Console MAU Data: Adding Games to Subscription Services Leads to Longer-Tail Engagement

The global games market is bigger than ever. This year alone, the world’s 2.7 billion gamers will generate game revenues of $159.3 billion. Revenues from console games, which are up +6.8% year on year, will contribute $45.2 billion to this number.

And the ways gamers engage with their favorite pastime are changing, directly trickling into revenues. In particular, dedicated content subscriptions (Xbox Game Pass, Sony’s PlayStation Now) are becoming more important, alongside online services (Xbox Live, PlayStation Plus).

Subscription services on console will generate $5.8 billion this year, accounting for 13% of the console market and 4% of the overall games market. These revenues are only due to grow in the coming years.

But what do these subscription services mean for developers and publishers? How does adding a game to such a service affect monthly active user (MAU) numbers? Is it worth it in the long run for developers (small, medium, and large)? In this article, we will leverage data from NZCapital Expert to explore.

For example, Xbox Game Pass helped Red Dead Redemption 2 almost triple its Xbox userbase from April 2020 to May 2020. But what happened next? We’ll delve more into this later in the article.

For PlayStation 4, we’ll use June’s free PlayStation Plus games, Star Wars Battlefront 2 and Call of Duty WW2, as case studies. You can learn more about what goes into our console MAU data

Red Dead Redemption 2 on Xbox Game Pass: Spiking Engagement 1.5 Years After Launch

The initial sales period for full console games is still essential, especially for flagship titles like Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption 2, which launched at the end of 2018 to critical and commercial acclaim.

For smaller games—or titles that do not sell as well as the publisher projected—this data is harder to come by. Luckily, console MAU data provides a reliable benchmark for tracking these titles (and the competition).

There’s a reason Rockstar Games launched just two major titles between 2013 and now but launched multiple titles per year in the past. Live-service aspects of games (like GTA Online in Grand Theft Auto V) result in:

With games becoming increasingly complex (and expensive) to develop as graphic fidelity rises, stakeholders and shareholders of AA(A) console publishers are increasingly asking about the above. Thanks to new developments in the market, there are now a variety of options to increase engagement post-release.

One of these strategies is to use new monetization models, such as battle passes. However, this method may be more challenging for AA publishers and developers (Devolver Digital’s recent Fall Guys may buck this trend).

Adding a title to a subscription service is an attractive alternative and can work for publishers of any size. Even the most prominent names in the industry are experimenting with such services.

In May 2020, for example, Microsoft added Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption 2 to its Game Pass subscription for Xbox One. As you can see below, the MAUs for the game massively spiked on the platform:

The expected increase in player numbers has implications for future revenues. One component of Red Dead Redemption 2 is Red Dead Online, which features monetization strategies like in-game transactions (for in-game currencies to buy cosmetics and upgrades).

These publishers (Rockstar, and Bethesda) and the platform holder (Microsoft) likely hope that this engagement will lead players to spend more on in-game transactions.