillary delivery mechanisms like Project xCloud and the ecosystem foundation of the storefront and online servers. Game Pass is the heart because it's where the content is stored; If Xbox LIVE and Project xCloud are the veins, Game Pass is the heart that pumps content, or Xbox's lifeblood, through the business model.
Since Game Pass launched in 2017, Microsoft has seen incremental gains in Xbox revenues. The service has been accretive on various levels to the business and as of FY2020, Xbox revenues hit $11.575 billion, the highest point in 6 years. We've heard some impressive stats from Microsoft, too; Game Pass is now at 15 million subscribers and counting. Now key execs are also sharing more important figures, including engagement levels, increases in overall play time, and experimentation.
"We see that people actually spend 20 percent more time playing games, try 30 percent more genres, and play 40 percent more total games, including outside the subscription. We have seen the highest levels of engagement ever on our own games and growth in the playerbase," Xbox gaming exec Sarah Bold told Wired.
All of these things are hugely instrumental in Game Pass' success and underline Microsoft's main focus: Subscription retention through content. The beauty of Game Pass, though, is that it affects all facets of the gaming business, not just subscriptions. It bleeds over to full game sales as subscribers buy the games they like so they can always keep them. The lease-based digital subscription means you don't ever own anything you play on Game Pass, but you can buy the games at discounted prices.
Not only that, but the value proposition means gamers are more likely to stay locked in the ecosystem. A month of Game Pass inspires people to try as many things as possible by simply virtue of availability. The all-you-can-play business model serves up content as a kind of feast of interactive entertainment, and Microsoft says consumers are eagerly gobbling the games up.
So how does Game Pass evolve from here? Project xCloud brings Game Pass to mobile devices via game streaming, which is absolutely huge for on-the-go sampling, but not necessarily something that will massively boost subscriptions. It's just added value.
Project xCloud game streaming should also roll out on consoles, allowing PC and console gamers to sample titles digitally without having to download anything. This will be a much more profound game-changer for access. We still don't know when this will happen, though.
The real future for Game Pass is content. That's the rationale behind Microsoft's huge $7.5 billion acquisition of Bethesda parent company ZeniMax Media. Microsoft is making big power plays to secure content for the next decade (or more) of gaming. Microsoft isn't just rolling with the times and changing with the industry, but it's changing the industry as a whole.
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