If you’ve watched the Xbox and Bethesda E3 showcase, one thing you couldn’t have missed was Microsoft’s subscription gaming service, Xbox Game Pass. All of the games, except a few, were announced to be coming to Xbox Game Pass on day one.
Among the more surprising announcements from Ubisoft’s E3 presentation was Blacksmith +. This new update of the Black-smith franchise is a subscription series. We can also probably expect Electronic Arts to promote its EA Play service during the presentation scheduled for next month. Subscription services are increasingly popular with publishers. Let’s talk about why and how it will ultimately be the future of the game as a whole.
For a small monthly fee
Subscription services are nothing new. Other media formats have various subscription models and services. Television has offered a range of subscription options for decades. The business model is important with entertainment providers like Netflix, Prime Video, Disney +, HBO Max and many more, a lot other. Newspapers and magazines have been using subscription models for even longer.
We as game fans have also been used to subscription services for quite some time now. Whether it’s paying for a subscription to our internet service providers or online gaming services, we’ve been making monthly payments for our games for years. There are also individual online games that require subscriptions, such as The Elder Scrolls Online, Eve online, and Star Wars: The Old Republic.
More recently, there has been an expansion of such services such as Xbox Game Pass, EA Play, and Ubisoft +. These services give you access to a variety of games for a monthly subscription. And while it’s not PC-related, there’s also PlayStation Now and Apple Arcade. Each of these services aims to attract you to a monthly payment and keep you there.
The value level is up to you
The value offered by these subscription services really depends on what you do with them. Obviously the subscription costs are fixed and there is no way around that. However, if you play the included games for 100 hours per month, you will get a lot more for your money than someone who only plays two hours per month. It’s not that simple, as it obviously depends on whether the service has the games you want to play. It’s ultimately up to you to decide if there is enough to keep you entertained.
The largest of these subscription gaming services currently is Xbox Game Pass. It currently has more than 23 million subscribers. And it’s probably already above that number as it jumped from 18 million to 23 million subscribers between January and April of this year. We’ve spoken a number of times about how we think Game Pass is a great deal. Part of the reason is that Microsoft is doing a good job of running the library and curating an interesting mix of AAA titles and indie gems.
Benefits of indie games as well as AAA
When people consider these subscription services, they tend to think of the AAA games available. Ubisoft + announces that you can play the latest news Assassin’s Creed. EA insists that you can enjoy its latest sports games and Star Wars Squadrons via EA Play. One of the main selling points of Xbox Game Pass is that all first-party titles are available through the service from day one. Microsoft’s service is also particularly good for independent titles.
You might think that a subscription service from a big gamer like Xbox would be bad for indie games, but it just isn’t. Turns out, adding your indie game to Xbox Game Pass doesn’t hurt sales, it actually helps them. Mike Rose, the founder of independent publisher No More Robots, has publicly stated that sales of Descenders quadrupled after appearing on Game Pass. He sees it as advertising for games, which generates more sales alongside the revenue received for being on the service.
This makes the decision easy for independent developers to put games on Xbox Game Pass. Of course, that assumes that Microsoft doesn’t change the deal as the service gets better and better. It’s something these little developers will need to watch out for, but it’s good to hear for now that it’s a mutually beneficial arrangement.
Games add subscriptions in other ways
We obviously know of some games that require subscriptions to play. We have already mentioned games like The Elder Scrolls Online. But how about Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War and Apex Legends? You might be thinking “but these games don’t have a subscription”. What they have are Battle Passes. The Battle Pass is a newer addition to the games, but these look a lot like a subscription. You pay money for a benefit for a limited period of time. That’s pretty much what a subscription is.
While I don’t wish to like some sort of doombreader, it doesn’t seem impossible that these Battle Passes could become necessary in their respective games with enough time. Companies like Electronic Arts and Activision are infamous for trying to extract as much money as possible from gamers. A common practice is to make in-game purchases essential by locking in better weapons and upgrades behind them. Adding a paywall to things that offer competitive advantages makes a lot of people open their wallets. From there, it’s not a jump to make the essential purchases needed to play the game.
This could lead to many major AAA games becoming subscription services. And if the major publishers have what they want, it will likely happen alongside the base costs for purchasing the game in the first place.
Each cloud has a silver / dollar liner
One of the main areas of growth for video games is cloud gaming. While Google’s Stadia has its issues, other services like Nvidia’s GeForce Now and Microsoft’s Xbox Cloud Gaming are booming. The technology to enable cloud gaming is impressive and at a level that anyone with a good internet connection can play. Of course, the main sticking point at this point is the global Internet infrastructure. While some countries have great internet speeds in some areas, nowhere has perfect connections everywhere. Until this is improved, cloud gaming won’t really be able to reach its full potential.
And there is a lot of potential in cloud gaming. At the moment, the quality of a game depends only on the hardware you have in your machine. All of that could change with cloud gaming. It won’t depend on how much you can afford to spend on a new graphics card (if you can even get one). Your available bandwidth will determine the resolution and frame rate you can achieve. Other bells and whistles like texture levels, shadow complexity, and ray tracing options will be provided by a server in a center somewhere far away from your location.
These services obviously require subscriptions and the level of play you can expect from them will be directly related to the amount you pay. Stadia has already given us an example by offering up to 4K streaming while ordering a premium price. At present, these services are still in development. As such, there aren’t a lot of options when it comes to graphics fidelity. As these evolve and start to take over the industry, it wouldn’t be surprising to see more options become available for better visuals and performance at higher costs.
All for a fixed monthly cost
Subscription gaming services have been around for many years and are not going anywhere. Businesses no longer rely solely on people to forget to cancel a subscription to make money – they want people to stay in their ecosystems. Microsoft obviously wants to make a profit with the Xbox Game Pass. However, attracting more and more people to the Xbox ecosystem means that the publisher can afford to make less money with the service itself, as it will make money in other ways, such as customers buying more hardware or other software in its store. With cloud gaming looking like the future of the industry, subscription services are going to become even more prevalent. Whether this is a good thing or not, only time will tell. We just hope our wallets can take the pressure.