Microsoft is asking many Game Pass subscribers to pay more for less

Artist's impression of Microsoft executives following today's Game Pass pricing announcement.
Enlarge / Artist’s impression of Microsoft executives following today’s Game Pass pricing announcement.

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For years, Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass has distinguished itself by offering subscribers access to new first-party titles on launch day, alongside a large legacy library of older games. That key “day one” perk will now be disappearing for all but the highest tier of Game Pass console subscribers, as Microsoft asks for more money for Game Pass across the board.

Let’s start with the price increases for existing Game Pass tiers, which are relatively simple:

  • “Game Pass Ultimate” goes from $16.99 to $19.99 per month.
  • “Game Pass for PC” is going from $9.99 to $11.99 per month.
  • “Game Pass Core” (formerly known as Xbox Live Gold) goes from $59.99 to $74.99 for annual subscriptions (and remains $9.99 for monthly subscriptions).

For the $10.99/month “Xbox Game Pass for Console” tier, things get a little more complicated. Microsoft has announced that it will no longer accept new subscriptions to that tier after today, though current subscribers can keep it (for now) if they set their subscriptions to auto-renew.

Instead, Microsoft will roll out a new $14.99 “Xbox Game Pass Standard” tier “in the coming months.” That new option will combine the usual access to “hundreds of high-quality games on the console” with the “online console multiplayer” features that previously required a separate Xbox Game Pass Core subscription (“Core” will still be sold separately and include access to a smaller library of “25+ games”).

But while the current Xbox Game Pass Console option promises access to Xbox Game Studios games “on the day they release,” those “Day One releases” are conspicuously missing as a perk with the replacement Xbox Game Pass Standard subscription.

“Some games that were available on day one with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate will not be available immediately with Xbox Game Pass Standard and may be added to the library in the future,” Microsoft wrote in an FAQ explaining the changes.

Players who want guaranteed access to all those “Day One” releases will now need to subscribe to the $19.99/month Game Pass Ultimate. That’s an 81 percent increase over the $10.99/month that console players currently pay for comparable “Day One” access on the defunct Game Pass Console tier.

To be fair, that extra subscription fee does come with some additional perks. Upgrading from Game Pass Console/Standard to Game Pass Ultimate unlocks Microsoft’s cloud gaming service, gains access to downloadable PC games and the EA Play library, and awards you with additional “free goodies” each month. But it’s launch day access to Microsoft’s system-selling first-party titles that really sets the Ultimate tier apart for now, and will likely make a costly upgrade necessary for many Xbox Game Pass subscribers.

More problems, more money

When Game Pass first launched in 2017, the focus was on older games, not titles that were available on day one.
Enlarge / When Game Pass first launched in 2017, the focus was on older games, not titles that were available on day one.

Although Xbox Game Pass launched in 2017, access to all of Microsoft’s new first-party games wasn’t promised to subscribers until early 2018. Since then, loyal Game Pass subscribers have been able to play dozens of new first-party titles at launch, from major franchises like Halo, powerAnd Weapons of war to indie darlings like Hi-Fi rush, Sea of ​​ThievesAnd Ori and the Will of the Wisps and much more.

Sure, having access to hundreds of older games was nice. But the promise of brand-new big first-party titles was instrumental in pushing Xbox Game Pass to 34 million subscribers in February. And Sony hasn’t been willing to match that “day one” advantage for its comparable PlayStation Plus service, which includes only a handful of older PlayStation Studios titles.

In a 2022 interview with GamesIndustry.biz, PlayStation CEO Jim Ryan said that throwing new first-party games onto its subscription service would break a “virtuous cycle” in which new full game purchases (priced at up to $70) help fund the next round of game development. “The level of investment we would have to make in our studios wouldn’t be possible, and we think the knock-on effect on the quality of the games we make is not something that gamers want.”

And Microsoft may be coming to a similar conclusion. Adding first-party titles to the cheaper, console-focused Game Pass plans probably seemed like a good idea when Microsoft was still trying to attract subscribers to the service. But Game Pass subscriber growth has started to slow as the market of potential customers becomes saturated. Microsoft now needs to squeeze more value from those subscribers to justify Game Pass by cannibalizing direct sales of its own first-party games.

Microsoft paid a lot of money to increase the value of <em>Call of Duty: Black Ops 6</em> to add to a Game Pass subscription.” src=”https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2024/07/codblops6-640×360.jpg” width=”640″ height=”360″ srcset=”https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2024/07/codblops6-1280×720.jpg 2x”/><figcaption class=
Enlarge / Microsoft paid a lot of money to increase the value of Call of Duty: Black Ops 6 to a Game Pass subscription.

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And let’s not forget Activision, which Microsoft recently spent a whopping $69 billion to acquire after lengthy legal and regulatory battles. Recouping that cost while also giving Game Pass subscribers access to major retailers like Dutylikely forced Microsoft to make the most of Game Pass’s revenue streams.

“Let’s put it this way: if 7 million Xbox Game Pass subscribers intended to buy ‘Call of Duty’ for $70 but now have no reason to (because it’s part of their subscription), that’s almost half a billion dollars of revenue left on the table,” MIDia analyst Rhys Elliott told The Daily Upside, illustrating the significant sums involved.

For players who like a wide variety of games and were likely to buy all or most of Microsoft’s first-party titles at launch anyway, Xbox Game Pass Ultimate is probably still a good deal at the higher price. But players who subscribed to a relatively cheap console Game Pass option years ago may want to reevaluate whether maintaining that access on launch day is worth $240 per year now.

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