Microsoft offers it, Electronic Arts as well - and for a few months now Ubisoft too: the subscription service for limited flat-rate gaming. Regardless of the name behind such a service, the benefits for players are always similar. For a more or less low monthly fee, gaming enthusiasts can select titles from a game library, download them and play them until their fingers go limp. Is everything fair so far? - A comment by André Volkmann.
The digital buffet is open and the guests fill their plates excessively - and Generation Flatrate has another attraction. Listening to unlimited music, watching films and series, reading magazines or books: all of this is possible thanks to resourceful entrepreneurs. For a monthly or annual fee, gigantic consumer worlds open up for users. Now there are several offers with flat rate gaming. Even if game subscriptions are still in their infancy: they have long been established on the market.
Pay once, gamble indefinitely
The number of users of the services is increasing steadily: With the introduction of EA Access for the Playstation, Electronic Arts also announced figures. According to this, EA Access and EA Origins together had around 3.5 million users. The success made the publisher not only optimistic, but also look to the future with regard to possible new offers. They want to expand the subscription service to other platforms and also combine it with game streaming.
Microsoft has also expanded the data for the Xbox Game Pass from barely available to vague. Xbox boss Phil Spencer spoke mostly of millions of users who pay around ten euros a month for the service. Matt Percy, responsible for the development of Game Pass, specified that subscription users would play significantly more often: the game time was around 20 percent longer than that of "normal gamers". His analysis went even further: Game Pass users would try more games and even buy games more often. According to the figures published by Microsoft, the fact that such services lead to falling sales figures for full-price games has proven to be wrong, at least according to the figures published by Microsoft.
Overall, the offers are actually comprehensive - and attractively priced. For a current maximum of 15 euros, various providers offer a good load of gaming fun and the opportunity to simply try out games. What used to be free demos are now comparatively cheap subscription services.
Users can even test the subscriptions in advance. This does not cost anything, unless the contract is signed for you after the test period - thanks to automatic renewal. Anyone who forgets to cancel pays for this "service".
The income that providers generate through forgotten cancellations seems to be at least so massive that trial periods including automatic renewal continue to exist, although the active conclusion of a subscription would be the service-oriented approach for customers.
Flat rate flood becomes a cost trap
Taking out a single game subscription doesn't cost much more than a can of Coke. And what players get for a manageable real money stake is quite fair. At EA Access, players can try out new titles for around four euros per month as part of trials for a limited time; when they buy they receive a discount - in addition, access to a games library with a solid selection makes the low-cost offer attractive. Those who can pay more also get more: Since Microsoft's launch of the Ultimate Game Pass, players can not only play Xbox but also PC games as unlimited flat-rate enjoyment. Particularly worthwhile: Microsoft hits first-party titles as soon as they are released into the Game Pass, including well-known series such as Crackdown, Gears or Halo. That can be worthwhile for gamers.
However, there is a risk of costs because more and more companies are entering the market with their own subscription services: four euros here, ten euros there, and because a top title is just about to appear, another service is subscribed to. Anyone who loses track of their bookings pays as much monthly in the "worst case" as a full-price title usually costs. Sure, there are hundreds of games for five subscribed gaming flat rates - but nobody can play the mass of titles.
And because the model is so successful, more and more companies are trying to get subscription services. It gets really absurd when you not only have to pay for a downloadable game, but also add the emerging streaming services of a Google Stadia.
The question of ownership remains unanswered, especially with pure streaming services. Anyone who not only books a service as a service, but also expands their "own" portfolio by purchasing full price titles, will be disappointed at the latest when the platform stops its service. It is a risk and it will remain one. Even if it is often propagated differently: The long-term success of game streaming is not yet certain.
Not all publishers have made their plans for possible game subscriptions public. Apple, Google and GeForce have already jumped on the bandwagon, while Microsoft is working harder on streaming technologies. What other large corporations, such as Activision, are planning for the future is uncertain. It is unlikely that globally operating publishing giants will evade the trends of flat-rate gaming.
Future scenario: Exclusive video games as a means of coercion?
Due to the large number of offers, players are required to pay more attention so that the monthly or annual costs are within reasonable limits. On the other hand, companies can rely on the laziness of the consumer: What is the proportion of those users who actually plan their monthly flat rates in order to only access the services that are actually used?
Flat rates and the associated user accounts have proven to be powerful marketing tools for companies. Not least because subscription customers are already more willing to spend money on games, especially DLCs.
Because the market becomes more competitive the more providers advertise their services, effective lures are needed. Microsoft is leading the way: nowhere else have there been such well-known video games for little money before. As long as players have a choice of whether to subscribe to play a game, everything may be fine. But what if exclusive titles are only offered as part of the subscription to attract users to the company side?
Consumption is still a long way from reaching its peak. The film and series providers are leading the way: here an exclusive series, there a promising blockbuster - the main thing is that you have unique selling points that you can convert into user subscriptions. And everything is so easy thanks to modern payment methods. By direct debit or PayPal, the coal goes into the cash register of the public limited company without much effort. The user is required to have control mechanisms that no longer have a place in today's consumer madness.
The social pressure should not be underestimated either, because exclusive content can also be topics of conversation among friends. If you want to have a say, you have to subscribe - preferably several times.
So far, there is no exclusivity as a compulsory factor with game subscriptions, because the sales of full-price titles are impressive despite - or perhaps because of - the gaming subscriptions. Should that change, however, well-known publishers have already taken precautions today by providing premium services with those top titles that players absolutely want to access.
Over-saturation of the market: not if, but when
The market - and thus the customers - decide how successful a game subscription is. The more subscription services fight for the players' favor, the greater the risk of oversaturation. In other words: at some point there will be so many different paid services that gamers will cut back on their consumption or boycott such concepts entirely.
Studies seem to show that in the area of film and series services users use several subscriptions at the same time, the services that are actually convincing are still in short supply there. Prime and Netflix are big in business, Disney is just getting started - there are also a few other providers who, however, hardly have large market shares. Should that change in the future, film and series fans will also take a closer look and scrutinize their subscriptions.
In the end, what can also happen today in the games industry: The winner is the publisher who meets the spirit of the times with his offers. Because trends are subject to constant change, players will also switch services more frequently than before. The larger the selection, the more interested potential customers will be with the content on offer. Then comes what publishers definitely don't want: mature players who carefully check their preferences. This will only work out economically for the dominant market participants.