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The Great Game Pass Debate Returns

It seems for a while everybody had settled on the idea that Game Pass wasn’t some kind of weird space/time hack. It works, it’s profitable and it’s popular. Then Starfield came along and broke everybody’s minds all over again.


Is six million players enough for Microsoft to be happy with Starfield’s release? Have enough people paid for the game through Steam to subsidise the obvious losses made from a subscription service? Should we be concerned that only one million people were playing the game concurrently on launch day? Are Bethesda lying about it being their biggest launch?

I don’t know why people feel the need for this game to be unsuccessful. And I don’t really understand the need to ignore reality to make it happen. Six million players in a day or so is amazing. A million concurrents is a figure most games just won’t ever reach, even when released across every platform. By any metric, Starfield is a huge success.

But the Game Pass of it all upsets a certain kind of gamer. If you can’t find a metric to compare it unfavourably with Baldur’s Gate 3 or Cyberpunk or Mass Effect, then clearly it’s cheating. For this game to be successful, it needs to sell more copies than any of those titles and still be in Game Pass. Only then will it “make sense”.

This morning I saw someone talking about the failure this game will turn out to be if it doesn’t inspire X amount of new subscribers to jump in the longterm. Thankfully, that’s not how any of this works.

The Game Pass of It All

Everybody having access to day one releases is good news. It’s a no brainer that it’s creating these huge launches, where Halo, Forza and now Starfield have all set studio highs. Unless I physically need to buy a game new – by which I mean it’s a Metal Gear or Final Fantasy game – then a title I’m interested in will sit on my to-buy list for months or even years before I find it at the price I’m happy with. That is how most gamers are. They’ll maybe have a studio, publisher or series that is in the exception. But very few people are buying new on day one. Many are still buying used or at a steep discount.

Game Pass is about increasing spending in those of us that don’t. I’m a heavy subscription user, and I can promise you both Microsoft and Sony have had more money out of me than they would have done otherwise. For context, I paid £8 for The Last of Us Part 2. And damn it, I would do it again.

Starfield would not have been an exception for me. I’d have bought it at half price or more. I’d maybe have bought it used. There’s an almost definite chance that Microsoft wouldn’t have seen a single penny from me for this game, and I’d have played it all the same.

With Game Pass they will have had six years of cash from me. And I get to play their new games day one. Win-win.


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blank Mat Growcott has been a long-time member of the gaming press. He's written two books and a web series, and doesn't have nearly enough time to play the games he writes about.

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Twitter: @matgrowcott