One of the biggest announcements from Not-E3 2022 was a collaboration between Xbox and Riot Games. The two announced a partnership to bring Riot’s biggest titles to Game Pass on PC and mobile this winter. Xbox Game Pass members will be able to play these free to play titles with additional perks unlocked, such as all champions (Characterd) unlocked in League of Legends. The games coming to Game Pass with perks include League of Legends, League of Legends: Wild Rift, Legends of Runeterra, Teamfight Tactics, and Valorant.
As Xbox looks to expand its gaming business, it is taking steps to increase the viability and value of Game Pass on other platforms such as PC and mobile. It previously launched PC Game Pass which offers a dedicated library of PC games, and Game Pass Ultimate which offers both console and PC games, many of which can be played on mobile via cloud. Recently Microsoft has experimented with free-to-play games in Game Pass starting with Halo Infinite which offered free skins and consumables to subscribers. With the Riot Games deal, and the 2022 acquisition of Activision Blizzard, Niko Partners anticipates free-to-play, PC, and mobile titles to play a bigger role in Game Pass.
In-game perks for Riot Games titles on PC and mobile also provides a compelling reason for non-console gamers to subscribe to the service, not just for the games they currently play, but for the entire library of premium games that would also be accessible on their existing device. It will allow Xbox to market its service better in regions such as Asia where Niko’s research shows free-to-play PC and mobile games account for the overwhelming majority of players and revenue. Niko analysis indicates that this partnership will allow Xbox to further grow Xbox Game Pass Ultimate and Game Pass for PC in Asia, where the latter recently launched. Recognizing the importance of the free-to-play audience, Xbox is bringing these games and perks into Game Pass to gain gamers who would otherwise only engage outside of the Xbox ecosystem.
The partnership between Xbox and Riot Games marks a notable change in strategy for Riot, which previously had not worked with a game subscription service. However, our research shows that Riot does work closely with internet cafes in Asia to offer gamers similar perks. Internet cafes pay Riot on a recurring basis to offer these perks to their customers and our research indicates that the Xbox deal has a similar structure. With the partnership, Riot Games will be able to tap into an existing subscriber base of more than 25 million, primarily console-first gamers, to provide them incentive to start playing or return to Riot’s PC and mobile titles.
In summary, Xbox is aiming to reach as broad an audience as possible with its Game Pass subscription service and is serious about reaching players from new regions, in new demographics, that engage with F2P game business models. Riot Games will be able to reach a more console-orientated audience and benefit from Game Pass’s growth. While Riot will miss out on revenue from champion (character) sales in this scenario, data from Xbox shows that Game Pass subscribers spend 45% more on in-game content than non-subscribers, and this provides an opportunity for Riot to monetize long term from skins, cosmetics and other purchases.