Most people are already aware at this point that Microsoft is expanding Xbox Game Pass to include PC titles. It has had some PC versions Play Anywhere – which included a handful of options like Sea of Thieves and Forza Horizon 4, but now Microsoft is committing to the platform with 100+ titles. This puts it right in line with Origin Access, a service that supplies many EA-published games for a monthly fee. Both of these services provide great value for their price, so much so that it begs the question – why are these being offered?
The obvious reason, and the one the proprietors of these services will gladly divulge, is that they actually drive people to buy the games they try. Some players use it as a cheaper “test drive” option so they can see if a game is worth the full price. Spending $5 or $15 to try a few games and determine if they’re worth the standard $60 price tag is a respectable way to go about being a consumer. Another reason for their growing popularity is that they allow multiplayer games to build and maintain a higher population. If a game is added to the service or available from launch, many more people are going to check it out. This is one of the reasons Sea of Thieves was able to stay relevant as improvements were made to its limited gameplay. Both of these are valid and certainly justify the existence of the programs to a degree, but I think there’s another goal in mind – and one which will ensure this isn’t the last game subscription service we see.
Anthem is a game as a service. The Division 2 and Sea of Thieves are as well. This means, briefly, that they are games players usually purchase in whole, but are rendered as a service to them. You can’t play them without EA or Microsoft’s servers, and there’s no way to run the servers yourself. These games strongly lean toward the idea of playing with other people online, but all of them feature gameplay that should be (and is) accessible by the solo player. However, without an internet connection, you can’t play at all. While the legality of this has come into question in many countries around the world, these publishers have a stake in building more of games of this type.
Games as a service allow companies to create games that entice you to keep playing over time. They regularly try to get you interacting with other players and spending as much time as possible in the game working toward long-term goals. Games as a service want you to build a connection so that, as new content is released for the service, you’re going to be more willing to spend money to access it faster, play it the way you want, or just look better doing it. It allows publishers to continue monetizing content with much smaller development teams and thus make them more profit. When the profit margin is too slim, they can shut down the game, move the developers on, and find a more profitable game to render as a service.
That’s where subscription services come in. When a game as a service is available in a subscription model, people will be more likely to try it – bolstering its online presence and allowing players to make more of a connection with the game and other players. Subscribers are also more likely to come back in and try new content giving the game more opportunities for a resurgence. It’s also easier to justify spending money on microtransactions when your price of admission is much lower than outright purchasing the game. Then, if a game does not “meet expectations” and is shut down, never to be played again, fewer people will be upset as they never purchased the game outright, but still had access to all of the features.
Don’t be surprised if, in the coming years, Microsoft and EA are joined by other major publishers and companies in subscription services. Google is expected to have a subscription service that goes along with their Stadia launch. These are going to be the routes through which games as a service are delivered – and they will be delivered. All the while, the least popular of these titles will get flushed down the drain with minimal protest from the public, lost forever because they couldn’t meet profit demands.