(Photo: iStock)
(Photo: iStock)

Subscription-based gaming: Pay once, play all you want

  • This mode has worked for music and video content, and it seems gaming is the next frontier
  • Google is reportedly also readying a service called Play Pass, to take on Apple Arcade

New Delhi: At its annual Game Developers Conference in San Francisco this March, Google announced a cloud-based gaming platform Stadia that will let gamers play AAA games such as Assassin’s Creed Odyssey on any device of their choice, for a monthly fee of $9.99.

A few days later, Apple unveiled Apple Arcade—a subscription-based service comprising over 100 exclusive iOS games with add-ons like freedom from ads and in-app purchases. Google is reportedly also readying a service called Play Pass, to take on Apple Arcade.

EA Sports, on its part, already has a subscription-based gaming plan called which gives access to all paid games for 999 a month, while Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass costs 699 a month and gives unlimited access to over 100 games. Microsoft also has Game Pass Ultimate which is also a subscription service.

While all these examples herald an era of cloud gaming, they also underscore the Netflix-style subscription model trend in gaming. The sudden interest in bundling multiple games under one subscription model, and giving users unlimited access to these games benefits both game publishers and game stores, according to analysts.

“Subscription services provide a consistent source of revenue and an engaged audience that operators can monetize through micro-transactions and paid downloadable content. This reduces the risk associated with delivering top-performing premium titles on a regular basis," said Louise Shorthouse research analyst-games and apps, IHS Markit.

It allows game publishers to increase their share of the value chain and reach the consumer directly. For console companies, it’s an extension of existing subscription offers such as Xbox Live Gold and PlayStation Plus. While game stores like Apple’s App Store get to target a specific audience and boost their service revenues, points out Shorthouse.

Mike Feibus, principal analyst at research firm FeibusTech believes that from a technology standpoint, cloud and client platforms are now strong enough–from desktop gaming rigs and consoles all the way down to smartphones–to help users play any game anywhere, on any device.

However, while the subscription model has some clear advantages for users—such as freedom from incessant ads—the success of the model in a market like India will depend on the subscription cost, as most growth has been recorded for free-to-play gaming models such as PUBG Mobile.

According to Shorthouse, there is also an emphasis on titles that perform well on lower-spec devices. Subscription-based services are typically based around a curated library of premium games, as with Apple Arcade. Hence, the relevance of these services to the Indian games market seems limited at this stage. Feibus agrees that casual gamers are much less likely to pay. However, it is more about gamers being able to play on any device.

A lot, according to analysts, will also depend on whether such platforms will allow developers to provide their content outside these services. For instance, games on Arcade will be available exclusively to subscribers. Further, the revenue share model has to be commercially sustainable for developers. Big companies like Google and Apple are likely to charge a premium for their platforms from developers.

While there is enormous interest right now, subscription services in gaming still have a long way to go. Shorthouse forecasts that subscriptions will account for a slowly increasing share of consumer spending, but there will be no wholesale switch to the subscription model as we have seen in the video space.

Feibus is of the opinion that there is a strong business case for subscriptions, because it smoothens revenues for the industry, adding, “it is much easier to invest in quality games, in the network, in customer service when you have a good idea what your income will be in six months or a year."

There is no doubt that subscription based services are here to stay. The type of games they offer will be the key, but there is no doubt that they will present gamers with more options and will find favour among those who find ads, in-app purchases and paying for every game frustrating. Last, but not the least, for the subscription plan to work, platforms like Arcade and Stadia will have to get more popular games and big developers. on-board.

Paid gaming plans

■ Google Stadia-$9.99 per month ( 710.28)

■ EA Origin Access Premier- 999 per month

■ Xbox Game Pass- 699 per month

■ Apple Arcade-To be announced

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