Microsoft’s Xbox division just reported $3.9 billion in revenue, its largest Q1 for its gaming arm…ever. And Bethesda’s Starfield deserves a lot of the credit.
The figure is such a surprise because it comes in the wake of an actual 7% decline in revenue for hardware, actual Xboxes, but that’s offset by a 13% increase in content and services. Previously, Xbox reported that Starfield marked the biggest launch for Bethesda ever, due to its inclusion in Game Pass. Now, Microsoft has said that the launch of Starfield led to the biggest single day of Game Pass sign-ups in the service’s history, which was of course its plan. It did not reveal any new Game Pass subscription totals, as it has not since January 2022 when that figure was 25 million.
Starfield’s success is meant to show how Microsoft can produce big, profitable hits despite the game in question being “free” via Game Pass. Starfield, by itself, generated non-Game Pass sales and more expensive editions tied to early access. A future DLC addition that you had to purchase above and beyond Game Pass. The Game Pass sign-ups themselves. At least some amount of hardware sales. Steam sales, not tied to Game Pass. It’s a wide net, and it would even wider if this was a game that also was selling microtransactions on top of it all, which it is not.
There is a very social media-centric view that Starfield was somehow a miss because it scored lower than past Bethesda mainline games and will not win GOTY like past entries (it may not even be nominated in many circles). But the game has shown impressive playercount numbers, not just at launch, but almost two months later, where it remains a top game on Xbox among a sea of popular multiplayer titles, and on Steam, where it still peaks at 60,000 concurrent players daily. This is a single player game, without ongoing content, without an expansion yet, without official mod support, available on a platform where you can also just as easily get it through PC Game Pass. That’s…impressive.
The question now is, can Xbox do this again? Starfield is a huge success, but it is also likely to be one of the biggest exclusive IP launches of the entire console generation. Yes, Microsoft has a number of other big games in the works, Fable, Perfect Dark, Avowed, a new Gears game, Hellblade and so on, but none of them are likely to be “Starfield” big. Not until Elder Scrolls VI, most likely, which is at least five years away at this point.
But this is likely to at least happen twice thanks to one other game, Call of Duty. It is easy to imagine that the first time Call of Duty launches on Xbox Game Pass, that will be another sea change moment, as suddenly players can get the best-selling game of the year, ever year, on Game Pass for “free.” Even if it remains multiplatform, that’s still going to be a massive draw to the ecosystem. That will be next year, not this year, where Modern Warfare 3 is launching normally, with the acquisition only having just finished in the last few weeks.
Microsoft continues to be very cagy about actual Game Pass numbers for unknown reasons, but the revenue figures speak for themselves, and after dozens and dozens of billions of dollars spent on acquisitions, yeah, it’s starting to pay off.
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