Starfield was supposed to be Microsoft’s biggest release of 2022. When it ended up getting delayed, the company looked into striking deals with third-party publishers like Electronic Arts and Ubisoft for major blockbusters it could bring to Game Pass day-and-date to fill the gap. A new internal email exchange leaked from the Federal Trade Commission trial earlier this year shows exactly how much Microsoft thought those deals might be worth, giving us our best sense yet of what it costs to secure blockbusters like Star Wars Jedi: Survivor and Grand Theft Auto V on the Netflix-like subscription service.
“This is really a disaster sistuation for us given all we’ve invested in content across studios at our GP content fund,” Phil Spencer wrote to fellow Xbox exectuives in a May 7 email. He was referring to Bethesda’s open world sci-fi RPG Starfield, whose delay at the time threatened to leave a 16-month hole in the Xbox first-party exclusive release calendar just two years into the Xbox Series X/S’s life-cycles.
Sarah Bond, Microsoft’s VP of gaming business development, responded to the discussion later in the month with a breakdown of major third-party games expected to arrive throughout 2022 and early 2023 that could make a big splash on Game Pass. Those included everything from Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga to Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League, including an analysis of how many hours each game was likely to be played on Game Pass, how much it would cost to get the game on the service, and whether the publisher who owned it would be likely to make a deal.
Here’s the full list of estimates:
- Lego Star Wars: $35 million
- Dying Light 2: $50 million
- Cities: Skylines 2: unknown
- Red Dead Redemption 2: $5 million per month
- Dragon Ball: The Breakers: $20 million
- Just Dance: $5 million
- Return to Monkey Island: $5 million
- Wreckfest 2: $10-$14 million
- Baldur’s Gate 3: $5 million
- Gotham Knights: $50 million
- Assassin’s Creed Mirage: $100 million
- Suicide Squad: $250 million
- Star Wars Jedi: Survivor: $300 million
- Mortal Kombat 1: $250 million
- Grand Theft Auto V: $12-$15 million per month
- Blood Runner: $5 million
- Net Crisis Glitch Busters: $5 million
The estimates vary wildly depending on the size of the release as well as whether it would be day-and-date on the service. Notably, some games like Assassin’s Creed Mirage and Suicide Squad ended up getting delayed (the latter still doesn’t have a new release date). It’s also funny to see Baldur’s Gate 3, one of the biggest games of 2023, low-balled at just $5 million (it’s out on PlayStation 5 now but delayed on Xbox due to issues with the Series S version).
Bond also notes that games like Suicide Squad and Mortal Kombat were unlikely to come to Game Pass due to corporate tumult at Warner Bros. following the merger with Discovery. Star Wars Jedi: Survivor also appeared to be off the table. Gotham Knights and Assassin’s Creed Mirage were considered much more viable and cost-effective deals. And indeed, while not day-and-date, Lego Star Wars did end up coming to Game Pass on December 1 of last year. Today, Microsoft officially announced Gotham Knights is arriving as well.
Companies like Activision (soon to be acquired by Microsoft) and Sony have been critical of day-and-date deals with subscription services, claiming it devalues games sold for $70. The PS5-maker has specificaly said it won’t bring blockbusters like Spider-Man 2 to its competitor, PS Plus, until years later to avoid cannibalizing sales, arguing that the economics aren’t sustainable for high-quality first-party exclusives. Microsoft has disagreed, promoting services like Game Pass as a way to introduce games to bigger audiences and claiming that it actually increases how much subscribers spend on the platform.
Spencer’s email exchange with Bond ends on a note about what ended up being the biggest game of 2022. “Another option with the hit factor around Elden Ring is to try to get all of the Dark Souls games and make a push with [FromSoftware] and an Elden Ring upsell,” Spencer wrote. “Like that one,” Bond wrote back. “Will do.” It’s not clear if Microsoft is still pursuing that deal.