When you think about a “Netflix for games”, what do you imagine?
No doubt you picture a browser, a queue, and maybe a search function filled with Triple-A titles and indies alike. Maybe there’s recommended games based on the games you’ve already played, or an “Xbox originals” section much like Netflix has. Streaming and subscriptions services have been a hot topic in the games industry with both gamers and developers weighing in on the discussion without any real answer. But from the services currently offered, such as PlayStation Now and Xbox Game Pass, we can make some conclusions on the pro’s and con’s of current models and decipher whether these are the next phase of gaming content delivery or the beginning of the end.
(Que the “dun dun dun” music)
Subscription Services, The Current Landscape
Xbox Game Pass
Xbox Game pass is a monthly subscription service that allows you to download games onto your hard drive from a set list. It currently features games such as Fables 1, 2 and 3, Sea Of Thieves, Halo Wars 2, the entire Gears Of War series and more just recently announced at this year’s Gamescom.
I signed up for $3 for the first month and will be charged about $12 month-to-month afterward.
- For $3 I signed up for Gamepass and instantly dove into Sea Of Thieves, a game currently selling for full price.
- It features hundreds of different titles for me to choose from including all three Fables which I expect to play through.
- The games download onto my hard drive so I’m not concerned about internet issues.
Admittedly, I don’t have experience with PlayStation Now, so I turned to How To Geek for some insight on the subject.
PlayStation Now, or PS Now is PlayStation’s streaming service that allows gamers to stream older games. The cost of PS Now is $20 a month and includes over 450 different titles to choose from. Some examples of games on PS Now include The Last of Us, Red Dead Redemption, Uncharted, God of War and more.
- $20 is more expensive than other streaming services such as Netflix, Spotify and its direct competitor, Xbox Gamepass.
- Players are able to stream PlayStation games from pretty much anywhere as long as they have a laptop (and internet).
- Quality of gameplay is dependant on the quality of internet service.
Good For Gamers
From the above, I think it’s safe to say that a Netflix for games is good for gamers based on the following factors:
It’s no secret that games have become expensive. In Canada, you can be shelling out close to $90 for a newly released game. That’s just under $1000 for 10 games a year and you can see how gaming can become an expensive hobby very quickly.
At the current price points of streaming and subscriptions services, $12.00 – $20.00 a month (or $144 and $240 annually) versus buying even one game a month for $90
($1080 annually), the much better price point is a monthly game subscription and streaming service.
While the quality of PlayStation is dependant on internet connection and for the most part is circumstantial, the quality of Xbox Game Pass is near perfect as the service allows you to download the games.
To be fair to PlayStation Now, the quality of my Netflix and Spotify streams are also dependant on my internet connection and I rarely have an issue with those. I know that I can only watch when I’m connected to the internet and the same will be for a gaming streaming service such as PlayStation Now. However, and I think I can speak for a large population of Netflix users, it was an absolute treat to be able to download your Netflix shows for some on the go action. The best product for gamers will certainly be a marriage of both streaming and downloading games.
While the price point is good, one observation from a gamers standpoint has been about ownership of games. If you’re streaming a game, do you own it? The quick answer is no, much like you don’t own the 6 seasons of Orange Is The New Black, you will not own the newest Halo game to hit Gamepass or when you’re streaming the Last Of Us 2 on PlayStation Now.
The concept of owning media has been in debate, since the early days of Napster, as more and more movies, television shows and music hit streaming services. There are those that certainly like collecting movies and music, but I have a feeling the majority of us don’t miss having to find a spot for our DVD’s and CD’s.
The bottom line; there’s certainly a convenience to not “owning” your game in physical form. To be able to simply stream or download your games on launch day both prevents you from having to leave your home (who wants to leave their home anyway?) to buy the physical game and also means it prevents the clutter that a collection of games creates.
What About Developers and Studios?
As a gamer, I’m all for a “Netflix for games”, but as a game developer, it makes me wonder how it will impact developers and studios in the future.
