- Industry players have embraced subscription-based gaming.
- Amazon and Google joined the game with Amazon Luna and Google Play Pass.
- Blockchain-based games are also incorporating subscription-based access models.
Video game ownership has been a surprisingly fluid concept over the course of the industry’s history. From the rise and fall of arcades to the proliferation of gaming consoles, developers have experimented with different ownership models. But if the course of the music and film industries over the past decade is any indication, there can be no doubt that the future of gaming is subscription-based access.
Major industry players like Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo have embraced subscription-based models, and giant tech newcomers to the scene, Google and Amazon, have come out with their own competing gaming subscription services. But when the dust settles, who will be left standing at the top of the pile?
To predict the future, we must look to the past. A brief look at the history of subscription-based access shows that Microsoft was an early adopter; first offering EA Access on the Xbox One, and then taking the idea to the next level with Game Pass in 2017. The service offered unlimited access to over 100 Xbox One and Backward Compatible Xbox 360 games for $9.99 per month.
The gaming giant credits Game Pass with the success of many of its titles. Titles like “Sea of Thieves” and “State of Decay 2” reportedly have around 5 million players, while “Forza Horizon 4” had 2 million people online in the first week and over 7 million in total. In April 2020, Microsoft reported over 10 million Xbox Game Pass subscribers. By January 2022, that number had jumped to over 25 million.
Sony followed suit with its own version, PlayStation Now, which uses cloud-based streaming to deliver content. Instead of running on the player’s console, the game is run on remote servers and streamed directly to the player’s device. To compete with Game Pass’s substantive catalog, Sony is reportedly working on a new service that merges its two subscription-based services set for release this spring.
Even the hipster gaming company, Nintendo, fittingly cashed in on subscription-based access through an appeal to nostalgia. The Nintendo Switch Online acts as an emulator of older consoles, giving players access to classic titles on NES, SNES, and the Nintendo 64 (the latter is accessed through an add-on expansion pack).
But the limited scope of the subscription service reflects the company’s carefully curated brand identity, focused on the quality and draw of individual games. Furthermore, unlike Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo is only a game company. As such, it does not provide a multimedia ecosystem that benefits from a subscription model like its tech giant competitors.
Having seen which way the winds are blowing, Amazon and Google joined in on the action with Amazon Luna and Google Play Pass. Announced in 2020, Luna is a subscription service that lets users sign up for one or several themed “channels,” allowing players to somewhat curate their subscriptions based on their interests and needs.
Games are playable via web browser, Fire TV, tablets, and other supported mobile devices. Focusing more on mobile gaming, the Google Play Pass launched in 2020, giving android users unlimited access to hundreds of titles on Google Play.
At the forefront of the videogame industry, some blockchain-based games are also incorporating subscription-based access models. For example, the game Cradles eschews the prevailing model of Play-to-Earn gaming by introducing the first subscription service in a crypto game.
Whereas in most games in this space, players have to buy their way in with an expensive NFT, Cradles players can access the game through a monthly game card. The adoption of this model shows supreme confidence by the developers in the draw, quality, and playability of their game. The focus on long-term viability is emblematic of the rise of Play-to-Enjoy games in the blockchain gaming space after the frenzy of last year’s Play-to-Earn craze.
Where does this leave us standing? The synopsis above shows that companies that provide a multimedia ecosystem stand to gain the most from subscription gaming. Where Microsoft and Sony have room to grow, Nintendo is limited in this space due to its narrow scope.
But that is not the whole picture – Google and Amazon, while tech/media giants in their own right, are somewhat limited in the quality of their catalogs since they are not primarily gaming companies. Those services can benefit by partnering up with more developers and expanding their catalogs.
For games in the blockchain sphere, those that focus on quality and have a view towards the long term when it comes to playability have the best chance of success.