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Game Pass, Like Network TV, Is Using Sports To Help Keep The Numbers Up

Image: EA / 2K / NFL / FIFA / NBA / Kotaku
Image: EA / 2K / NFL / FIFA / NBA / Kotaku

With little warning, Microsoft surprised folks and announced that NBA 2K24 was coming to its video game subscription service, Game Pass. More games being added to Game Pass is always nice for its subscribers, and this latest addition continues a trend that indicates that Microsoft is looking to rely on sports to help keep numbers up and consistent.

For years now, broadcast networks and cable TV channels have struggled to keep viewers around as the options for what you can watch on your television have increased dramatically thanks to streaming services, online video, games, Twitch, and more. And that doesn’t even factor in how your phone has become an entertainment destination with its own apps, games, services, and video options like TikTok. Many teens today mostly watch stuff on their small screens and barely pay attention to cable or network television. To combat losing viewers, networks and channels fight for sports broadcasts and the rights to air NFL, NBA, MLB, and other pro league games. And the data shows why: Of the top 50 most watched broadcasts in 2023, only five weren’t sports-related. And two of those were annual award shows. Sports consistently bring in lots of viewers, unlike scripted TV and news. So networks are leaning more and more on sports to keep their heads above water. And it looks like Xbox is taking a page from this strategy book.

With the addition of NBA 2K24 on Xbox Game Pass on March 11, Microsoft has secured another popular sport for the service. NBA 2K offers up professional basketball, MLB The Show provides folks the chance to play pro baseball, FIFA lets you play the biggest soccer game in the world, UFC is there, too, and Madden of course offers football fans a chance to digitally win the Super Bowl with their favorite team. Oh, and cricket is on Game Pass as well.

Now yes, some of these sports titles are only available through Game Pass Ultimate, which includes EA Play, but Microsoft would prefer folks pay for the pricier, bigger version of the subscription service anyway, and tossing in EA-published sports games might be enough to make some folks pay a bit more. (Anecdotally, I know at least two people who upgraded their Game Pass subs to get access to Madden, UFC, and FIFA.)

To be clear, I don’t think Microsoft’s Game Pass service is failing or bleeding customers as badly as cable TV. But we know Game Pass growth has slowed and Xbox needs to keep as many people paying for it as they can. It becomes harder to add more folks each year, and the company risks the numbers going down—and that’s never allowed in the world of corporations.

There are loads of people out there who might only play a few sports games a year. Previously they had to pay $60 a pop for these titles. But with Game Pass they get the next Madden, MLB The Show, etc for one monthly fee and get access to a ton of other games they might want to check out like Forza and Halo. If Microsoft can keep these customers around with steady, consistent sports offerings, it could be a way to make sure the numbers don’t drop too much between big releases or the holidays.

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