I recently purchased Xbox Game Pass which inspired this article in the first place. After a great experience, I started researching the idea of a Netflix for games to get some opinions on the subject. On this journey into Google, I stumbled upon an article written by Brendan Sinclair on gamesindustry.biz entitled “‘Netflix of games’ a threat to developers”.
It painted a great picture of all the threats devs and studios might be facing in the future which I will attempt to sum up for you in this article as well as give some of my own takes on the subject.
The Difficulty Of Discoverability
The first point that really stood out to me was the idea of discoverability. It’s already difficult for games to break through the clutter, but imagine having to deal with an algorithm where the only way your game would pop up is if someone specifically searched the title of your game. Those with the marketing budgets certainly won’t have a problem, but smaller indie devs and lesser known games will certainly suffer by the sheer fact that they won’t get the exposure they might deserve. Couple that with the idea that future subscription services for video games might have exclusivity deals and content priorities, much like Netflix originals, it becomes even more difficult for smaller devs and lesser known games to be discovered.
The Funding Frustration
This discoverability issue leads to another big issue for devs and studios; funding. Funding is dependant on the likelihood of a game generating a return for investors. If a streaming service like PlayStation Now or a subscription service like Xbox Game Pass becomes the norm for gamers, the difficulty in being discovered and standing out is certainly going to hinder their return on investment and thus, making it much more difficult to acquire funding for their projects.
The Value Of A Game
Lastly, who determines the value of a game? As the market is now, devs and studios price out and set the value of their own games. A purchase or download provides the dev with the revenue they require, something they’re in control of. If streaming and subscription services become the norm, then the power of setting the value of a game rest solely in the power of the platform.
With so many different types of games, it’s difficult to judge which games gamers find valuable. Number of downloads and playthroughs can certainly determine the value of a game but is limited in determining how much money a game has brought in for the subscription platform. If I download 10 games, think 8 of them are sub-par and stick around mainly for 1 game, does each of the 10 downloaded games get a cut of the pie? Arguably, it’s the one game that’s keeping me as a long-time subscriber but will most likely not reflect the revenue being brought in.
What about time spent playing? The problem with that is that most campaigns of single-player games are generally much shorter than total time playing a game meant to be engaging like Fortnite. So if I stick around as a subscriber waiting month-to-month for the next big single player campaign but spend that time waiting playing a game like Fornite, value would be assigned to the more engaging game, rather than the actual games I stick around for.
This poses a huge problem for devs in how they split up that revenue pie and affects the possibility of a return on investment as well as future funding.
Netflix For Games, Bad For Devs
With a lack of discoverability and revenue issues due to platform control and a more difficult time for devs acquiring funding for their games, it’s safe to say that a Netflix for games would be bad for devs and studios.
The less control that devs and studios have over their products and their ability to see a return on investment means more control goes to those in the business of selling subscriptions, rather than those selling individual games goes to. These platforms will use the sexier games acquire subscribers over lesser known games. And why shouldn’t they? I don’t blame them for selling subscriptions and using sexier games, like a Halo or Last Of Us to sell their services. It’s just the reality of the market. But that doesn’t change the fact that this could mean that indie games we’ve all fallen in love with over the years may never happen and that big name, Triple-A titles would be all that’s left.
So, What Is The Future Of Game Distribution?
In the above I concluded that a Netflix for games would be good for gamers. The price point is perfect, the selection is huge and the quality of games being put on these platforms is ideal. But, after exploring how bad a Netflix for games might be for game developers and studios, that conclusion might change.
With it becoming more difficult to acquire funding, make a return on investment and be discovered, smaller game titles and studios would be working in the shadow of Triple-A titles and at the mercy of these streaming platforms. This means that the fantastic indie-titles we’ve grown to love over the years might become few and far between.
Putting the power of deciding what value a game has shouldn’t be up to the platforms or the studios, but rather the gamers. We all vote with our wallets, paying for games that give us the experiences worth paying for. The control that a subscription platform or a streaming service takes away from not only the devs but the gamers, means that the availability of successful games as voted by gamers (with their wallets), will virtually be non-existent.
Now a lot of this is doom and gloom talk, but I do think the future of gaming is in these subscription and streaming services. I just hope they get it right for both gamers and game developers.