Are Gaming Subscription Services the Future of Video Games?

Gaming subscription services are becoming ever more popular for both gamers and publishers. Are we looking at a future where all games are released through one of these services? Is there a future without retail releases of games?

Are Gaming Subscription Services the Future of Video Games

If you own a console, you are likely to have access to pay for a subscription service on that system. Whether it’s to allow you to play online, pick up a battle pass, or continue your adventure in your favourite MMORPG, most gamers are familiar with dropping some cash every month (or annually) to continue playing. However, it’s services like Xbox Game Pass, PlayStation Plus, EA Play, and Ubisoft+ that are really changing the way we game. Let’s have a look at these gaming subscription services and the future of video games, how they benefit developers & gamers, and the way they are changing things.

Paying per Month Instead of per Game

Services like EA Play, PlayStation Plus, Ubisoft+, and Xbox Game Pass get you to pay for a month (or a year) of access to a library of games rather than for an individual title. You could choose to pay $60 to own Forza Horizon 5. Alternatively, you could pay $9.99 and gain access to it and a wealth of other games for a month. This offers an interesting and compelling proposition for most gamers. It opens up a lot of opportunities to play titles that you may not otherwise have considered. After all, if they are available to you at no extra cost, what have you got to lose? It is this array of titles, genres, and possibilities that make these services so enticing.

All of these services have their own intricacies. PlayStation Plus has three tiers offering different levels of service. Ubisoft+ has a service just for PC and one that also includes Stadia (at the moment, at least). Xbox Game Pass comes in three flavours. There’s the standard service for Xbox gamers, one for just PC, and another that includes both services as well as cloud gaming. These services don’t just differ in the consoles and systems that they are on. Ubisoft+ and Xbox Game Pass offer their biggest releases at launch on their services. However, EA Play and all tiers of PlayStation Plus hold most of their new games until a while after launch.

Xbox Game Pass is one of the most popular gaming subscription services

Xbox Game Pass is one of the most popular gaming subscription services

Regular Income for Gaming Subscription Service Providers

The big plus for the providers of these gaming subscription services is that they gain a regular income. In the case of a publisher-run service like Ubisoft+, their financial model changes significantly. Instead of gaining a huge amount of income at launch that gradually fizzles out into a trickle, they gain a fairly level income every month. This makes running any business significantly easier, particularly in terms of planning. They may lose some money at launch but they are counting on gaining that back (and more) over the long term.

What these service providers are really betting on is the same thing that keeps Netflix, Disney+, HBO Max, and other media providers in business: the inertia of people not cancelling their subscriptions. Clearly, they are hoping that customers are happy enough with the service that they want to continue. However, they are also banking on people forgetting to cancel their subscriptions. The reason so many of these types of services require you to enter your payment info along with a free trial isn’t to make continuing access to the service seamless. They are relying on a number of people taking part in the offer of a free month, then forgetting to cancel before the month runs out.

Ubisoft+ is Ubisoft's gaming subscription service

Ubisoft+ is Ubisoft’s gaming subscription service

Gaming Subscription Services Benefit Gamers and Video Game Developers Right Now and in the Future

Clearly, these gaming subscription services are going to benefit the companies that provide them. After all, it provides them with a regular income and can help them to plan how to budget their future releases. However, they also benefit gamers and can help out indie developers. For indie developers, these services offer a great way to get your game in front of millions of gamers. Interestingly, indie developers and publishers have spoken about how their sales have gone up when they have been added to one of these services. Mike Rose, of No More Robots, says that sales of Descenders went up five times when the game was added to Xbox Game Pass. This sort of sales boost makes these services very enticing to small developers. And that is alongside the financial boost they’ll get from the deal to make their game available on the service.

For gamers, the biggest benefit is being able to try a vast array of games at no extra cost. When there is no financial risk to trying out a new title, genre, or style, gamers are encouraged to experience new things. Not only is this exciting as a gamer but it develops and shapes us in new and beneficial ways. As a huge fan of racing games and shooters, I’ve never really tried tactical strategy games. Yet, because of Xbox Game Pass, I tried out Desperados III and Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden and loved them. It’s these kinds of discoveries that excite me most about these services.

