The gaming industry is moving more and more to the same kinds of models we’ve seen both music and movies already embrace; streaming and subscription services are common ways to consume the latest TV shows and newest albums, but games have been slower to adopt the format. When asked how they thought subscription services would impact the value of games, developers couldn’t come to a consensus. 25% worried that subscription services would devalue games, another 25% said they would not. Those in-between either said they might devalue games or didn’t know.
The latest GDC Developers Survey, issued just ahead of GDC 2020, surveyed more than 4000 game developers on various topics, including this one. It also opened up the survey for additional comments. One developer likened the return on subscription models to how little artists make from music streaming services like Spotify. Another said that “it’s untenable in the long term,” adding that its a model to help AAA games marketing machine, but is likely to hurt indies.
Yet another thought that it would give some freedom back to developers instead of just looking to create the next free-to-play money maker. This individual was specifically referencing the amount of f2p ad-based shovelware found on mobile devices and how subscription services like Apple Arcade and Google Play could remove some of that pressure.
And that gap between console and mobile gaming may be where the battle lines are drawn. For now, only 8% of respondents are currently working on a game that will come to a subscription service, at least as indicated at launch. This doesn’t account for games that might be added to PS Plus, PS Now, Xbox Game Pass or other services a later point in their life. Looking at PlayStation Plus specifically, it’s been a long time since a game launched directly for the service, with most Plus offerings now coming well after the title has been out for a while. Even indie game Sayonara Wild Hearts, which released as part of Apple Arcade, came to the PS4 as a paid game download, not part of any subscription service, an anecdote that potentially highlights the differences between mobile gaming and console/PC gaming.
It looks like developers are sticking to what works until subscription models get a little bit more worn in. 43% of developers said they were working on free-to-download titles (games like Apex Legends, Fortnite, and Destiny 2), and 45% are working on more traditional paid games. How services like PlayStation Plus and Xbox Game Pass will impact the value perception of games next generation seems to be anyone’s guess at this point, and even the game developers can’t agree on if it will be good or bad.