As I mentioned in my previous article, I think that Xbox’s Game Pass (a “Netflix for games”) is probably going to end up as the future of the way we pay for games. While I do think it will benefit smaller games with more stable funding, I worry about the cultural outcomes. A streaming service that puts 100’s of games at the player’s fingertips can lead to more homogenized games and shorter player attention spans.
We have seen this change take place in the television industry, with streaming services becoming more prevalent and all but taking over traditional TV, people’s appetites have become more and more insatiable. Shows are watched in their entirety in a week and then tossed aside like yesterday’s trash. Talked about excessively for a few fleeting days, and then forgotten. I am concerned that this could reach games through these services. People will play a game for a few hours, stop, and then move on to something else. Games won’t be appreciated for the years of work that go into them, and peoples attention spans will grow short. Games are usually intended to be enjoyed and appreciated; if I buy a game, that is the game I play for a while. It would be a travesty to see gaming meet the same fate as television.
If it did, developers would potentially move on quicker and put less care into their games. There would be no need for secrets or easter eggs if the game won’t be replayed. No need for variety if after people see the credits, they will just move on. Games like Nier Automata saw great praise and success because of their ability to be replayed and see different endings. I honestly can’t say definitively if a game like that would exist in a world where streaming services are the primary way to consume games. This isn’t to say that everyone forgoes appreciating games in favor of the next big thing, and indeed many dedicated fans would remain enthralled with their favorite series. However, the general audience could easily see a shift into shorter attention spans. We see that when people are presented with a great number of options at once, they tend to burn out quicker rather than staying for the full experience.
This wouldn’t necessarily damage the industry, but rather dilute it. In a world with infinite content, games are one of the last solaces of lengthy experiences. Seeing games transform into a similar medium to industries like the television or movie industry might seem appealing, but can culturally shift the industry negatively. While an amazing business tactic that will bring in tons of revenue for indies and AAA studios alike, the cultural downsides of the game can present long-term challenges for the art form.
Microsoft has just announced their newest service. A so-called “Netflix for video games”, boasting over 100 games to start for only $10 per month. You can play big titles like Halo 5 and Bioshock, or indie titles like Terraria. I think this service will begin a shift in the way we pay for video games, going towards streaming services, rather than buying games standalone.
One thing you need to keep in mind is that this is not the first service to offer something like this. Jump is a similar thing for highly curated indie games. While it only has 75 indie titles, it is $4.99 per month. Game Pass just seems like it is finally reaching the AAA market and taking the next logical step. As movies and television is mid-transition from standard channels to subscription-based streaming services. The game’s industry is still a little bit behind, but I think that we will reach full streaming around the same time as the rest of the entertainment industry does. I definitely believe the entertainment industry will transition into subscription-based streaming just from a consumer perspective. People don’t want to drop $30-$60 on single games (they never have), and they also want to press a button to get a thing. Combining those two traits into one service will allow the money to flow.
If Game Pass is able to catch on, this is also going to potentially help the indie scene. Independent games can be a big risk, and you are essentially gambling your salary on the prediction that people like something in a year’s time. If an indie is able to get their game approved for one of these services, they can depend on a certain reliable income. This would be a great relief for indies, who now would have to rely on making a good game first, and making a profitable one second. I am still on the fence if this is universally good for the indie scene, but I think it will end up as a net positive.
Some retailers seem to be unhappy about this change. Many are even having doubts about selling Xbox consoles if people won’t come to them for the games. Microsoft has attempted to quell this by creating $60 six month passes, which they will give to retailers to sell. I honestly expected brick and mortar video game stores to be dead by now, but while they are still kicking it is good they are getting some deals out of this.
Game Pass seems so far to be nothing but good, and I expect to be disappointed. Microsoft has a certain way of messing great ideas up. However, for now, I will maintain optimism for the future of the medium. I would love to see games reach wider audiences, and hoping the indies can benefit. Microsoft will no doubt make money off of this endeavor, and they have the crowd of supporters. Now it is just time for Microsoft to deliver the goods.