These days many of us have one or more subscription services for our favorite entertainment. Whether it is Netflix, Apple Music, Kindle Unlimited, or other similar services, we really are spoiled for choice. Paying one set price for access to hundreds of titles is a simple, cheap, and easy way to watch or listen to our favorite content. But what about video games? Could a subscription model for gaming be the future?
Subscription services for gaming have already started to spring up. Currently the main services come from Sony, Microsoft, and EA. Each one offers access to a variety of different games, both current and older titles. Some also offer extra incentives, such as discounts on other game purchases.
More Games, More Gameplay
One of the most successful services has been Microsoft’s Game Pass, which offers games for the Xbox One. In an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald, Matt Percy, head of planning for Game Pass, talked about the service and reveals some interesting statistics.
Perhaps least surprisingly is the news that game time increased by around 20% and the number of games played increased by 40% for Game Pass subscribers.
An increase in play time makes sense because the bigger the variety of games you have access to, the more likely you are to find something which fits your mood on any given day. If you buy games individually, you may also feel more like you have to play through more of a game before you purchase anything new, especially if you paid a lot for it. When you have on-demand access to far more titles you can play several games at once, without feeling like you aren’t getting value for money.
The increase in the variety of games played also fits with this way of thinking. When you have a large number of titles available to play for free then you’re far more likely to give new games a chance. After all you aren’t paying anything extra, whether you play 2 games or 200 games. It also means that if a game which looks intriguing turns out to be terrible then all you’ve lost is some time.
Losing time somehow never feels quite as bad as losing money, at least in my experience. If you spend money on a game which turns out to be terrible then you may feel ripped off and disappointed. However, if you’ve just spent an hour or so playing it, then the feeling usually tends more towards being grateful that it didn’t cost you anything. Generally we see time as more easily expendable than money, as we often have more of it.
What About The Developers?
On the face of it the subscription model seems like a great deal for gamers. Pay one fixed price, that’s often only half as much as you’d spend on a new release, and gain a large library of titles from a wide range of genres. But what about games studios? Surely they wouldn’t want to be involved? Doesn't giving people access to their games for free limit their revenue?
That was my first thought but actually it appears the opposite is true. Statistics show that subscription models boost overall gaming spending.
Below is a chart Tweeted by Daniel Ahmad, a data analyst for Niko Partners, a market research firm which covers the Asia games market. In it he shows some statistics from EA regarding their EA Access subscription program.
You can see that it shows subscribers play 2.5 times as many games for 4 times longer. They also spend a phenomenal 3 times as much on gaming.
The findings line up with Microsoft’s statistics highlighted above. They also support the findings of a 25% increase in pre-orders and 10% increase in franchise sales.
So how does the subscription model boost sales if people aren’t paying for every game they access?
The answer comes in the way subscription models work. Games which are added to the subscription service can expect to see a large increase in players. We’ve already discussed why gamers are more likely to try titles they can access for free, and more gamers playing means a larger audience.
Matt Percy says that big-name games often see their active player base grow by a factor of two and smaller or older games can see an average of a six times increase. This increase in fans directly corresponds to a wider audience for monetization.
For larger games the subscription model can be used to encourage players to try a franchise they may not have played before. It makes sense that these new fans may then go out and pick up other titles in the franchise or purchase DLC for the games they’ve played and enjoyed.
Big name studios are already picking up on this and using it to their advantage. Some large franchises are currently available on subscription, including Forza Horizon 4 and Shadow Of The Tomb Raider. The latter in particular is a great boost for both players and studio. Gamers can play the latest Tomb Raider title, which is less than 6 months old, as part of their subscription and Square Enix hopes to see in increase in sales of DLC, which is still being rolled out for the game.
Smaller studios may also be able to profit from the same benefits. Often Indie games can struggle to gain an audience and the subscription model can benefit them in doing this. Gaining a following and a fan base benefits them every bit as much, if not more so, than it benefits larger studios.
Subscriptions Might Be The Future
In the same way that movie lovers will still buy Blu-rays or digital downloads, even though they have a Netflix subscription, there will always be gamers who like to own copies of their favorite games. Bringing in subscription services simply gives everyone more options.
Overall the subscription model is very positive for both players and studios alike. It allows gamers access to a wider variety of titles on a budget and allows studios to increase their player base and consumer spend. It may also encourage more people to play games if they can access a wide range of them for a low price. It works best however, when used in conjunction with traditional games distribution.
Derek Bradley, CEO of A44, a studio whose first game Ashen has just released onto Game Pass suggests that the model will lead to new games, which were not previously financially viable, and I’m inclined to agree.
If we take a look at how Netflix has shaken up movies and television with their “Netflix Originals” we are now watching award winning shows that would never have been picked up by cable networks. There’s no reason to discount a similar path being taken by games studios, who may be more inclined to put out a riskier title if they have a wider audience.
Subscription models have really changed the way we consume other media for the better and there’s no reason to believe that they can’t do the same for the games industry. Here’s to the future of gaming, long live the subscription model.