Starfield on Xbox Game Pass could make it Bethesda's 'most played' game ever

A astronaut in Starfield sitting in a cockpit
(Image credit: Bethesda Game Studios)

Xbox boss Phil Spencer has said he expects Bethesda’s much-anticipated upcoming RPG Starfield to become one of Microsoft’s most-played games ever, and suggested Xbox Game Pass is the key to making the game more popular than Skyrim.

Speaking to Stephen Totilo of Axios, Spencer noted the popularity of recent Microsoft exclusives, with Halo Infinite reaching 20 million players and Forza Horizon 5 hitting 18 million since they launched. 

He suggested the popularity of the games has rested on their greater accessibility, highlighting that Game Pass has let Microsoft place many releases in the hands of players who would not have otherwise bought them.

"You can see it with Forza and Halo, the last releases,” Spencer said. “Those are the most played games in those franchises because we made them available on more screens than we ever have, through more business models than we've ever made them available”.

“I love the Forza 5 and Halo stats... I love how many people played Psychonauts 2 vs. Psychonauts 1.

"So, when I look at the teams, when Todd and I talk about Starfield, it's: 'How do we make sure this is the most-played Todd Howard game ever? [Todd Howard having worked as Skyrim's director].’"

Spencer went on to say he expects Game Pass and Microsoft’s broader strategies will also increase the player count of several major Activision Blizzard franchises after it acquires the publisher.

“I want more people to be playing WoW [World of Warcraft] in five years than are playing today.”

“I want more people to be playing Call of Duty in five years, more people to be playing Candy Crush in five years, because we've made it more accessible to more people.”

Analysis: Microsoft think Game Pass is the golden ticket

Characters from Starfield gazing up at the sky

(Image credit: Bethesda Softworks)

Surpassing Skyrim’s total player count is no small task. Since the acclaimed RPG was released in 2011, it went on to sell 30 million copies in its first five years, and has undoubtedly sold more in the following. The game’s 10th-anniversary edition that launched late last year was warmly received by fans and critics, likely bolstering its total number of players even further.

With Starfield confirmed as a PC and Xbox exclusive, Microsoft has already excluded the game from the PlayStation playerbase. Spencer’s comments here show the extent of his faith in Xbox Game Pass and its power to market games. As a largely affordable monthly subscription service, it can place recent releases in the laps of millions of players. Those who may be disinterested in a game, or would have avoided it, may find themselves sucked in when given the chance to play it at no extra cost.

With Game Pass now boasting 25 million subscribers, an increase of 7 million from January last year, the size and growth of the platform shouldn’t be ignored. Microsoft has already committed to putting as many Activision Blizzard titles on Game Pass as possible, shoring up the service’s features to lock in even more subscribers.

The hype behind Starfield is already immense. An original IP from the minds behind some of Bethesda’s most acclaimed titles, the sci-fi RPG is almost guaranteed a huge audience whether Game Pass pulls its weight or not. But Spencer's comments show just how successful Microsoft believes their subscription service can be.

Callum Bains
Gaming News Writer

Callum is TechRadar Gaming’s News Writer. You’ll find him whipping up stories about all the latest happenings in the gaming world, as well as penning the odd feature and review. Before coming to TechRadar, he wrote freelance for various sites, including Clash, The Telegraph, and, and worked as a Staff Writer at Wargamer. Strategy games and RPGs are his bread and butter, but he’ll eat anything that spins a captivating narrative. He also loves tabletop games, and will happily chew your ear off about TTRPGs and board games.