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Microsoft seeks to explain its own admission Xbox Game Pass lowers base game sales

"Each game is unique."

A range of games available on Xbox Game Pass.
Image credit: Microsoft

Microsoft has issued a statement in response to its own admission that titles entering Xbox Game Pass sell fewer copies in the 12 months following their addition to the service.

Yesterday, GamesIndustry.biz highlighted a line from the UK Competition and Markets Authority's provisional report on Microsoft's attempted Activision Blizzard takeover, published last week, in which Microsoft stated that a title's inclusion in Game Pass resulted in a subsequent decline in base game sales.

"Microsoft... submitted that its internal analysis shows a [redacted] percent decline in base game sales 12 months following their addition on Game Pass," the CMA stated.

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The claim appears to contradict a previous statement by Xbox boss Phil Spencer back in 2018, where he said that titles like Forza Horizon 4 coming to Game Pass lead to increased sales of the game - not fewer.

Here's that previous quote in full:

"When you put a game like Forza Horizon 4 on Game Pass, you instantly have more players of the game, which is actually leading to more sales of the game," Spencer said in 2018. "You say, 'Well isn't everyone just going to subscribe for $10 and go play this thing?' But no, gamers find things to play based on what everybody else is playing."

Spencer does not appear to be talking about in-game sales here, or overall revenue from a title - which could certainly be boosted by its inclusion in Game Pass and its exposure to a wider audience.

Eurogamer contacted Microsoft for an explanation of its admission, and asked if circumstances had changed.

"Xbox Game Pass offers gamers and game creators more choice and opportunity in how they discover, experience, and deliver games," an Xbox spokesperson told Eurogamer in response today. "For gamers, that means providing another option for them to discover games and play with friends at a great value. For developers, that means creating another option for how they monetise their games.

"We're focused on helping game creators of all sizes maximise the total financial value they receive through Game Pass. Each game is unique, so we work closely with creators to build a custom program to reflect what they need, ensure they are compensated financially for their participation in the service, and allow room for creativity and innovation. As a result, the number of developers interested in working with Game Pass continues to grow."

Microsoft does not dispute its claim to the CMA that Xbox Game Pass leads to fewer sales of a game, but says its subscription remains an attractive option for developers seeking to release their game within it.

Perhaps it should not be surprising that a game sells fewer copies when included in a subscription many millions of people have ownership of already. And this is much less an issue for games which have already launched, and are included in Game Pass some time later.

But it raises interesting questions of the games Microsoft launches within Game Pass on day one, such as its own first-party title slate.

Microsoft's ongoing bid to get its Activision Blizzard deal agreed to by anti-competition agencies around the world has seen the company make several revealing statements.

In October, Microsoft admitted PlayStation's userbase was "signficantly larger" than Xbox even if every Call of Duty player ditched Sony. A month later, Microsoft said "many" PlayStation exclusives were "better quality" than those on Xbox.