Are subscription services the future of games?

We're only halfway through the year and we’ve already seen huge acquisitions in the form of Sony’s purchase of Bungie and Microsoft's purchase of Activision. With Sony’s rival to Game Pass coming into full strength right around the corner, what does this all mean for small studios?

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So from the consumer point of view, particularly console gamers, what’s the value and rationale behind subscription services? Subscription services allow gamers to have access to a rotating collection of games from a range of publishers and it’s the constant access that creates value to the consumer. 

In recent history this space has been dominated by Microsoft’s Game Pass. Xbox Game Pass was first launched four years ago, back in June 2017, on both PC and Xbox Consoles. Currently, the service boasts 25 million subscribers who have access to a library of over 100 titles. 

Now, enter the new and improved PlayStation Plus. With the roll out of PlayStation Plus right around the corner (already released in Asia) it’s clear that the subscription model isn’t going anywhere.

The service will host a mixed catalogue of classic first-party PS2 and PS3 titles, as well as PS4 and PS5-era first-party and third-party titles. Cloud streaming is also an option in certain markets, similar to its Game Pass competitor.

The service will have three different tiers – Essential, Extra, and Premium (with a fourth Deluxe variation in markets without access to cloud streaming.) More on this topic here

What does this all mean for the industry?

So now we are clear on what is out there in terms of subscription services let’s take a deeper look at what this all means for game studios and publishers.

Ultimately research shows that currently titles being on Game Pass does not negatively impact sales on other platforms. The key finding being that currently, the market is operating independently – gamers playing your game on Game Pass aren’t the same gamers playing it on Steam, meaning that cannibalization is low. For more on this topic check out the Game Discovery Co. newsletter by Simon Carless.

Equally however, there is fear in the industry that this model can prevent people from purchasing games at full price, as people become more used to a Netflix style of consumption. Despite being only 10% of the figure that we see in services like Netflix (225m Subscribers) and Spotify (182m Subscribers) there is a worry that this model could become dangerously widespread, with consumers moving away from paying full price for games, similar to what has happened in the music industry. 

What can I do?

Ultimately we advise that if you are in a situation where you are offered a place in any subscription service (be it via Sony, Microsoft, or both) we advise that you take it. Ultimately, the exposure, payout, and access can be a huge benefit to your studio and the project you have been working on. 

You never want to get to a stage where your game only does well when it is on sale for a reduced price, as this creates a feedback loop where people are only willing to pay the sale price for your game and its value is depreciated.


It’s clear that the subscription model isn’t going anywhere. Game Pass burst onto the scene within 2017, fuelling Microsoft’s spree of snapping up studios and it’s clearly left a mark on the industry. If you have any doubt of this theory, ask yourself how much music, TV, or movies you’ve decided to rent, buy or see in the theatre versus just consuming what’s available to you on your various services. If you’re like most people, the vast majority of your linear media time is ad or sub-based.

Gamers are no exception to any other group, in this instance meaning that there is absolutely no shortage of games available to gamers.

With these two points in mind, it’s more crucial than ever that when you are marketing your game you have all your i’s dotted and t’s crossed and if in doubt then it’s handy to seek advice. As an agency we have worked with clients and studios across the industry in a range of different sizes. So if required, get in touch as we’d love to help you position, market, and launch your game with our range of marketing services.