Microsoft is winning the subscription war with the Xbox Game Pass, but is falling behind in console sales compared to the PS5.
Engagement is up and numbers are snowballing, and it doesn’t take a detective to figure out why. With the release of Microsoft’s next-gen consoles last month in the Xbox Series X and S, team Xbox has been able to boast some impressive statistics, including “billions of hours played” on “over 3,800 different games” in just November, apparently.
That latter statistic is an intriguing one, since the new Xbox consoles didn’t launch with thousands of games to my recollection. It speaks to how the new consoles are really part of a big ecosystem now and how important backward compatibility and Xbox Game Pass will be in the future.
Speaking of the Xbox Game Pass, “monthly engagement more than doubled” in November. All game subscriptions are booming in fact, with the revenue of PlayStation Now, Xbox Game Pass and EA Play up by a massive 142% and subscriber numbers up by 113% according to research from Safe Betting Sites. Most importantly, Xbox Game Pass received the majority of that growth in both revenue and subscribers.
By contrast, Xbox Series X | S sales are expected to total 3.8 million, in contrast to the PlayStation 5’s 5 million, to the end of 2020. Despite lagging behind its main competitor on the hardware front, Microsoft still saw “record sellouts in a matter of hours across the UK, France and Germany.”
These figures may seem concerning at a glance, but they’re not surprising. Xbox is setting its stall out as a (potentially) platform-agnostic service rather than a traditional hardware box shifter. The Xbox Game Pass numbers show that approach is working.
In its blog post, Microsoft sets out its stall, including cloud gaming beta with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate coming to iOS and PC in 2021. It’s not a surprising move, since they’ve been previewing Project xCloud on Android already, but also because according to a survey by IHS Markit “the cloud gaming content subscription market is set to grow from 234 million U.S. dollars in 2018 to 1.5 billion by the end of 2023.” Piers Harding-Rolls, games research and analysis director at IHS Markit, thinks Microsoft is well-positioned in both in “cloud infrastructure and content” to dominate that burgeoning market, so there’s that business move explained.
Microsoft also lists upcoming titles and new announcements for Xbox Game Pass, including delayed again Halo Infinite and Psychonauts 2, no less. There’s also the excellent looking Dead Static Drive. The Medium, which was also delayed, is coming to game pass as a console launch exclusive.
A mixed if not ultimately happy picture for team Xbox, then. Given that it threatens “surprises” at today’s Game Awards from gaming uncle Geoff Keighley, however, there’s still the chance they’ll announce Viva Pinata 3 and close that console sales disparity in a night. Here’s hoping.