Video game developers are competing shortly before the inflow of money from some of the world’s largest technology companies as they compete to build Netflix for games.
At the heart of the competition are Microsoft and Sony, followed by less gaming-focused companies such as Apple, Amazon and Netflix, which have launched subscription services in an attempt to entice gamers to their platforms.
Microsoft has spent four years building its flagship subscription, the Xbox Game Pass, which offers unlimited access to more than 100 games for the Xbox family of consoles for a monthly fee of £ 10.99. In March, Sony announced plans to compete directly with the Game Pass with a number of changes to its PlayStation Plus service, which will eventually launch with 700 titles for £ 13.49 a month (or £ 99.99 a year), though largely focuses on older titles.
Along with the two console manufacturers, many companies have launched similar services. Apple Arcade, for iPhone and Apple TV, offers unlimited access to over 200 mobile games for £ 4.99 per month; Amazon’s Luna service, which is currently in early access in the United States, allows subscribers to stream 100 games for $ 5.99; and Netflix is experimenting with offering a selection of free games along with its movies and TV shows.
Competition has led to an influx of money into the industry. Microsoft, the second richest company in the world, is in the process of acquiring, buying the publisher of Call of Duty and Warcraft Activision Blizzard, developer of Skyrim Bethesda and nine independent studios since 2017. Amazon and Apple, the fourth and first richest companies in the world have just as deep pockets. Sony, with a market capitalization an order of magnitude smaller than technology titans, is struggling to cope by merging with developer Halo and Destiny Bungie earlier this year.
Even those who have remained independent have welcomed the new model, in which game developers pay a significant amount in advance to launch their games, which significantly reduces the risk of releasing a new title in digital storefronts where it can sink without a trace. .
“For many real indie developers, someone who publishes a game on their own has a very small chance of succeeding just by putting it there,” said Tom Davis of Swedish indie publisher Thunderful. “While you can actually present your game to 25 million people who subscribe to something like a Game Pass or this new thing on the PlayStation Plus, it’s actually good for sales – because people usually talk about the game.”
Tom Mead, art director and co-founder of the Bristol-based Spiral Circus, says the platform deals “are actually quite a positive thing because it means you can be properly paid to develop the ideas you want without having to worry about the game selling you a bunch of copies in the end.
There is also widespread hope that the rise of subscription services will shift the focus of the industry, from multimillion-dollar AAA titles to smaller, weird titles that aren’t meant to appeal to everyone around the world.
“Look back at Blockbuster,” said a producer from a major publisher who asked not to be named because of the commercial sensitivity of their relationship with the platforms. “I would go to Blockbuster on Friday, even without knowing what games there are, watch a bunch of physical games and get one for the weekend. With Game Pass, everyone just takes everything and can play it in just a few minutes, but there is an opportunity to see if it’s for them.
There are also fears for the future. A developer who left the Silicon Valley giant to become independent says he is worried about what will happen when Sony runs out of money. “It works as they struggle to dominate the platform,” they say, “but if one platform wins the battle, can payments to developers be reduced, even when subscription fees increase?”
But even those who do not benefit much from the model agree that it currently works for gamers. Super Rare Games is a British company that sells physical copies of previous titles for download only, and Ryan Brown, the company’s “head of words”, argues that the two approaches can coexist.
“I use these services, they are undoubtedly incredibly convenient. But for people who feel that way, myself included, there are games they’ll want to be able to play after 50 years, and that’s what physical games generally provide: a property you can’t have with a subscription. “