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"We sell loads" and "it's a great tool" – why the games industry still loves Xbox Game Pass, PlayStation Plus

Speaking to developers at Develop 2023, we chat about Game Pass in the wake of the FTC trial.

Logos for Xbox Game Pass and PS Plus flank a photograph of a man holding an Xbox pad at a conference
Image credit: VG247 / Develop Brighton

Xbox Game Pass has been the talk of the town for a while now. Offering subscribers an ever-growing selection of games – both indie and triple-A – for a relatively low cost, there are millions of people around the world right now who are playing new, exciting games for a fraction of the cost that they would have a decade ago. With new initiatives being announced all the time (Xbox Game Pass Core being the most recent), it certainly seems like Microsoft is doing what it can to make the barrier to play new titles as low as possible.

The deal for consumers is sweet, but consumers only see one side of the benefits of such a program. As highlighted in the recent Microsoft FTC court hearing, Jim Ryan over at Sony claims that publshers aren't a fan, and that concerns surrounding the perceived value of big-budget titles exists within the offices of industry giants.

Was this just a statement aimed at blocking the Microsoft/Activision Blizzard acquisition? Or is there some truth to these concerns? To find out, I travelled to Develop Brighton to speak to developers and publishers, hoping to hear directly from the folks who see the stats and live with the realities, and consequences, of Game Pass.

"It's quite difficult at the moment because what is simultaneously happening is that these subscription services are getting bigger, and also no one has any f**king money," says Mike Rose, company director at No More Robots. "So you could try to blame [Game Pass] for that, but also all video game sales are down."

Rose has been behind the wheel of several indie game releases, and stated No More Heroes aims to bring all future releases to Game Pass following the massive success of Descenders on the service.

Descenders has been a regular presence on Game Pass' top downloads list.

Rose continues: "There aren't f**king oodles of Game Pass subscribers. Most people don't use Game Pass. When we look at Descenders, which has been on Game Pass for so long now, it's consistently one of the top 20 downloaded games on Game Pass every single month – and we sell loads on Xbox and PlayStation. We’re not seeing any drops.

However, Rose acknowledges that, as an indie publisher, his situation differs significantly from some of the bigger publishers out there. "We put sort-of low six figure numbers into a game. So, Game Pass ends up working quite well for us. If you've put $5,000,000 into a game, it's a bit more of a difficult situation."

So, let's scale it up a bit with a developer who has published a larger game in recent years. Enter Josh and Mike Grier, the brothers leading the charge over at Emberlab. Back in 2021, the studio released Kena: Bridge of Spirits to PlayStation platforms and the Epic Game Store. And for Emberlab, PlayStation Plus was a positive influence for the action-adventure title.

for single player experiences like Kena, PS + can bring in a new wave of players.

"It was just a whole new wave of people," exclaims Mike Grier. "We definitely had to keep an eye on crashes at that point, and make sure it was still performing well [laughter]. But yeah, I think PlayStation Plus just provides a new audience, and we've had some success there."

His brother Josh quickly followed up by explaining the power PlayStation Plus' has to breathe life back into games post-launch. "For us it was exciting. You know, the game was out for a while when [PS Plus] happened, and just seeing that there were actually people re-energizing the crowd – getting new people in playing the game as it goes – that’s what's exciting to us."

Ultimately, Mike Grier concludes with an emphasis on a case-by-case basis approach. "I think [the benefit of these services is] certainly something you have to consider as Game Pass has grown significantly. So, you have to look at what your goals are as a developer. Looking at sales is really important, obviously, but also what opportunities you have to promote the game? Game Pass and PS Plus are an awesome tool for that."

How many multiplayer games have seen surging player counts thanks to Game Pass>

Let's take it even higher, to a big studio on the verge of releasing its first big project. Enter Arctic7. You may not have heard of this new outfit, but the new studio lead by former EA and Sperasoft bigwigs aims to create multi-media experiences across video games, TV, and other platforms (not in a dissimilar way to Remedy). Rushing head-first into the current market, CCO John Burns provided a consumer-focused opinion.

"With my background is in Games as a Service at Jagex and other companies[…]. I think what we've seen is the more choice you can offer players, whether that be platforms, whether that be different types of game types, or innovation and play modes, with how they pay and consume […], is actually great."

Burns continues: "Whether you look at: okay, I can go into a shop and buy a physical copy (which is still quite prevalent in some parts of the world) or guess what? I can subscribe, I can microtransact. I think the more choice we give we give players, the better it will be. We’ve seen that PS Plus and Game Pass fuel growth. They fuel innovation. I think the more, the better."

What are your thoughts on the service? Let us know below, and while you're at it, why not check out our articles: Exoprimal's dino shooting feels at home on Xbox Game Pass, but does it have staying power?, as well as our top 30 best Game Pass games for July 2023.

Please note: The interviews in this piece have been edited for clarity and brevity”

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