RIP The Xbox Game Pass Joke

RIP The Xbox Game Pass Joke
Xbox Game Pass is a good deal, but did it really need the free publicity? (Image: Microsoft)

Fact: If you cover games, someone will call you a “shill” at some point. Over the weekend, a contingent of games-focused writers and influencers pushed back on that claim by plastering Twitter with tongue-in-cheek posts about the purported value of Xbox Game Pass, Microsoft’s subscription-based games-on-demand service. The moment quickly went viral. And then it died a swift death, after several official Xbox Twitter accounts got in on the action:

You know how it goes. Once the brands join the party, the party stops.

As for how it started, Forbes traces the initial meme to IGN’s Destin Legarie. “Twitter is convinced that so many of us are just paid to advertise Xbox Game Pass,” Legarie wrote in a tweet on Saturday afternoon. “That’s crazy!!! Almost as crazy as having access to hundreds of games and day 1 releases for only $9.99/month and if you’re new you can even get 3 months right now for only $1!”

Others followed suit.

“‘Tony, Microsoft’s paying you to talk about Game Pass,’” writer Tony Polanco said in a tweet. “I’m not being paid… but with all the money I save from Game Pass each month, maybe I am.”

“Found a lot of salty fanboys to block in the last 24 hours, I wonder why?,” Windows Central’s Jez Corden wrote in a tweet. “One thing I’m not wondering about is whether or not XBOX GAME PASS is incredible value. Hundreds of games starting at $9.99! Absolutely crazy value!”

“The ‘rumours’ I’m hearing about creators being paid to promote Game Pass are ridiculous…,” content creator Joseph Moran wrote in a tweet appended with the #ad hashtag. “Just as ridiculous as Xbox putting their first-party games like Halo day & date on the service for the low starting price of $9.99 a month!”

All of these tweets — and others like it — ended up turning the whole meme into a bonafide viral marketing stunt for Xbox Game Pass. “Xbox Game Pass” started trending on Twitter. Xbox higher-ups Phil Spencer and Aaron Greenberg offered their public approval.

To be clear, it is highly unlikely that many of these tweets were paid for by Microsoft. FTC regulations require social media users to plainly mark paid advertisements as paid advertisements — via text that reads “ad,” “paid,” “spon,” “sponcon,” or something to that end — and will hand down serious ramifications for those who don’t. Most of the tweets in the meme du jour don’t have that indicator. But some do, which muddies the waters. (Kotaku reached out to an Xbox representative about whether or not any tweets of this nature were paid for by Microsoft. At press time, the representative was still looking into it.)

It’s also fairly obvious that the whole charade started as a sarcastic pushback to an insidious subset of the gaming readership. The insinuation — or the often blatant claim — that cash-loaded companies will pay you, the journalist who covers video games, significant sums under the table. You write positively about Xbox Game Pass, people will say you’re in Microsoft’s pocket. You say that a Sony-published game is among the best of the year, and you’re in Sony’s pocket. No matter what, you can’t win. The impulse to set the record straight is natural.

But it’s also poking a bear. Just scroll through the quote tweets on Legarie’s original post: Some people understand that the line is a bit, because it very obviously is. Others don’t get the joke, or, in bad faith, pretend not to. Plus, this whole meme really only resulted in one thing: Xbox Game Pass — an enormously popular service that’s used by 23 million people and recently received spotlight treatment on the industry’s biggest stage — scoring a weekend of (almost certainly free) publicity.

Reminder: Microsoft has a market cap larger than the GDP of Canada.


  • “Reminder: Microsoft has a market cap larger than the GDP of Canada.”

    Okay, and? People shilling, unironically or not, isn’t really affected by that. You people inadvertently shill for Steam with your promotions of Steam sales. Are you just salty people were doing it for free?

    Reminder: Valve is worth more than Greece’s entire GDP according to Bloomberg estimations.

      “A shill, also called a plant or a stooge, is a person who publicly helps or gives credibility to a person or organization without disclosing that they have a close relationship with said person or organization.”

      There is a very significant, important distinction to make between a shill (someone who endorses without disclosing their payment) and those who provide a declared, paid endorsement or people who are providing an unpaid endorsement.

      You don’t ‘inadvertently shill’ for Steam by publicizing good deals on Steam sales. You make people aware of great deals. Yes, it’s free advertising, but it’s not shilling because there’s no deceit involved. The thing that is wrong with shilling is the deceit, not the endorsement itself. Paid and unpaid endorsements are fine, so long as they’re honest.

      Technicalities aside, the fact that you’re complaining about ‘shilling’ for Steam kind of proves one of the points the article was making: that this was a viral and likely organic exercise making fun of the endless and tiresome accusations of shilling from weirdos who can’t believe that someone would enthusiastically endorse something they like that the aforementioned weirdos don’t like.

      …And the fact that Xbox Game Pass is genuinely great value, with a range of over 300 games on console and PC as well as an EA Play membership – all for one low monthly price!

  • Here I was thinking the Xbox Game Pass joke was the whole losing access to the games even if you had them installed whenever Microsoft randomly decided to pull them.

    • Haha, I’ve been caught by that twice. Both with Vambrace: Cold Soul and Astrologaster, that I had open runs going on when they left the service.

      It’s a shame that things leave the service. I’m reasonably confident that part of the reason for it happening is down to pressuring people to pay a one-off (discounted) box price to continue playing the games that are leaving the service.

    • Yep you need to keep track of which ones are leaving game pass, especially if you’ve bought a lot of games or had gold for many years as it’s not easy to work out if you have expired games still installed.

  • Kotaku shills at it again making me feel like I should go buy GamePass.
    Jokes on you though, I’m already subscribed and getting access to hundreds of games and day 1 releases for only $9.99/month and if you’re new you can even get 3 months right now for only $1!

  • Oh come on, MS hasn’t needed to rely on that kind of paid promotion in years, their weapon of choice is full spectrum message control across all levels with zero deviation.
    All companies do it to varying degrees but MS have become masters.
    (And not just at their own message either)

    I remember it really exploded when the Xbox One was at one of the lowest points in its cycle and they were facing a lot of tough questions about their future.
    There was a couple of months where every interview read like the exact same article, regardless of site or person being interviewed.
    Different questions had the same answers and the delivery was always eerily consistent from one person to the next.

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