Xbox Game Pass could be Starfield’s secret weapon

Starfield art
(Image credit: Bethesda)

Update: Starfield delay is a blessing and a curse for Xbox Series X.

For a game that’s set to be one of the biggest Xbox exclusives in years, we don’t actually know a lot about Starfield. We know that it will be a sci-fi RPG from Bethesda; we know that it will come out on November 11 this year (unless it gets delayed); we know that we’ll get more substantive details sometime this summer. And now, thanks to an interview with Xbox head Phil Spencer, we know that Microsoft expects it to be a hugely popular game — perhaps even more popular than The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

Information comes from journalist Stephen Totilo, who covers video games for Axios. Totilo interviewed Spencer, and shared their conversation in an extremely long Twitter thread. The exchange covers a lot of territory, from the Activision acquisition to how gamers perceive Spencer online. But arguably the most interesting bit comes right at the beginning, when Spencer discusses his grand plans for Starfield.

Totilo and Spencer begin by talking about Xbox Game Pass, and how it’s made popular Xbox series, such as Halo, Forza and Psychonauts, even more accessible than before. So far, 20 million people have played Halo Infinite and 18 million have played Forza Horizon 5. Spencer believes that this is at least partially due to Xbox Game Pass, and how Microsoft’s subscription service encourages players to try new things without having to plunk down $70 on an individual game.

“I love the Forza 5 and Halo stats,” Spencer said. “I love how many people played Psychonauts 2 vs. Psychonauts 1. So when I look at the teams, when Todd [Howard, Bethesda director] and I talk about Starfield, it’s: ‘How do we make sure this is the most-played Todd Howard game ever?’”

While Spencer doesn’t state the conclusion outright, the logic seems sound enough. Spencer and Howard want Starfield to be Howard’s biggest game ever — and, at present, Howard’s biggest game is Skyrim.  (It’s sold at least 30 million copies since it came out, and that number just keeps going up.) Starfield’s best bet to be even bigger is to lean into Xbox Game Pass.

While Spencer doesn’t discuss Starfield for long, the idea of accessibility comes up a few times. Xbox Game Pass — and by extension, Halo, Forza, and other series — has succeeded because it makes games easy to play on whatever system you currently own, be it an Xbox One, an Xbox Series X/S, a gaming PC, a non-gaming PC or even a smartphone. It stands to reason that Starfield will be available for all those platforms via Xbox Game Pass. Whether that means it will attract more than 30 million players is anyone’s guess. But it’s an awful lot less limiting than having to purchase an expensive (and impossible-to-find) new console to do so.

In the meantime, you can try searching for Xbox Series X restocks. Starfield might be playable on a variety of platforms, but we imagine it’ll work best on a powerful console or gaming PC.

Marshall Honorof

Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.