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Game Pass Could Be a Death Blow to the MMO Subscription Model

Names of various titles included in Xbox Game Pass PC

I recently claimed a free month of Microsoft’s Game Pass service to check out Fallout 76. For the uninitiated, Game Pass is essentially “Netflix” for video games. It offers unrestricted access to dozens of games at a low monthly cost ($12.99 CAD).

After activating the Game Pass trial, I proceeded to go about my merry way and enjoy Fallout 76. But in passing, I couldn’t help but notice that Game Pass provides exceptional, seismic value. All the standard Microsoft-owned fare is there — from Halo to Gears of War and beyond. But you’ve also got dozens of well-regarded indie titles, a massive Bethesda catalogue, high-profile EA franchises like Battlefield, and the promise of day-one releases like Psychonauts 2. It’s a surprisingly diverse game library — and considering the low cost, an incredible value proposition for gamers of all sorts.

Game Pass also features many MMO and MMO-like titles, such as Fallout 76, Anthem, and Conan Exiles. And while these titles aren’t full-blown MMORPGs, I can’t help but feel that Game Pass’s multi-game offering severely deflates the value of traditional, singular MMO subscriptions. Why pay $14.99 a month for World of Warcraft when you could pay three dollars less for unlimited access to a dozen or more MMOs? These aren’t static games, either: titles like Fallout 76 receive regular, free content updates akin to World of Warcraft. The value deficit is simply too great to ignore. And for that reason, Game Pass — and services like it — could herald the end of the traditional MMO subscription format. Just imagine the number of people who are mulling over these numbers in their heads right now.

But perhaps the $14.99/month MMO subscription model has outlived itself to begin with. After all, this monetization method was largely established by Ultima Online, a game that’s nearly twenty-four years old. Ultima’s developers seemingly charged the monthly fee out of necessity: Back then, the overhead costs for maintaining a digital world were significantly higher. But today’s internet infrastructure is far more robust, reducing usage costs for both developers and players. And the products of that evolution are services like Game Pass, which make the single-MMO subscription model look hopelessly antiquated.

Sure, some devout MMO players will likely continue to rationalize their monthly fees — even in the face of higher-value offerings like Game Pass. But in this new era of streaming and monolithic pay-per-month content libraries, I can’t imagine those rationalizations will last much longer.

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