What Makes a Good Gaming Subscription Service?
Contributed by DJMMT
I don’t particularly like gaming subscription services. For TV and movies, I’m fine with them, but for gaming it never really sits well with me. It probably comes from the fact that the first all-digital gaming subscription service was very clearly a con. Microsoft making gamers pay to play multiplayer was simply greedy and immoral. I’m not gonna debate that statement. The original PlayStation Plus service was actually really good. It’s the reason I originally became a subscriber, back on the PS3. But eventually they and Nintendo went the way of XBOX and let greed shape their subscription services.
What’s odd about the Game Pass discussion is that it’s being championed as this amazing service while ignoring the fact that, unless you play exclusively single player games, you either need a second subscription service, XBOX Live Gold, or the Ultimate tier of Game Pass, in order to actually play your multiplayer games on XBOX. With PlayStation Plus, multiplayer is included in the lowest tier of the service, but it’s really no different than Game Pass, other than in terms of billing convenience, because you need the 2nd subscription tier in order to get access to the library of games. Really only Nintendo has a single low-priced service that covers both multiplayer access and a large library of games. The only problem is that they’re all super old games that honestly most younger gamers don’t care about and even most older gamers aren’t really trying to play them all that often. The fact that they added an additional tier just to access N64 games makes them no better than Microsoft or Sony. If not for the considerably lower price tag, I’d say they were objectively worse.
A few weeks ago, Sony launched the new PS Plus Extra library. There were a number of games I hadn’t beaten, but the bulk of them were either games I owned already and hadn’t had time to play yet or games that I was only causally interested in. There wasn’t a single game in the list that I didn’t already have that I felt like I absolutely had to play. So I didn’t upgrade my membership. At this point, I’m just working on my PS4 backlog and by the time I upgrade to PS5 there will hopefully be a bunch of PS5 games I really want to play that are already included the service. Does that make it a good service though?
The fact is that gamers are backlogged. I haven’t met a person that actually identifies as a gamer who isn’t backlogged in more than a decade. It’s impossible not to be backlogged. Between XBOX Live Gold, PS Plus, Epic Games Store, and several other companies and services that provide people with games either free or included in their service, it’s literally impossible not to be backlogged at this point, assuming you diligently claim all the freebies. In the last two days alone I’ve gotten two free games. At least one of them I’m genuinely interested in playing and didn’t already own. In the last month I’ve acquired like seven or eight free games. And some of these free/included games are titles I actually want to play. I don’t play all or even most of them, but I actually have played a lot of freebies from Epic Games Store and PS Plus.
If I’m already backlogged and don’t want to play most of the games in these larger scale subscription services, or worse already own all the games included in the services that I’d actually want to play, then what value do they actually have? God of War (2018) is a great game. In fact, it’s so great that it sold more than 19.5M copies. Then they made it free on PS Plus for June, before updating to the new library system. So who exactly is going to play God of War from the PS Plus Extra library? Everyone who wants to play that game has already played it, myself included. That’s sort of the issue with a subscription service like this. All the must play AAA’s from PlayStation get bought by PS4/PS5 owners. By the time they get added to a service like this, the demand is non-existent. This is the argument for day 1 to Game Pass, which is a great selling point of the service, on console, but it’s absolutely not a sustainable business model.
We keep letting them talk about quantity, but we should focus almost exclusively on quality when it comes to judging these services. A bunch of games I already own or will never play isn’t worth anything. Literally, I would not pay a single dollar for a service that only offered me games I didn’t want to play or already own. Even if it was access to 2,000 games, I still wouldn’t subscribe. Now a lot of people try to shift the discussion here to being about indies vs AAA titles. Even XBOX has attacked people on Twitter who complained about the lack of quality new AAA titles in Game Pass by clapping back with a statement about supporting indies. But that’s not a fair argument. Now I do happen to play quite a few indies, but I’d never argue that they should be mandatory for people to play. If someone doesn’t want to play them and they’re all a subscription service offers then that service isn’t great for gamers who prefer AAA titles. Especially when you consider the number of indies given away for free by platforms like Epic Games Store, Humble, GOG, Ubisoft Connect, and in your basic console multiplayer subscription packages on XBOX and PlayStation. Not to mention the fact that many indies are sold at extremely low prices during sales on most platforms. The prospect of asking people to pay a subscription service just to play indies is actually pretty insane if we’re being honest about the value proposition in the current gaming landscape.
PS Plus Extra is a solid service for the value, if you haven’t regularly been playing on PlayStation for the last five to ten years. The number of top tier AAA titles available in the service is impressive. But the honest truth is that any regular PS user has already purchased most of the games and more often than not played them. Game Pass isn’t really better with the library it launched with. It has gotten slightly better with launch day titles, but the fact remains that even with all these newly purchased studios that they haven’t really put out that many bangers since the service began. There’s a reason Starfield is getting pushed so heavily. It’s one of the only things really worth talking about for Game Pass, and it’s not even launched yet. Honestly, both services are kind of disappointing when we look at active gamers as the target audience.
The truth is that neither of these services are really that great unless you take a gaming hiatus for some time. And by some time, I mean literal years. That’s also assuming that the library of games doesn’t shrink or change over time. We’ve already seen games disappear from Game Pass and it’s not even that old. One can hope that the PS Plus Extra library remains constantly growing with no shrinkage, but that’s unlikely. Hopefully they’ll at least keep all the first party titles in the way that Netflix never loses the Netflix Original content. At this point, the smart move for PS4 owners really is to just stop buying games that get a PS5 release and stick to the PS Plus Basic tier until you completely exhaust your PS4 backlog. Then when you do get a PS5 you upgrade to Extra and have a fat stack of AAA titles to play with all the content and patches ready to go. This is a great opportunity to clear up a big chunk of that backlog, which is exactly what I’ve been doing.
The point here is that these services, whether it’s PS Plus Extra or XBOX Game Pass aren’t really great services so much as they’re big services. The only optimal way to use them is to not use them for some time. Sony will lose money on me because of this service. There are sales they won’t make as I wait to upgrade while concurrently not getting the subscription dollars they would have gotten from me by having a more valuable service from day 1. But that’s kind of the whole problem with these subscription services. They’re not particularly good and if they were good they wouldn’t be sustainable. I don’t even really think they’re sustainable now. But I’ll take advantage of them as long as it makes sense for me.