Descenders Multiplayer 4K Gameplay Trailer


Gaming Subscription Services Could Become the Standard Way to Release Video Games in the Future

While these gaming subscription services may offer new titles and genres to explore, there is something that I have noticed since becoming a subscriber. I don’t buy as many games as I used to. Before subscribing to these services, I would pick up 3-4 new games every month. I just don’t do that anymore. I tend to find myself content to just play the offerings on the different services. I’ll only buy something I’m really excited about. For instance, I intend to pick up Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II and God of War Ragnarök this year, but that will probably be it. As a racing fan, I would normally have picked up Grid Legends and F1 2022. However, I didn’t, I was happy to wait until these games came out on EA Play. I’m sure I’m not the only one whose habits have changed this way.

This change in gamer behaviour could easily lead to a future where all video games get released as part of one of these gaming subscription services. It’s not just gamer behaviour that could precipitate this, though. There is a significant consolidation happening in the game development world right now. While PlayStation and Xbox make waves with their acquisitions of Bungie and Activision/Blizzard, Embracer Group and Tencent have been picking up developers and IPs left and right. It would be very easy for these companies to set up subscription services to encompass their portfolios of properties. If they forecast a greater profit can be made from the subscription model, they are going to choose that option. Such a move could shake up the gaming market to a point where it will forever be changed.

EA Play is the gaming subscription service from Electronic Arts

EA Play is the gaming subscription service from Electronic Arts

What Does the Future Hold

No one can ever really know what the future will bring. That said, I think we all know that companies will try and make as much money as they can. If that means moving entirely to subscription models rather than traditional physical releases, it’s safe to say that that is what will probably happen. Will more gamers’ purchasing habits change as they become accustomed to gaming subscription services? It’s quite possible, especially with outside forces of recession and credit crunches seemingly on the horizon. What if Tencent, Embracer Group, or even Steam offered their own services? That could prove such a systemic change that things would inevitably move that way.

Five years ago, no one would have believed that the biggest games in the world would be free-to-play. Fortnite was not looking promising for Epic but adding a free-to-play battle royale flipped its fortunes around. Who would have thought that you could play Call of Duty or Halo for free? As times change, so does the gaming market. Who’s to say what the next five years could bring us? Will gaming subscription services become the standard way to play in the future or will they turn out to be just a fad in the history of video games? It’s a tired expression but only time will tell.


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    Yes they’re the future, but it’s more complicated than that. If they’re clever the future will be to release the full game as part of the service, but if you want things like DLC, or the ability to mod the game, then you have to buy the game. That’s kind of how Gamepass works and I have no problem with that. There are times that I enjoy a game on Gamepass PC so much that I’ll buy it on Steam or GOG to support the developers. I just did that with Unpacking. I’ll probably buy Starfield if it gets good reviews because I’ll end up getting the DLC anyway and I want to start modding it right out of the gates. I look at Gamepass PC, which costs less a month than a single meal at most fast food joints, as a way to preview games I might purchase and try games I might have otherwise ignored. It’s been amazing so far and I just can’t see going back to blind purchases.

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    I already have enough monthly bills (utilities, rent, etc.). Just like books, I enjoy revisiting games a few years later – so for me, owning’s the jam. I also enjoy taking my time with a game (Kingmaker took me 5 months & 400+ saved hours) – so fretting about when it might be deleted from the queue isn’t my idea of a fun experience.

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      You’re talking a year’s subscription to access hundreds and hundreds of games for the cost of buying two new at full price. You may have monthly bills, but the cost to what you get ratio completely comes out on the side of Gamepass PC and not ownership. I’ve played dozens of games I never would have even tried if I had to outright buy them. For some games like Kingmaker, yes it makes more sense to own them, but for most good gaming experiences I’ve had over the last couple years, they would never have happened without Gamepass. My pal Adam asked me if it was worth it a while back and I counted 250ish games on Gamepass that were worth playing. 250. For the price of a McDonald’s meal once a month. There’s just no comparison in value.


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