The subscription war in 2021

The subscription war in 2021

Following a similar path to that which characterizes the distribution of video content such as films and TV series, subscription-based services are becoming increasingly important in the video game market as well, offering free access to game catalogs through monthly or annual subscriptions. . It is a relatively new phenomenon in this area, although it is now established for other forms of entertainment such as music and TV, but which is definitely consolidating in the habits of gamers, however, involving some fundamental changes in the very way of enjoying games.

Already the passage to the digital market has led to a change in the sense of possession, with an ever more widespread acceptance of the dematerialization of the purchased product from a physical object to the intangible asset in download, which opened the door to the idea of ​​the absence of standard possession, replaced by the possibility of accessing a catalog linked to the payment of a subscription.

Xbox Game Pass is one of the best known subscriptions in recent years Once this idea is made normal - which is not easy in a generally habitual public - the invasion of subscriptions was a natural consequence, configuring itself in various solutions at different levels.

On the other hand, the purchase of services related to the use of consoles is now an accepted standard for decades: online multiplayer gaming has been paid for a long time and represents a consolidated element, to which for some time now, the possibility of obtaining games under the subscription agreement has been added. From the point of view of hardware and software producers, the use of the subscription guarantees a constant income, with a much more regular trend than the classic cycle of investments, expenses for production and revenues from standard sales, allowing in this less risky planning and greater financial solidity and work planning, which explains why many are launching themselves into offers of this kind, provided that obviously we can count on very extensive catalogs.

Basic services

PlayStation Plus was the first to offer free games to subscribers online platforms related to consoles. These include Xbox Live (€ 6.99 per month or € 59.99 per year), the oldest of all, PlayStation Plus (€ 8.99 per month or € 59.99 per year) and Nintendo Switch Online (€ 3.99 per month, € 19.99 per year or € 39.99 per year with the Additional Package): all three are now an integral part of the experience of their respective console families and their subscription is practically mandatory for anyone who wants to fully enjoy the gaming experience on these machines. After an initial free offer period for some of the competitors, all three major manufacturers have aligned themselves in requesting a paid subscription to access the online game, with offers that have progressively evolved offering somehow additional bonuses beyond to the simple use of the online infrastructure for multiplayer gaming, aligning with the proposal of free games on a monthly basis.

In this sense, PlayStation Plus has led the way and continues to be a service particularly enjoyed by players, even thanks to the enormous worldwide diffusion of PS4, where Xbox Live Gold has now become a sort of legacy of the past for Microsoft, now fully projected on Xbox Game Pass.

Nintendo Switch Online is the youngest service among those present in this section, relatively inexpensive, but also less refined than the others, however it becomes mandatory to exploit the potential of Nintendo's great multiplayer titles. The free offer of games belonging to the old Super Nintendo and NES catalog has recently expanded to also include Nintendo 64 and Mega Drive, but only through the more expensive subscription of the Additional Package released in the course of 2021, a solution that continues to raise several doubts, considering the high price requested in the face of an infrastructure and additional services that do not justify the additional outlay.

Xbox Game Pass vs PlayStation Now

Xbox Game Pass is the service with the most up-to-date and impressive catalog of games The most interesting innovations in the field of subscription services are represented by the so-called "all you can play", or subscriptions that allow free access to a catalog of games, in addition to any functionalities and additional services related to these. Dominating this particular segment, from the point of view of notoriety and quality, is definitely Xbox Game Pass (€ 9.99 per month for the basic version or € 12.99 per month for Ultimate with PC and EA Play games included) : as we have also seen in the special 2021 recap dedicated, Microsoft's service is a business that continues to improve for players and can represent a real killer application, although its application now goes beyond the confines of the Xbox family consoles by going to embrace PCs and mobile devices. In terms of quantity and quality of the offer, there are really no competitors able to worry the dominant position of the Game Pass, which in 2021 was strengthened even more through a further evolution of the catalog and support services, even if the number of subscribers is not yet comparable to that of the most basic services and in particular of PlayStation Plus.

Things could change if Sony were to decide to really offer an alternative to the Microsoft service on the same length of 'wave, which however does not yet seem to be seriously considered by management. PlayStation Now (€ 9.99 per month or € 59.99 per year), while counting on similar features and having also anticipated the Game Pass offer in some respects, offering cloud gaming well before its current affirmation, it still moves on a rather different plane, with a much more limited catalog of modern games and virtually no day one releases in it.

PlayStation Now was the first to offer cloud gaming and an extended catalog of free access titles Something would change if the project that emerged in the rumors with the code name "Spartacus" is really realized, that is something very close to the Game Pass but without the fundamental presence of the first party on day one in the catalog, so it would basically be a fusion of PlayStation Plus and PlayStation Now in a single enhanced service. Something therefore not yet at the level of the competition but which would still represent a step forward: however, to be honest, as long as Sony continues to dominate the global market in this way, the conditions for a serious commitment on this front are not seen, given that it has not reasons to try to adapt to the paradigm change of the videogame market by focusing heavily on subscription services.

