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Is the Future of Gaming Really in Netflix-Like Services?

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Netflix has changed how people watched television. Over 89 million people are active subscribers to the service, with about 7 million people joining every quarter.

The subscription model for businesses are becoming more and more popular. Music has Spotify, TV has Netflix and Hulu, books have Audible, but so far there isn’t a specific service for video games.

Yet many businesses are hoping to figure out how to apply the Netflix subscription model. The big question is, do gamers really want a streaming service for video games and what barriers are preventing it from succeeding?

What’s Happening Now?

Before digging into the future of streaming, it’s important to acknowledge what is happening now. Many major companies are trying to be the first to conquer video game streaming and become the Netflix of the industry. Sony has Playstation Now, Microsoft has Xbox Games Pass, and a few other companies are doing game streaming for PCs and smart TVs.

It’s important to know the differences between services too. Playstation Now is streamed directly to the console or PC of your choice. There is no download, and if you have a strong internet connection, minimal lag. A lot of people are calling this cloud gaming, since all of the data is saved and done in a remote location. It’s also worth nothing that you can instead rent individual games for a specific period of time, ranging from a single hour to a month.

Xbox Game Pass gives you access to specific games, but requires you to download the game in order to play it. Other services have a subscription, but only let players access a few games every month and change what is available on a regular basis. You can’t rent specific games; you must have the subscription to access the games.

There are other companies, like Gamefly, with their hats in the ring too. It’s clear that many companies want to profit from a subscription streaming service, yet none of them have become a clear leader. Clearly, there are barriers that the gaming industry hasn’t figured out, or they simply haven’t been willing to spend the money to solve them.

Limited Libraries and Old Games

The most important part for a subscription model for gamers is the games, and this is one of the biggest failings of nearly every service out there right now. If you pour over the selection in Playstation Now, it’s a smattering of indie games, AAA games from 5 to 10 years ago, and games that didn’t sell very well. Xbox Game Pass and other services don’t fare any better.

Logically, this makes sense. Why give people the ability to play a brand new or top seller game for a few bucks on a streaming service when you can charge them 60 dollars for it? Yet, these decisions are ones that cripple the service as a whole. There is a distinct lack of high quality “blockbuster” games on streaming services, so there isn’t too much of an appeal.

Sure, if you want to replay Mega Man 6 or try out a game you missed out on from 4 years ago, you might be able to stream it, but the selection isn’t very vast. It seems like a majority of streaming and subscription services are pushing the quantity of games they have available, not the quality. Some games are even ones that most people own, like Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, a game commonly given away for free through other subscription services like PS Plus.

Yeah, each service has one or two big hitter games; Playstation Now has the original Uncharted trilogy and the Last of Us, Xbox Game Pass has Halo and Gears of War, but these games aren’t enough to carry the services.

Cost Problems

Money is always an issue when it comes to gamers. Between buying a console, getting new games, and paying for their Xbox Live or PS Plus (or both), they don’t have a lot of extra cash to drop on a monthly subscription for games.

As it stands right now, there isn’t a lot of value in paying the monthly cost. The Xbox Game Pass monthly cost is $10 and Playstation Now’s is $19.99. Yet, since many of the games available to play are older, you could just simply buy a used version for the same price, or cheaper, and get a copy you own.

The Issue of Platforms

One of the biggest advantages of Netflix is that nearly every device can run it. You can watch Netflix on your phone, your laptop, your smart TV, most game consoles (sorry Switch), some DVD and Blu-ray players, and more. Nearly every person in the world has a device that could watch Netflix on, if they wanted to.

The problem with gaming services currently is that no service is available on a ton of platforms. Playstation is only available on their consoles and PC, the Xbox Game Pass on works for Xbox One, and other services are similarly limited. For example, Gamefly’s streaming service only works on specific smart TVs and smart devices, like Amazon Fire TV.

Original Content

One major benefit platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon bring is producing original content for their stream services. Many of these shows, like “Orange Is the New Black”, bring in viewers by themselves, not to mention the large catalog of other shows available.

The problem with a gaming style of Netflix is that lack of original content exclusive to the service. If games were made exclusively for the subscription service, that would encourage people to get a subscription. There needs to be a big draw to get people to try out the service and then give them time to find other games to keep them around month after month.

Yet none of these programs really have any big-name, new games worth mentioning. Currently, the games these services are promoting are things like Saint’s Row IV, Halo 5, and Killzone: Shadow Fall, all games you can get used pretty cheap.  

What Will It Take to Succeed?

As it stands right now, subscription-based gaming isn’t going to reach Netflix standards anytime soon. To be able to succeed, these services will need to change drastically to better conform to what gamers want.

One major trait that Netflix has that gaming subscription services need is getting the rights for newer shows and movies. For example, Star Wars Rogue One came out in December of 2016, and came to Netflix in July of 2017, less than a year later.

If the companies are serious about getting their subscription services off the ground and widespread, they’ll need to start adding new, big-name games to their libraries. A game comes out, 6 months to a year later, it needs to be on their subscription service.

Another way these companies could find success is getting their services onto smartphones, especially direct streaming ones like Playstation Now. There is a clear market for having console quality gaming on the go, as seen with the success of the Nintendo Switch, but doing it the right way is hard. Smartphones have heavily impacted most industries, but gaming has almost split itself into mobile and traditional gaming. With more phone carriers supporting unlimited data plans, the ability to stream games to a phone is more possible than ever. Just connect a controller to the phone and play console quality games anywhere.

Only by addressing issues like not providing enough quality games for the cost and getting their services on more platforms, can subscription based gaming flourish. What do you think? Have you tried out Playstation Now or Xbox’s Game Pass? What kind of games would you like to see on the services? Let us know in the comments below.

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The Author

Ben Allen

Ben Allen

Champion of Hyrule, defender of space, bane of demons, savior of light, and occasional pizza eater.