Microsoft has confirmed that High on Life is not only the biggest Game Pass new release of 2022 but the biggest 3rd party Game Pass launch ever (based on the number of hours played in the first five days of release). While that’s obviously an incredible accomplishment, it’s really not as surprising s it may first seem. After all, High on Life is pretty much the perfect Game Pass game.
For those who don’t know, High on Life is a new action game from developer Squanch Games. If that name sounds familiar, that’s because Squanch Games was founded by Justin Roiland: the co-creator of Rick and Morty. Indeed, early previews of High on Life gave the distinct impression that it was actually some kind of Rick and Morty game. It’s not, though Roiland’s voicework and the game’s sense of humor will both be familiar to fans of that series.
Indeed, High on Life‘s humor has quickly become the game’s defining element. While High on Life actually features a surprising Metroid Prime-like structure and quite a few side missions/distractions, it’s the game’s humor that people can’t stop talking about. Streamers, YouTubers, local writers trying to fill the time until Christmas…a lot of people have been weighing in on High on Life, and most of them have something to say about the game’s onslaught of jokes and sight gags.
Mind you, that something isn’t always positive. Much like Rick and Morty, some find High on Life‘s humor to be clever, deeply hilarious, and refreshingly edgy. Much like Rick and Morty, others find High on Life‘s humor to be grating, generally offputting, and frustratingly edgy. There’s not much middle-ground on the matter, and your thoughts on the title’s humor will determine whether or not you’re able to make it through the game. Fans in both camps have felt the need to share their opinion on the matter and, in some cases, take a shot at the other side along the way. We’re almost at the end of the year, but it’s not a stretch to call High on Life the most divisive game of 2022.
While I hate to invoke the “controversy creates cash idea” (that principle never works as well or as often as its biggest proponents would have you believe), it’s fascinating to see that people are actually playing High on Life rather than simply discussing it. Its debut was almost certainly bolstered by its built-in Rick and Morty fanbase (so so speak), but the game has grown beyond the apparent target audience. It’s one thing to make someone curious about a game, especially when that game isn’t directly associated with a major franchise or has long-term multiplayer appeal. It’s quite another to get them to actually play that game in droves (if only for an hour or so) to see what the fuss is about.
While we know Game Pass helps expand the reach of games great and small, High on Life has to be considered the most notable example yet of a game that could have only achieved this level of success via Game Pass. Yes, people are buying the game at retail price, but a quick look at the game’s Steam user reviews shows that even those who enjoy it say that people should wait for the title to go on sale simply because it doesn’t really offer $60 worth of content based on modern standards. Yet, in most conversations, the talks about the “value” of the game come back around to the value of Game Pass. High on Life and Game Pass are linked in a way that few other games and services are.
We know that the value of Game Pass is real, but High on Life is showing that the value of a “Day One” Game Pass debut for something other than a major Triple-A release is a little more powerful than some may have previously suspected.
Yes, Triple-A games often dominate the Game Pass library just as they dominate the retail scene. Yet, as Game Pass continues to grow, we need to start realizing that there is a unique kind of “Game Pass game” that doesn’t fit into more traditional metrics of industry success. It doesn’t have to be open-world, it doesn’t have to belong to a franchise, it doesn’t need a live service multiplayer component, and it doesn’t need to appeal to everyone. It just needs to generate enough buzz to get people to say “I’ve got to try that for myself” without feeling the need to make a serious financial or time commitment. Well, High on Life is now not only officially the biggest example of that kind of game; it’s the biggest example of how a Game Pass game can outperform a bigger title that just happens to be on Game Pass.
Only Squanch Games and other Game Pass developers can tell us how financially viable it is to put so many resources into a day-one Game Pass push. We could eventually find out that such titles are ultimately better for gamers than they are for bottom lines. What matters most right now, though, is that games like High on Life are raising the bar of our expectations for just how successful a successful Game Pass game can be. As that bar goes higher and higher, the temptation for studios to find the budget (any budget) for a game that can justify its existence by virtue of being a Game Pass hit will rise along with it. Once that happens…well, High on Life might not be for you, but the next game that can overperform by harnessing the power of otherwise cheap online chatter into actual playtime just might be.