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

After Years Of Hype, The Xbox Game Pass Burnout Is Here
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 $US2 ($3) 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 maths! Let’s say that you’ve signed up for the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate tier, which costs $US15 ($21) 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 $US60 ($83). By that maths, you’d need to play two full-price games via Game Pass every four months to justify the cost.

That tape on a Starfield helmet is temporary. (Screenshot: Bethesda)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 $US20 ($28). 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 favourites 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.

 

Comments

  • When the next gen update for cyberpunk hit I dropped game pass and haven’t even bothered with gold either as the games have been garbage.

    Finished cyberpunk, going to play through other games in my collection until something new and shiny comes to game pass to get me back.

    Had been a subscriber for 3 years, it definitely saved me money and was always something to play but I found I rushed through games a bit on there.

  • never bothered with any game sub and this is the reason, so many cost/month services that may have a few decent games but most is garbage. Hell even on the free side (epic), there are very few decent games, and most of the games they do release have pay walls (DLC farmers) in them.

  • I think this article is being a little negative here. I’m all for the AAA titles and I will freely admit that the last couple of months have been a little on the downside for GP, but it has given me a chance to play games I would never have touched..

    So many of the best Game Pass experiences I’ve played have been things I would have NEVER touched in a million years in my narrow minded desire to play ‘only new AAA games’, or play the next flashy graphically enhanced thing. It gives light to smaller games and things you might have missed.

    In my personal instance in the last 1-2 years I’ve played things like Unpacking, Children of Morta, The Ascent, Spiritfarer, Psychonauts 2, It takes Two and Quantum Break and actually enjoyed them all greatly. Mind you there’s been plenty I’ve tried and disliked, but such is the nature of a subscription free for all.

    • This is a great point that the article overlooks.
      For people who may only play AAA rated games than gamepass may not be for them, but gamepass is really great for exploring a wide range of games across multiple genres. You can download any amount of games and play them for however long you want and at the end of the day it only cost the subscription fee. You no longer have that guilt that you’ve just dropped full price for a game that you don’t like.

    • Yes, but how much do you realistic think game devs see for your investment? Game Pass is great for gamers, in that we get to try many games for free, but how does that translate to paying devs their dues for their IP? If a gamer is paying 10 bucks a month and they try three quality games in the month, after Xbox take their cut gamers are virtual paying devs pittance for their work.

  • The big draw card for me was the breadth of game and genres, something i think the article glosses over. It seems written in a way that there only on the service for access to AAA games, not to find the hidden nuggets, indie games and short adventures you can play. I feel this alone is worth the price, and if you get a AAA game out of it every 3-6 months great.

    Its been amazing for my son who is constantly asking for new games, and i can just say go look at game pass and download something new. Granted, he doesn’t always want to stray from the generes and graphical styles he knows but there is still a wealth for him to try and it is significantly cheaper than dropping $$ for just one full price game that he may not like. He has pumped hours into TABS and Deep Rock Galactic, and loved Guardians of the Galaxy and Bugsnax on the AAA side.

    I’m trying games i never though i would (Cities Skylines, Forager) and loving them. Yeah some aren’t great (or my play style) but i can simply uninstall and play some thing else for no real $$

    Hell it even got my wife to play, (never grew up with a console, she can barely play Mariokart) but What Remains of Edith Finch and these short story driven, minimal technicality games have sucked her into downloading a few to play with the kids.

    I think its a great service for a family of gaming, there is something for everyone.

  • When are people going to learn, getting a truck load of stuff for a cheap price is never a true replacement for paying a higher for quality. Game Pass is great for those who cant afford to game, but without quality exclusives gamers just end up being dazzled with choice. Ultimately with a seemingly endless of choice of subscription no one can possibly have time to game/watch/read that much. Yet each of those 10-20 subs add up to a lot.

    • What maniac has 20 simultaneous subs…?

      You swap them in and out periodically, our household only ever has 2 or 3 at a time at the most, and that’s between 5 people.

      • that was meant to read $10-20 subs, I know many households that have 5 subs+ that they never use but because they are in that price range they keep them all on, just in case they want to watch something. your family may be smart about it, but dont presume that is how everyone is.

    • ” but without quality exclusives ”

      Now i know you are just repeating sony fanboy talking points

      • Name 10 quality Xbox exclusives from the last few years that even come close to the critical and community acclaim that the PS exclusives have?! I’ll wait…*grabs popcorn*

        Thats not fanboyism that is highlighting reality, but that said Xbox does have game pass. Both things are great for gamers, and together they show console wars are dead because each has unique strengths and weaknesses. Its not fanboyism to question the shallowness of an ‘all you can eat’ gaming sub. The shallowness of all ‘all you can eat’ subs, ranging from Spotify, Netflix (and yes even PS new PLUS), are worthy of being being questioned. Especially if quality starts taking a hit like Netflix and especially on an ethics level if IP creators are being reimburst adequately for being on it.

        Value for gamers at the cost of a hit to games devs is something always worth questioning. Or do you only care about your wallet? I am not saying xbox is ripping off devs (or PS plus now), just suggesting without evidence it should always be questioned.

  • This was me after my three month trial. I don’t really care about playing games day one (I find it’s usually a case of swapping quality for hype) and for the average cost of gamepass I can pick up the titles in interested in during sale times/in bundles. That way, I never have to worry about a game I’m interested in expiring and if I need to save cash for a while, I still have a library of games.

    I think this service will always have a use, but seeing it a replacement to buying has some severe drawbacks.

  • It’s odd but I would often check out the coming and going lists with a touch of jealousy and hint of FOMO but I lost interest in the last one a few lines in.
    Sometimes too much of a good thing really can backfire under the right conditions.

    It’s quite fascinating really, I often talk to my partner about how how great the On Demand era can be but also how it changes the way in which we view and value our entertainment.

  • Meanwhile, Sniper Elite 5 comes out this week, day 1, on Gamepass. Maybe not a AAA game (AA maybe? Depends on how lazy the gravelly voice actor is this time) but it’s one that I probably would have bought full price. Plus all the indie games the kids play, it pays for itself no doubt.

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