Microsoft's bet on subscription gaming appears to be paying off. The company has revealed that more than 10 million people now pay for Xbox Game Pass, a buffet-style service with an ever-changing library of first- and third-party titles. Microsoft launched the platform for Xbox console owners back in June 2017. An equivalent offer for PC gamers -- appropriately called Xbox Game Pass for PC -- was released in open beta two years later. Right now, you can pay for the two individually -- the console version is $9.99 per month, while the PC service is $4.99 per month -- or combine them both with Xbox Live Gold for $14.99 per month.
In a blog post, Xbox chief Phil Spencer explained how Game Pass is helping people during the coronavirus pandemic. Subscribers are playing "twice as much" as they did before March, he said, and have collectively added 23 million friends on Xbox Live. "Which is a 70 percent growth in friendship rate," Spencer added. In addition, multiplayer sessions tied to Game Pass have risen by 130 percent. The platform’s vast library is encouraging players to try different games, too. According to Spencer, 90 percent of subscribers have played something they wouldn't have tried otherwise, and 40 percent are playing more titles than they did before owning Game Pass.
PlayStation Now, for comparison, hit 1 million subscribers last October. Unlike Xbox Game Pass, the service leans heavily on video game streaming. PlayStation 4 owners can play PS4 and PS2 games natively, however PS3 titles have to be streamed over a Sony-controlled server. And if you’re on PC, you can only access the PlayStation Now catalog via streaming. Xbox Game Pass, meanwhile, is a more flexible and appealing option for people with lackluster internet connections. Everything in Microsoft's catalog is available to download and the company's xCloud streaming service will eventually be free for Game Pass subscribers.
We saw record engagement in gaming this quarter:— Frank X. Shaw (@fxshaw) April 29, 2020
• Xbox Live has nearly 90 million monthly active users
• Xbox Game Pass has more than 10 million subscribers
• Project xCloud has 100s of thousands of active users in preview across 7 countries, with more coming
Speaking of xCloud: Microsoft has announced that the service, currently in preview (i.e. an early beta) has "hundreds of thousands of active users" across seven countries. Xbox Live Gold, which is necessary to play console titles online, has also reached "nearly 90 million monthly active users," according to Frank Shaw, lead communications for Microsoft.
At least some of Game Pass' success can be attributed to its aggressive content strategy. Every first-party Xbox title, including Ori and the Will of the Wisps, is added to Game Pass on the same day it hits store shelves. That makes the service a no-brainer for many: if you were going to pay $60 for Gears 5 anyway, why not pay for a Games Pass subscription instead? Sony, meanwhile, is far more guarded with its first-party offerings, no doubt because most sell exceptionally well on the PSN store. The company changed its approach last year with a rotating lineup of PS4 heavyweights, including Horizon Zero Dawn and Insomniac's Spider-Man, but there's still a gap between a game's release on the high street and PlayStation Now.
Update 4/30/20 9:00AM ET: Added statistics shared by Xbox chief Phil Spencer in a blog post.