Marvel’s Avengers just had a free-to-play weekend that racked up some impressive player numbers, proving that there’s still interest in the game on some level, but what might really make waves for it is a stint on Xbox Game Pass.
Ahead of the Black Panther: War for Wakanda Expansion, the game held a free-to-play weekend on most platforms. The results were legit surprising. After months of hovering below 1,000 peak players on Steam – the only platform which we can get some semblance of real numbers for – the game shot up to a peak of more than 10,000 players.
That’s pretty wild for a game that peaked on Steam to 28,000 players. Not even major additions to the game such as Kate Bishop and her Taking AIM chapter and Hawkeye and his Future Imperfect chapter have generated a comparable boost in player counts. This could mean that while players are skeptical of the post-launch content, there remains a genuine interest in the game.
So of course this has led to people on Reddit, Twitter and even writers like Forbes’ Paul Tassi to revisit the idea of Marvel’s Avengers going free-to-play entirely. The game is already struggling after all, what is there to lose, the logic goes. But honestly what Square Enix should be thinking about is what Game Pass could do for Marvel’s Avengers.
There’s precedent for this, setting aside the fact that Xbox was curiously not a part of the all access weekend event. Square Enix launched the co-op loot shooter Outriders by People Can Fly simultaneously on PC, PlayStation and Xbox Game Pass last April. In a financial results briefing, Square Enix president Yosuka Matsuda said that the decision to launch on Game Pass worked in their favor, performing well in sales.
That being said, Marvel’s Avengers is a very different game from Outriders. It’s a co-op action brawler with live service components that has already pledged all future content such as new missions, playable characters and story chapters. Were the game to go free-to-play, it would void any future income from unit sales and have to rely entirely on cosmetic microtransactions for additional revenue to support those updates.
Game Pass is a much more reasonable proposition. First of all, Game Pass deals vary in length. Some games like Remnant: From The Ashes and Hollow Knight have been on the service for over a year, almost like a long term free-to-play arrangement. Others, like Grand Theft Auto V, come and go for a few months. Marvel’s Avengers can choose a short-term or long-term deal with Game Pass, that is to say whatever arrangement Square Enix deems reasonable.
Second, Game Pass is a tremendous way of bolstering player counts for games that live and die on matchmaking times. Moreso if the game in question is cross play. Marvel’s Avengers isn’t cross play right now but imagine if it were and on Game Pass. Players on PC, PlayStation or Stadia would be happy to group up with millions of potential players on Xbox. Even without cross play, player interest and engagement is sure to get a boost.
Finally, Game Pass can increase spending on Marvel’s Avengers. The game’s reliance on cosmetic microtransactions isn’t out of the ordinary for a game of its kind, but you can’t sell cosmetics to an audience of zero. With more users on board lies the potential for more revenue. Even Microsoft’s Sarah Bond reports that Game Pass users spend 20% more on games and even those that don’t are proven to spend more overall on in-game purchases.
All this being said, it’s unlikely Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics would consider putting Marvel’s Avengers on Game Pass until after the release of the War for Wakanda expansion. They are after all, betting on people who were unable to finish all of the content during the free to play weekend to buy the game in time for War for Wakanda.
If War for Wakanda can’t reinvigorate the player base in a significant fashion (even if just temporarily) then it will be time for Square and Crystal to consider their options. I think it’s foolish to think that just ANY game should automatically consider the Game Pass route, but given the possibilities listed above and how outspoken Square has been on what Game Pass has done for Outriders, it’s definitely worth thinking about.
Going free-to-play simply isn’t going to work without a significant redesign of its business model. Not unless Square intends to write of the game off as a loss and let the trickle of microtransactions offset whatever it can. Putting Marvel’s Avengers on Game Pass for a few months to a year is a better fit. It’s a live service game that must secure a cult following of supportive players to carry it for years to come.