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Xbox’s impressive Games Showcase 2024 points to subscription gaming’s fate

Cover image for Xbox’s impressive Games Showcase 2024 points to subscription gaming’s fate

Photo: Microsoft

Photo of Rhys Elliott
by Rhys Elliott

“Play it day one with Game Pass.”

These words flashed on the screen 15 times during the Xbox Games Showcase 2024, which wowed critics and fans alike with a lineup of 30 Xbox games. Most of the titles are coming in 2024 or 2025, which is a huge turning point for Xbox.

First-party releases have mostly come in small waves over the past decade and have rarely made the splash Xbox intended. Time and time again, executives always told fans to relax, that the games were coming, that it was almost time.

It seems the time has finally come.

The culmination of Xbox’s strategy of the past decade?

The Xbox Games Showcase highlights a tidal wave of first-party Xbox games en route – all available on Game Pass from day one. Xbox showcased 30 games / expansions. The 80-minute event showed game after game with little disruption, pointing to an eventful few years for Xbox:

  • The early fruits of Xbox’s biggest acquisitions: Call of Duty Black Ops 6, which is coming to Game Pass on day one for the first time, kicked off the show. There was also a Doom game and expansions from Blizzard (World of Warcraft and Diablo IV) as well as ZeniMax (Starfield, Fallout76, and Elden Scrolls Online)
  • Classic franchises (re)turn to gaming: Xbox announced new Perfect Dark and Fable games in the past but went quiet since, leading many to worry about the progress. Xbox quelled these concerns and showed these games in earnest. It also showed IP-based game Indiana Jones and a Gears of War prequel
  • Franchises of the future: Xbox is incubating new IP from its acquisitions, with gameplay showings for Obsidian’s fantasy RPG Avowed and Compulsion’s artful third-person adventure title South of Midnight
  • One for the PC players: Xbox gave PC-first titles like Flight Simulator 2024 and Age of Mythology Retold plenty of screen time and emphasized Game Pass on day one. PC remains a high-opportunity growth vector for Game Pass
  • Third-party love: Publishers like EA (Dragon Age: The Veilguard), Ubisoft (Assassin’s Creed Shadows), and Konami (Metal Gear Solid Δ: Snake Eater, a remake of a game strongly associated with PlayStation) were all present

Xbox’s content floodgates are opening at last, and it could be the final litmus test for the future of multi-game subscriptions on console and PC.

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Subscription gaming’s last stand?

Many thought gaming would follow in the footsteps of music and TV to become a subscription-first entertainment vertical.

So far, it has not.

If Call of Duty and all the other day-one-on-Game-Pass titles from the Showcase cannot significantly increase subscriber numbers for Game Pass, perhaps nothing will.

We expect that together, these games (especially Call of Duty) will lead to slight subscriber increases on console (and perhaps an even bigger jump on PC). But nothing too earth-shattering. Afterall:

  • PlayStation gamers are unlikely to switch platforms – abandoning their built-up libraries and trophies – to buy a new console and subscription
  • The Epic Games Store could not significantly move players away from Steam with free games and huge discounts, so Xbox might similarly struggle with a subscription
  • The prevalence of the free-to-play ecosystem means some players would rather play one (or a few) forever games and spend on microtransactions in these games
  • Players can only play so many games in a given month (unlike movies, songs / albums, and even TV shows)

However, this is no issue for Xbox in the long run. Even if subscriptions never became the key way to play games, like they are for watching TV / films and listening to music, subscriptions will certainly play a major role in gaming's future. 

As we noted in our analysis of Xbox’s financials, subscriptions are just one chapter of Xbox’s playbook. It sits alongside mobile, PC, cloud (a longer-term bet), and third-party publishing on PlayStation and Switch, which can offset Game Pass cannibalising premium revenues.

The elephant in the room

Xbox had a tough start to the year, laying off almost 2,000 employees across gaming and shutting down three studios.

Countless angry consumers and critics took to social media to decry Xbox and their trust in the brand.

In percentage terms, the layoffs were in line with other games companies. However, the sheer number of layoffs and closures of fan-favourite studios Arkane Austin(Prey) and Tango Gameworks (Hi-Fi Rush) – juxtaposed with Xbox executives’ PR-friendly personas and mixed messaging – sent gamers and the press over the edge.

Xbox did not mention any of the layoffs or studio closures in its Showcase, and the reasoning is clear. In May 2024, we said the following to Wccftech:

“From a fandom angle, Xbox has completely enraged the enthusiast gaming community and press, and a lot of trust is broken. However, the gaming news cycles move quickly, and another controversy will be front of mind soon.”

“If Xbox flaunts an impressive release slate in its event next month, parts of the Xbox community will likely again be excited about Xbox content, and that will mostly eclipse the feelings of anger.”

Xbox did indeed flaunt an impressive release slate, and it has seemed to turn the tide on fan outrage. One look at X, Discord, and Reddit shows excited, happy Xbox fans and journalists.

Now, Xbox must now deliver on all the promises of its Showcase and avoid controversy if it wants to keep fans happy and win over new ones.  

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