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Developers are divided on how subscription services will affect game values

GDC State of the Industry: One-fourth of devs are concerned such services will devalue games, another fourth aren't worried at all

How will subscription services affect the value of games? Developers are, at least for now, divided on the issue.

GDC has released its annual State of the Industry survey of 4,000 developers, over one-fourth of which were concerned such models would devalue games. But another fourth weren't worried at all. 28% acknowledged subscriptions "might" devalue games, and 18% said they didn't know.

"I feel the f2p ad-based strategy is driving the mobile market into a crappy one, full of clickbaity small experiences," said one respondent. "A fixed price for a huge list of free games to play might be a good way to give the video game art form some freedom back, so we can make good experiences that don't need to last more than it asks for just to make more money, engage, retain, monetize, and so on."

Another developer commented: "The payback rates for most content creators in subscription-based models cannot justify the cost to make the products subscribers use. This is true in every medium that has taken this approach in the last decade. Music artists do not make enough from Spotify, et al, to finance the production of future music...even the top tier artists. Why would games be different?

"Unless the lion's share of revenue from a subscription service goes to the game creators, it's untenable in the long term. And, even if the bulk of revenue diverts to the creators, it will still create a situation where large AAA studios able to create blockbuster-style hype will end up succeeding, while indies will receive even less than they already do."

Uncertainty may be one of the reasons why so few developers are, at least for now, using such a model to monetize. 8% of those surveyed said the game they were currently making would be part of an offering like Apple Arcade or Xbox Game Pass; 6% said they used a subscription specific to their game (such as a World of Warcraft subscription).

Far more popular are more time-tested models, with 43% working on a free-to-download title, and 45% making a pay-to-download game. Interestingly, while 22% said they had paid in-game currency and 22% said they had paid in-game items, only 8% are using loot boxes.

The full GDC State of the Game Industry survey can be accessed here, which includes topics such as developers' current plans for and interest in next-generation consoles, and concerns surrounding diversity, accessibility, crunch, and unions.

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Latest comments (2)

Steve Peterson CEO/game designer/marketer/journalist A year ago
It's not clear what revenues from subscription services would be like for most game developers, because there's not enough information available. Developers are wise to be cautious about how much they might benefit from letting their game be part of a subscription offering. The nature of the deal the subscription service is offering -- and any guarantees -- might make such a deal attractive, though.

Another way to think of these subscription services is as a marketing tool. For instance, let's say you were able to get Apple to include one of your games in Apple Arcade. This would certainly expose that game to a wide audience. You could create another game that connected to your Apple Arcade offering, perhaps as a direct sequel or maybe just using key parts of the IP. If you could work in good reasons for players of your Apple Arcade game to try out your game outside of Apple Arcade, you'd be getting some potentially huge marketing value from your Apple Arcade game -- over and above whatever Apple pays you for your Apple Arcade game.
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John Ozimek Director & Co-Founder, Big Ideas MachineA year ago
@Steve Peterson: I agree with what you say about Apple Arcade; some of the early titles I have really enjoyed have been iOS ports of Steam games - Mosiac is a good example. The subscription model works in this case due to the scale at play with anything to do with Apple and mobile. I expect the effect for developers is not wildly different to the massive boost in installs whenever a game gets feature slot on the App Store.

If we look at PC/console streaming, the obvious value proposition for publishers is in getting new revenues from old IP. Very few publishers are able to monetize their back catalogues unless it is through a service like PlayStation Plus or Xbox Live, or they decide to reissue it either physically or on one of the platform e-stores. The problem with the latter is that reissuing comes with fresh marketing costs.

Stadia is trying to build its brand through exclusives, and with such deep pockets Google can afford to bankroll these early games - but there does need to be an ROI at some point. The deal with Bungie for Destiny 2 makes sense as it's a marquee game (although arguably it's well past its prime) and with a shift to F2P, Bungie needs as many new players as possible. But it is tougher to make the case for exclusivity considering the cost of making AAA games.
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