The invasion of "all you can play"

EA Play gives you access to a vast Publisher's Game Catalog As publishers reach a critical mass of games that can support an adequate catalog, proposing a subscription to freely access them on a subscription basis is becoming an increasingly popular solution. The first to get there were Electronic Arts with EA Play (€ 3.99 per month or € 14.99 per month for the Pro subscription), now also integrated directly into Xbox Game Pass Ultimate for the basic version , and Ubisoft with its Ubisoft + (€ 14.99 per month): in both cases these are rather expensive services, but which guarantee access to a rather large catalog of games, only possible for labels that can count on a massive production and on regular and frequent releases. The "monobrand" subscriptions obviously aim at narrower public niches than those offered by the platform producers, but they nevertheless have an important space, also thanks to the various bonuses linked to the status of subscribers for the games of the respective brands. Obviously, the choice between one and the other in this case strictly depends on the tastes of the users, even if the introduction of EA Play in the Game Pass makes it at this point a much wider and more accessible service than before.

Something like this has recently emerged also in the mobile field, with the launch of the parallel services Apple Arcade and Google Play Plus, which represent the fees for all you can play on consoles and PCs on smartphones and tablets, as well as on Mac for regarding the former.

Apple Arcade: the subscription catalog is part of a more structured production program Although the basic principle is the same, Apple Arcade differs somewhat from its competitor in terms of concept and organization: while Google Play Plus is substantially a large cauldron of games put together to offer a catalog as complete as possible of various genres and experiences, Apple Arcade presents itself as a more structured program, able to finance exclusive projects also on the basis of qualitative and strategic assessments of a certain level . The result, also in this 2021, is a clear difference in liveliness and peculiarity and originality between the two competitors: while Google Play continues to offer quality titles but without a particular attraction for the service itself, the Apple subscription is in able to offer some truly high-profile and strongly characterizing exclusives, which demonstrate how behind the simple convenience of accessing the catalog for a relatively low amount (4.99 euros per month for both services) there is also considerable planning, and games like Fantasian by Hironobu Sakaguchi and Mistwalker clearly demonstrate this.

Cloud gaming

Google Stadia is probably still the technically best cloud gaming service A separate discussion must be made for cloud gaming services, although these are, in some cases, an integral part of all-inclusive subscriptions such as Xbox Game Pass and PlayStation Now. In many respects, streaming gaming is seen as the future of video game enjoyment, although at the moment it is still far from offering an optimal experience, especially in places where the internet infrastructure is not yet up to date. Input lag is an element that you will always have to deal with when you are not playing directly with dedicated hardware, but the progress made recently has been gigantic and cloud gaming is now a much more solid reality than it is. was at the time of the first experiments with Gaikai (later acquired by Sony and used for PlayStation Now) and OnLive. The main players today are precisely the Sony subscription, one of the first to offer this type of game both through consoles and on PC, Google Stadia and Xbox Game Pass with xCloud, in addition to Nvidia GeForce Now and Amazon Luna.

Also on this front there is a certain immobility of Sony, which after being a pioneer in this field has stopped a bit on the initial offer, while huge steps forward have been made by Microsoft with the Xbox Cloud which is now available on smartphones, PCs, Macs and Xbox, complete with titles optimized to take advantage of the interface via touch screen and use of the Xbox Series X hardware in the blades of Azure servers in order to maximize the gaming experience in the cloud.

Amazon Luna is the new proposal in the cloud field by the e-commerce giant However, the probably most stable and convincing experience is still that of Google Stadia, which manages to make the most of the infrastructure online of the Mountain View giant to offer an excellent game flow: the problem is the business model adopted, which still forces you to buy games at not exactly low prices to be able to use them in streaming beyond the titles in the free catalog for Stadia Pro subscribers, where Game Pass allows access to a vastly larger list of games. In all this, Nvidia GeForce Now has an excellent technical basis, but also in this case a rather limited catalog, moreover linked to the use of the company's hardware, while we are waiting to understand how Amazon Luna behaves. >

2021 and beyond: the war continues

With Netflix Games, the video streaming giant also launches into videogame subscriptions The year 2021 can be seen as that of the consolidation of subscription-based services, in which the competitors lined up on the field and continued their work of strengthening thanks above all to technical evolutions carried out by all the actors on stage. From 2022 onwards we will be able to see the further unfolding of this war, which now sees many factions fighting each other and names of great importance and not strictly linked to video games, demonstrating how the field of videogame services represents an interesting segment. for companies dedicated to technology and entertainment. Beyond Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo, in fact, among the names involved we find Google, Amazon and, recently, also Netflix: the video streaming giant has in fact decided to broaden its horizons by also inserting a catalog of games freely accessible to subscribers. . At the moment it is still a very limited offer and based above all on the few Netflix productions, but it is an interesting start and with the possibility of growth also given the company's desire to acquire development teams.

A turning point , in the cloud gaming subscription war, could come from their integration with various devices and in particular with TVs: Google Stadia already has its own specific app on some LG TVs and even Microsoft would be thinking of a similar solution for Xbox Game Pass. This is a logical evolution for a service that focuses on internet connection and does not require dedicated hardware, but rather the ability to manage a client and support software with games that are then managed in the cloud. The possibility of accessing the services simply by downloading an app to use in a smart TV would guarantee considerable diffusion and accessibility, but obviously the agreements with the various device manufacturers and any tensions that may arise between the actors in the field. On the other hand, we have seen how Apple has substantially prevented the use of Game Pass on iOS through a specific app, which makes it clear that the subscription war is about more specific agreements and regulations than technological limits to be overcome.

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