Are Subscription Services Killing Black Friday?
Contributed by DJMMT
This year as I go into making my Black Friday list, I find myself thinking what’s the point? Let me be clear, I’m not saying what’s the point in buying video games; and I’m certainly not saying what’s the point in playing video games. I’m saying what’s the point in me buying a stack of games, to add to my already massive backlog, when by the time I get to many if not most of the games I end up buying I will have almost assuredly gotten them free on one of the multiple subscription services currently available, and or as a freebie on whatever platform?
I actually don’t have a major problem with buying games in general. I buy lots of indies and AAA titles. I rarely buy them at full price, with the exception of Nintendo first party titles, because Nintendo won’t budge on pricing. But I have never had a major issue with purchasing my games. This year alone, I’ve probably purchased at least 10 – 20 games. Most of them were in sales, and many of them were smaller indie titles for under $10, but the point is that I buy a lot of games; and honestly, I think that’s a good thing.
Something that has become more and more apparent over the last several years is that a lot of the games I buy were pointless purchases. To be fair, I’m speaking solely from the point of view of a consumer/end user. I’m sure that people on the other side of the equation would disagree with such a blanket statement, as the money gained from my purchases absolutely has an effect, no matter how much Microsoft wants us to believe it doesn’t. But as a consumer, I have to objectively admit that a large number of games I’ve purchased over the years were wasted purchases. Not because the games were bad or not worth buying, but because so many of them end up being free by the time I get to playing them.
Currently, I have a PlayStation Plus Essential subscription. That’s the most basic tier. I honestly couldn’t tell you the last time the monthly freebies consisted of AAA games that I absolutely wanted to play and didn’t already own. They give a lot of indies I already own as well. Again, I buy a lot of games so that makes sense. But let’s consider how much more that would happen if I had a PlayStation Plus Extra subscription. Honestly speaking, the number of current AAA titles available in the service that I actually want to play would increase significantly if I subscribed to that tier. Which I plan to do once I finally get a PS5. So the question is why am I still buying games on sale before I’m actually ready to play them? When I look at the PlayStation Plus Extra catalog, just one of multiple currently available methods of getting access to games without actually paying for them one at a time, I see a wealth of titles I plan to play at some point. If I ignore all the ones I don’t already own and just focus on the ones I purchased at some point but haven’t played yet, I count 17 games. That’s 17 games I already purchased and haven’t played yet. It doesn’t include the games I want to play but haven’t purchased. It doesn’t include the games I got for free in some other way. That’s just games I spent money on but could have played for the price of the subscription. Between that and say XBOX Game Pass, or hopefully one day Game Pass for PC if they get their shit together with that list of titles, what’s the point of buying games on sale for Black Friday?
We know the lists for those subscription services will continue to update and grow over time. We know that they’re including games people actually want to play. So why should I pay $40 for Sonic Frontiers, assuming you’re not planning on playing it on Nintendo Switch, in the current Black Friday sales that have already been posted? Unless you’re going to play it right now, which I honestly wouldn’t given my current backlog, the chances of it ending up free on some platform by the time I’m ready to play it are honestly pretty high. That wasn’t the case before these much heftier game subscription services. It made sense to buy something like Assassin’s Creed: Origins on sale for say $20. But now every Assassin’s Creed game ends up on Ubisoft+, which ends up on the other major subscription services like PlayStation Plus Extra. So if I’m not trying to play Assassin’s Creed: Mirage day one, why even buy it in a sale when I know it’s gonna end up free on at least one of the subscription services I’m subscribed to?
Unless we’re talking about super niche stuff or Nintendo first-party titles, the entire prospect of buying games in advance in sales no longer seems logical. When I look at the list of games I was considering buying in Black Friday sales this year, which was admittedly a pretty short list to begin with, given my current backlog that I’m actually trying to deal with, most of them don’t seem reasonable to buy anymore. One big example includes The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes. My wife and I love these games and have since Until Dawn. I always buy them on sale for $20. Until Dawn, Man of Medan, and Little Hope. I purchased all of them for $20 each, and I was fine with paying that price. I usually buy them in Black Friday sales as physical copies. My wife and I tend to play them around Halloween. So to clarify, if I was to buy The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes in a Black Friday sale for $20 this year, there’s a good chance that I wouldn’t end up playing it until Halloween next year. Currently both Man of Medan and Little Hope are available in PlayStation Plus Extra. I paid $20 for each of them and didn’t play them until almost a year after buying them. I bought them when I did because they were on sale at the price I wanted to pay. It didn’t matter that I didn’t want to play them at the time that I bought them. I just knew that when I did want to play them I would have them ready to go and would have paid a price I was comfortable paying. But if given the choice between paying $20 and not paying anything to play them, I’d always choose the latter.
So if I genuinely believe that The Dark Pictures Anthology: House of Ashes, The Dark Pictures Anthology: The Devil in Me, or The Quarry will be available in PlayStation Plus Extra, or some other subscription service I planned to use, does it make sense for me to buy these games in a Black Friday sale? I’d argue not in the slightest. Because we’re not talking about the difference between $20 and say $15 in a later sale. We’re talking about the difference between $20 and functionally free. Again, I’m not saying these games aren’t worth anything. I’m not even saying they aren’t worth paying for. I’m saying that it logically doesn’t make any sense to pay for them if I believe strongly that I can get them free of (additional) charge by the time I’m actually ready to play them. Unless you feel strongly about spending money directly to support the developers, which is a valid position to take but isn’t a position shared by all or even most gamers these days, there’s just no sense in participating in Black Friday sales. Unless of course you plan to play the game as soon as you buy it. Like if Pokémon Scarlet was on sale for Black Friday, I’d absolutely buy it. Because I plan on playing the next generation of Pokémon game(s) soon after launch. But for something like Sonic Frontiers, which I actually am excited to play, I don’t mind waiting.
It's weird how things affect each other in unforeseen ways. I’m sure when Microsoft and PlayStation devised these newer subscription services the words “Black Friday” never came up in the discussions. Why would they? What does Microsoft care about Walmart’s aging stock issues when they’re getting millions of dollars in monthly fees? Console manufacturers haven’t really cared about physical sales issues since the advent of digital console storefronts. Yet stores like Best Buy stand to lose money from me this year, because of a subscription service whose management team probably never gave them a second thought. And I’m not defending one large corporation over another. If you read this blog regularly, you know that I consider all of them villains at worst and future villains at best. For me, it’s a simple question of how do I play the most games that I actually want to play when I want to play them for the least amount of money. For most of my life, the answer to that question was to buy a large stack of games on/around Black Friday. Now, that doesn’t really feel like it’s the case anymore. I’m sure I’ll buy some games during Black Friday sales. Again, Nintendo first party titles never drop in price that much, so even a lousy $5 might even be worth it to pick up something like Pokémon Scarlet. But generally speaking, how much longer will it make sense to buy a PlayStation or XBOX game in a sale unless you plan on starting it that same week? This very well might be the last even semi-meaningful Black Friday for video game software.