Microsoft have passed a major milestone with Xbox Game Pass this past quarter, announcing that their game subscription service now has more than 10 million subscribers across Xbox One and Windows 10. That’s ten times the last reported figure of 1 million subscribers for rival streaming service PlayStation Now.
The Game Pass milestone comes alongside 90 million active users on Xbox Live this past month and engagement with Project xCloud in the hundreds of millions.
We saw record engagement in gaming this quarter:
• 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
— Frank X. Shaw (@fxshaw) April 29, 2020
These are figures certainly sound impressive on the surface, but they could certainly do with a little more context to understand how they’ve come to be.
Of course, Covid-19 is a major factor in all of this, forcing millions of people around the world to stay at home and giving them much more free time to spend gaming. We can see this in the 90 million active Xbox Live users, a huge jump up from the 65 million Microsoft reported last July.
Active users include not just paying subscribers to Microsoft’s online services, but anyone that engages with Xbox Live. This means that people dusting off Xbox 360 consoles will be counted, people playing single player games while connected to the internet, and Windows 10 players touching the OS’ built in Xbox gaming features and playing Microsoft games, even if purchased via Steam.
The active users count was already growing through 2018 and 2019, but a combination of Microsoft launching Xbox Game Pass for PC, releasing first party games on Steam and more will have added millions of PC gamers to that statistic.
Coming back to Xbox Game Pass, this is the first time that Microsoft have given us a meaningful figure for subscribers. Having launched in mid-2017, we’ve been kept in the dark over how the audience is growing, since then, but Microsoft have made some major moves in the last year to expand its subscribing audience.
One side to this was opening up Xbox Game Pass for PC, featuring an adjacent but overlapping library of games for Windows 10 alongside Xbox One. That was then bundled up together with Game Pass for Xbox and Xbox Live Gold in Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. All of this has been heavily, heavily incentivised and discounted, with the ability to convert existing subscriptions to Xbox Live Gold into Game Pass Ultimate for $1, regular introductory offers and free trials, and tons of advertising around the service.
With Microsoft’s first party games entering the service day and date, it’s typically the cheapest short term way to play games like Gears 5, Ori and the Will of the Wisps and Halo: The Master Chief Collection.
Even with those various caveats, these are impressive statistics for Microsoft to be able to tout when stacked up against those of Sony. Their biggest rival reported monthly PlayStation Network active users of 103 million in January, and while that will surely have jumped for the same pandemic-related reason that have surely boosted Xbox Live, it’s impressive the Microsoft can be this close when they have a deficit in current gen console hardware sales.
Xbox Game Pass is where they’re seemingly pulling out a big lead. The last figure we had for PlayStation Now subscribers came in October, as Sony touted a 1 million milestone. Even accepting for some growth over the past half year, especially with the price reductions and changes to the structure of their game library, it would be a major surprise for them to be able to match Microsoft’s 10 million subscribers without the same kinds of marketing push and service expansion.