Sep 19, 2023 - Technology

Microsoft leak reveals cost estimates of bringing big releases to Game Pass

Video game screenshot of an assassin in 9th century Baghdad leaping at a man with a sword

Assassin's Creed Mirage. Screenshot: Ubisoft.

Major video game publishers may want $100 million to $300 million to put their games on Game Pass on the day they also go on sale, according to leaked internal estimates by Microsoft.

Why it matters: The economics around Game Pass, Microsoft's popular all-you-can-play gaming service with 25 million subscribers, have been lacking in hard figures. But an unprecedented leak of the company's Xbox plans reveals some of the math involved.

State of play: In a May 16 email, Xbox corporate vice president Sarah Bond broke down 18 possible third-party games to pursue for Game Pass, noting the expected cost for getting them.

  • Bond's team estimated that securing Ubisoft's "Assassin's Creed Rift," which would later be named Assassin's Creed Mirage, for a day-and-date Game Pass debut would cost $100 million.
  • Bond described that option as one of Microsoft's most cost-effective paths, though that was when the game was expected in early 2023. It was later delayed to October and is not launching on Game Pass.
  • Microsoft estimated that EA would ask for $300 million for a Game Pass day-and-date launch of Star Wars Jedi Survivor. Bond said it would be a "crown jewel," but at that cost "would not be a good [return on investment].

Details: Other potential deals included an estimated $5 million for a day-and-date launch of Baldur's Gate III. The role-playing game was a break-0ut hit that summer that back in May 2022, the Microsoft team labeled as a "second-run Stadia RPG." (The game had once been planned as a marquee release for Google's shuttered Stadia service.)

  • The company also estimated the expected cost of putting Grand Theft Auto V on Game Pass at $12-15 million a month. GTA V was added to Game Pass in July 2023, but terms of the deal have not been disclosed.

Between the lines: Bond's breakdown of Game Pass options followed an early May 2022 note from Xbox gaming chief Phil Spencer, who said the company was facing a "disaster situation" regarding its gaming lineup.

  • The company's expected marquee release for late 2022, Starfield, was going to miss the holiday season. Another big game, Redfall, didn't have a clear release date. The war in Ukraine pushed back development on STALKER 2, a game whose team was based in Kyiv.
  • "Now, let's roll up the sleeves and get planning on the next two years of games," Spencer wrote.
  • Five days later, Microsoft would publicly announce the delays of Redfall and Starfield to 2023.

Zoom in: The Bond email was included, possibly by accident, as part of a trove of exhibits uploaded to the website of the U.S. District Court of Northern California as part of the Federal Trade Commission's lawsuit to block Microsoft's $69 billion bid for Activision Blizzard.

  • It wasn't listed as an exhibit on the court's site. Instead, it was discovered after a user at gaming forum Resetera noticed that a seemingly innocuous deposition shared by the court contained attachments loaded with Microsoft's plans.
  • The company did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment on Tuesday morning.
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