Over the last few years, Xbox has completely transformed its first-party studio system, adding studios like Bethesda, Double Fine Productions, Obsidian, inXile, Ninja Theory, Undead Labs, Playground Games, and Compulsion Games, just to name a few. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Xbox head Phil Spencer made it clear that Microsoft is more than willing to continue dipping into its piggybank to acquire even more talent. Spencer noted that Xbox is “definitely not done,” although there’s no quota or timeline for expanding the studio system.
Microsoft’s oft-praised subscription service, Xbox Game Pass, is a direct beneficiary of an improving first-party ecosystem, as new releases come directly to the service at launch and enhance the value for subscribers. Given that Microsoft bundles in its cloud gaming offering, xCloud, with the upper tier, Game Pass Ultimate, continuing to invest in compelling content makes a lot of sense. Its early days for cloud gaming still, but with Google, Amazon, Sony, Nvidia, and others all in the race, it’s going to become a highly competitive market.
Xbox Game Pass grew 37% over last year (as of June) but missed Microsoft’s goal of 48% growth. The company has yet to provide a new subscriber count since January’s 18 million; Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick hinted at a possible figure of 30 million recently, but Microsoft never confirmed the data point.
What’s clear, however, is that subscription services like Xbox Game Pass and Sony’s PlayStation Plus lead to greater engagement among the player base. Whether looking at an online game or service, engagement remains a critical metric. In fact, back in June, Spencer acknowledged as much. “The number one metric that we can look at to see if our business is actually growing is, are people playing more on the platform?” he remarked.
Interpret’s New Media Measure® shows that these services do lead to more time spent gaming, as Game Pass subscribers and PlayStation Plus subscribers spend an hour or two more each week playing PC and console games than average gamers.