After Years Of Hype, The Xbox Game Pass Burnout Is Here

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Master Chief, Kate Diax, Fast Ferrari, and other popular Xbox characters stand behind next-gen Xbox consoles.

Image: Microsoft

Typically, when Game Pass starts trending, it’s either because it scored a killer game or some influencers concocted a viral “joke” that ultimately does nothing other than hand a $2 trillion corporation two days of free marketing. Over the past few days, however, Microsoft’s games-on-demand program started trending for another reason: Players say they’re unsubscribing. For now.

The burnout largely comes down to subscribers saying that Game Pass isn’t delivering on its value proposition. For a monthly fee, Game Pass grants you access to a Netflix-style library of games that you can download to your Xbox or PC (or, in some cases, stream to a compatible device). But the big selling point is this: Every first-party Microsoft game hits the library at launch, meaning subscribers get access at no extra cost to Microsoft’s prestigious first-party releases, like Halo Infinite or Forza Horizon 5.

Earlier this month, Bethesda—officially now one of Xbox’s first-party studios, following an industry-shaking acquisition in 2021—delayed its two biggest forthcoming games: space-RPG Starfield and vampire shooter Redfall (developed by Bethesda subsidiary Arkane). Both were expected to launch day-one on Game Pass this year. Now, they won’t come out until the first half of 2023, leaving Microsoft’s first-party portfolio looking much drier than it did a month ago.

All right, time for some reductive math! Let’s say that you’ve signed up for the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate tier, which costs $15 a month and includes standard access to the game library plus a number of other perks. Let’s also assume any big-budget games, exclusive or not, that hit the service cost an industry-standard $60. By that math, you’d need to play two full-price games via Game Pass every four months to justify the cost.

A helmet sits on a shelf in Starfield, an Xbox game that won't come out until 2023.

That tape on a Starfield helmet is temporary.
Screenshot: Bethesda

“The service is great but there aren’t any AAA exclusives to compel me to stay,” Tom’s Guide writer Tony Polanco said in a tweet. “I’ll be back when the titles start dropping.” Washington Post reporter Gene Park shared a similar sentiment, pointing out that, over the past few months, the only game from the service he’s availed himself of is Trek to Yomi, a side-scrolling samurai action game. (Trek to Yomi costs $20. Also side note: It rules.) Other prominent members of the gaming cognoscenti lamented paying up front for months if not years of Game Pass, while others compared it unfavorably against the upcoming revamp of PS Plus, Sony’s competing subscription service. (Sony’s generally vaunted first-party games won’t launch on PS Plus.)

On the flip side, there’s no shortage of people calling this whole thing a “clout war” or saying that “no one cares.”

It’s unclear whether the extended convo has had a tangible impact on Game Pass subscription numbers. Microsoft does not make such figures public, and representatives for the company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A dip in interest was, to a certain extent, inevitable. For the past few years, Xbox has coasted on a tidal wave of goodwill generated by Game Pass, which has continually made some of the biggest AAA games—not just exclusives but also multiplatform hits like Guardians of the Galaxy—available on its service. Those come alongside a regular flow of smaller titles that benefit from the marketing boost of appearing on Game Pass. Part of the joy of subscribing is that you never know what you’re gonna get; you might try out an under-the-radar indie and bounce off it in minutes, or it could quickly become one of your favorites of the year. (Everyone, say hi to Tunic.)

Read More: The 24 Best Games On Xbox Game Pass

This mix of big and small, old and new, caused Game Pass subscriptions to ramp up significantly in 2020. They ticked up last year too (albeit at a slower rate than 2020), amid an absolutely banger series of lineups in the fall and winter. There’s no way Microsoft could’ve maintained that cadence forever; nearly six months into 2022, though it’s added the occasional gem, Game Pass has yet to feature an “OMG take my money!!!” lineup of forthcoming games.

That said, the service will almost assuredly improve again. Next month, Xbox will host its not-E3 press conference. During its 2021 conference, Xbox announced more than 20 games planned for Game Pass. Some of those have already come out. But plenty—from the Limbo-like Somerville to the Fallout-like Atomic Heart to the Outer Worlds-like Outer Worlds 2—have yet to receive release dates.

 





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