That’s the million-dollar question. Or, rather, $138.4 billion dollars, which is the estimated value of the gaming industry right now.
You’ll find solid arguments from both sides. But with music, audio books, TV, film, and even groceries transitioning to subscription-based services, it only seems inevitable that video games would follow suit.
Right now the idea of a Netflix-style service still feels like an experiment to many people. So to answer this big question, let’s break the issue down into four topics that will — hopefully — point us to a clear answer.
What Sort Of Gaming Subscriptions Exist?
Basically every game publisher or hardware creator has some sort of paid, premium tier, so there are a half-dozen ways to answer this question. In the name of focus, let’s restrict the options to subscription services that provide access to games for a monthly fee, rather than the normal $60 purchase cost.
The heavy-hitter in this discussion is Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass. But before we dive into the pros and cons of this particular gaming subscription service and how it’s changing the industry, we should at least mention the other competitors in the space.
Yes, Game Pass is the option everyone is talking (or debating) about. Ubisoft+ and EA Play are fairly direct competitors, giving players access to each publisher’s library of games for a monthly subscription fee. And PlayStation Now lets players stream old games without buying them a la cart.
We’ve also got some less successful alternatives to point out. Google tried to get into the gaming with Stadia, but after an underwhelming launch, Google already stopped developing games for the service. Meanwhile, Amazon quietly launched a game subscription called Luna, but things have been mostly silent ever since that initial beta release.
After Xbox Game Pass, perhaps the second most successful and influential service is Apple Arcade. This platform works on any iOS device, and has a pretty extensive catalog that covers games in every genre.
While a lot of “hardcore” gamers discount mobile gaming entirely, that is a colossal mistake. I’ll let the numbers do the talking here:
All of this to say that yes, the Netflix-style subscription service is here to stay. The sheer number of competitors proves that publishers are going to continue to implement this structure, hoping to incentivize players to shell out a few dollars every month to “save” themselves from the big $60 purchases.
What Is The Logic Behind A Gaming Subscription Service?
There’s more logic behind this sort of service than trying to save players money, of course. From the publisher side, the main goal was to increase engagement: Players who play more games spend more money. And how often have you signed up for a subscription and then forgotten to cancel it, leading to paying for something you rarely use?
But the biggest question in the current digital era is about product ownership. When you download a new song, a movie, or a game, you don’t actually own that product. Access to digital media is dependent on the distributor, which means it’s almost like we — and consumers — are paying to use these items while they’re available.
If you have a physical copy of Super Mario, you could play it forever as long as your NES works. But any game you buy now is dependent on live services, which means you could lose access forever.
This is one reason why Netflix and Spotify rose to prominence while the sales numbers of physical media have plummeted. People would prefer access to a large catalog of content rather than paying for individual products that they could lose access to without warning.
We pay recurring subscriptions to watch movies, listen to ad-free music, and even order food without thinking about it because of the subscription. And so it was almost inevitable that video game publishers would dabble in the SaaS model as a way to keep players engaged (and, more importantly, paying money) for longer periods of time.
What Benefits Do Subscription Services Provide?
Oddly enough, video games were primed for the SaaS model more than any other industry. Many gamers were already used to massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) like World of Warcraft, which require a monthly subscription to play.
Similarly, PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live have been around for more than 15 years, giving players access to important quality-of-life features for a recurring fee. Both subscriptions also offer free games as a “perk” for joining the program, even if the services themselves are all but required to play and enjoy many of the most popular games each year.
But it’s worth noting that subscription services do bring a lot of value, whether you’re a gamer, a developer, or a publisher. (A lot of the data out there centers on Xbox Game Pass since it’s the biggest name in this particular content, so most of the research and statistics will highlight this subscription.)
Game Pass members spend 20% more money on games, which is great news for developers and publishers. And subscribers played 40% more games, which is obviously exciting for players looking to get the most out of their time and money.
Here’s a list of statistics about Game Pass activity:
- 90% of Game Pass users played a game they wouldn’t have tried outside of the subscription.
- Around 30% try games from genres they haven’t played before.
- Game Pass members spend 50% more on downloadable content for games.
- After joining Game Pass as an additional perk, EA Play (EA’s gaming subscription) saw a 200% increase in activity on that service.
Xbox Game Pass introduced Netflix-style gaming subscriptions in a way that just makes sense for many gamers. It’s a chance to try more games in more genres. People are buying more games, including titles that are “free” as part of Game Pass.
And as an added benefit, Xbox Game Pass is the first subscription service that makes sense for developers. Which means they’re able to make more games, get more people playing their games, and somehow still sell more copies of their games even within the Game Pass framework.
Subscription-based gaming makes sense for players to get access to more games than ever before. It helps developers get their games in front of people (and get some money from the subscription system). And it encourages the publisher to keep adding games to the service, which means more games for us to enjoy.
Gamers are throwing their support behind these platforms: EA play had around 13 million subscribers in 2020, and Xbox Game Pass is already up to well over 23 million active users (as of April 2021).
So when you’re wondering if gaming really needs a Netflix-style subscription service, the answer seems to be trending “yes.” It’s safe to say that this model is here to stay. And for once, it seems to be a system that benefits everyone involved.
Drew Gula is a copywriter at Soundstripe, a company that provides content creators with a range of background music like upbeat music for their videos. He’s also a lifelong gamer who is happy to talk about any subscription service that lets him play more games while spending less money.