Game subscription interest is fizzling out, argues analyst

So many subscription services means companies are having trouble courting completely new users.

According to Circana's video game analyst Mat Piscatella, spending on video game subscriptions has basically fizzled out.

Looking at the analyst website's market reporting for April 2023, Piscatella found that month's spending was a mere 2 percent higher than that of April 2022's. In his words, it's been "very difficult" for companies with subscription services to find new subscribers beyond a console's ownership base. 

Back in April during its financial report, Sony revealed its PlayStation Plus subscription numbers were at 47.4 million for 2023 fiscal year. That's the same as it was for FY22 (when it overhauled the service to include different tiers), which lends credence to Piscatella's claim. 

Conversely, Microsoft has not given hard numbers for Xbox Game Pass subscribers in over a year. Though it's boasted that subscriber numbers have grown by large amounts (specifically PC) and amassed nearly $1 billion in subscription revenue, it's been vague on how many people use the service. 

What 2023's games tell us about the future of subscription services

Piscatella further speculated that one reason subscription services haven't grown in the past year would be the slate of premium releases for 2023. Many of them have done "exceptionally well," he noted, especially through digital purchases.  

For reference, Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom sold 10 million copies in opening weekend. Similarly, other big titles this year like Street Fighter 6 and Resident Evil 4 Remake have posted high sales. 

Similarly, Diablo IV is benefiting from not dropping on a subscription service. Though Blizzard Entertainment was vague on specifics, the action-RPG is reportedly the fastest-selling game in the developer's 32-year history. 

Subscription services like PlayStation Plus and Game Pass live and die based on games added on a consistent basis. Microsoft, at the very least, tries to mix things up by debuting first and third-party games on the service, but some months are better than others. And player numbers aren't the indicator of success as sales numbers are.

In the case of the latter, having other subscription services integrated into Game Pass, like EA Play or Ubisoft+, may also be overwhelming for consumers. 

Between game services and those for other media, the prices for these subscriptions start to add up. It may be that consumers are picking and choosing what they can be subscribed to, and when they can.

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