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Xbox Game Pass isn't hurting Forza Horizon 4, says Playground

Which game would you be more engaged with: the one you paid full price for, or the one you got as part of a $10 subscription? The team at Playground Games assumed owners of Forza Horizon 4 would be playing far more than those downloading the game via Xbox Game Pass. As it turns out, they were wrong.

In an interview with GamesIndustry.biz, Playground's Ralph Fulton discussed Forza Horizon 4's launch directly into Xbox Game Pass, and the surprising numbers he and his team have been seeing as a result.

"One of the things we speculated about was how engaged the Game Pass player would be compared to the owner," Fulton said. "But what we're seeing as the numbers level out and the playerbase matures is there's not a terrific amount of difference in terms of how long they play for, average hours played per player."

Fulton continued.

"Lots of other minor metrics around engagement show that they are within a margin of error of the owners, the people who actually paid for the game. Which is incredible, and kind of ran contrary to what we expected would happen."

That has to make the team at Playground Games feel pretty good about their release. Forza Horizon 4 is one of the higher-rated games currently available via Xbox Game Pass, and the fact that so many Game Pass subscribers are staying with it speaks volumes about the game's stickiness; how able it is to keep players coming back after they've taken a few spins around FH4's version of the United Kingdom.

It also illustrates how publishers hope to use the subscription model to their benefit. The bet being made by companies like Microsoft, EA, and now Ubisoft is that players will stay engaged with games like Forza Horizon 4 and remain subscribed, generating more revenue over time than if they'd simply purchased a title at full price. By continuing to add paid content, such as FH4 has done, publishers can then rake in a little more revenue on top of those subscription fees and get players a little more invested in their game, giving them yet another reason to stay subscribed.

But the games still have to be good. Forza Horizon 4 is an Xbox Game Pass success story thanks to its quality, but there's no promise that every game tossed into a subscription service will hit that same bar. And that's good for gamers: it means that developers and publishers will still have to deliver the goods if they want the money.

In the meantime, Playground seems fairly satisfied with how being a 'subscription game' has gone thus far.

"There's no downside to Game Pass players," Fulton said. "The reason we do this, the reason we set up Playground, was to deliver great games to the largest audience we possibly could, and Game Pass has widened that funnel and brought so many more players to our games. It's win-win for us."