The Impact of Video Game Subscriptions on the Industry
With the Xbox Game Pass and Sony’s PlayStation Now features, game subscriptions have grown in importance over the last few years. This is not a new trend, however, but the easy access to cloud-server streaming has made it more available to a wider range of consumers. With each platform growing its game subscription options, the impact and future of these features remain uncertain in the minds of many industry professionals.
Similar to the origins of Netflix, game subscription services started out through the mail. Subscribers that wanted to only play through a new title temporarily, or maybe were testing out a game before buying it, could rent the game for a limited amount of time and then return it for a dramatically cheaper price. While there were flaws in the original mail subscriptions, cloud gaming and online functionality streamlined the process for console and PC gamers.
Just like video and music subscriptions, the operation was ported to the internet where games were downloaded. Shortly after that, PlayStation Now opened up game streaming and players could stream select titles from PlayStation servers without occupying their hard drive space. While moderately successful, some professionals remain skeptical as to the future of game subscription programs.
Live Service Games
Mixed into this discussion is the recurring trend of live service releases. Fortnite, Call of Duty: Warzone, and Apex Legends are built on the idea of an evolving title. Rather than buying a single game, players can continue to experience patch after patch of content with micro-transactions scattered throughout. While this strategy is popular in the MMORPG communities with the success of World of Warcraft, more games are picking up the idea of a live service experience.
Source: Simon Kucker Global Gaming Study
The key is that live service games are, in itself, a subscription service. The core product is available to gamers, and evolving content creates a tailored experience that grows with its community. Players can spend hours and hours, months after months, and even years dedicated to a game that they love that continues to reward dedication. As an evolving system, the game can fit the needs of generational shifts while maintaining an active audience of core fans.
Subscription can dominate
Live service games prove that subscriptions are viable, but the question of how far they can reach is still up in the air. Netflix, Spotify, and other subscription services continue to see shifting growth and prices which are making some professionals skeptical as to their overall stability. However, with the growth of the gaming industry over the last ten years, the idea of subscription-based game services is all the more viable.
The core of this revolves around choice as to what products the consumer wants to enjoy. Players who want to play a continuing game will, and others will continue to purchase the occasional release as they are launched. While millions of people are happy to use subscription-based services, it is hard to say if one style of distribution can fit the needs of an evolving market of hungry clientele.