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BioWare: Video Game Subscription Services Will Diversify Triple-A Games

The Netflix model helps diversify games, says BioWare.

News by Matt Kim, .

Anthem will be a part of the EA's Origin Access Premier, meaning that Anthem will be available to subscription members days before the official launch date on February 22, 2019. Not only that but as part of EA's top-tier subscription service members will have access to the game for as long as they are subscribed to EA's service. According to a triple-A developer like BioWare, subscription services aren't just a way to open up audiences but can diversify the kind of games they can feasibly make as well.

"You know I really like the idea of a subscription," says Anthem executive producer Mark Darrah. "If you look at Netflix we live in—I was going to say a 'golden age' [laughs] ah fuck it—we live in a golden age of television because a subscription platform like Netflix allows Netflix or HBO or Amazon to take a lot more experiments, do a lot more different formats."

Anthem

Darrah says that the variety on display at services like Netflix, which produces all format of shows from movies, to documentaries, to hour-long dramas, is better compared to the high-end video game space. "If you look at the triple-A space we've become quite risk averse because games are all basically—they have same bar... and it all kind of means that they all have quite similar budgets and quite similar expectations and quite similar goals. And I think once you look in a world of subscriptions it opens the door to new possibilities. Like games that aren't intended to be played by more than 300,000 people but are built and budgeted accordingly."

Anthem lead producer Mike Gamble echoed Darrah on the possibilities with subscription services for video games. "You have your House of Cards for Netflix, but you also have your comedy specials or like your true crime documentaries, and it's not just genre which is different. Size and scale of those things—budgets and everything are different things. And as a person who subscribes to Netflix you're like 'I get all of that for my subscription' And then I can dabble, and I can choose like, 'Oh well you know that was cool I liked it but it was only an hour of my life so that's all right.' I don't have to be super invested."

We've seen similar subscription services for video games like Xbox Game Pass impact first-party games positively. Consider Rare whose Sea of Thieves was the first Xbox first-party game to launch simultaneously on Game Pass at launch and saw positive correlations between players who first tried Sea of Thieves on Game Pass before purchasing the game. But Darrah and Gamble see benefits beyond just market accessibility.

Unravel

"What you see in television homes is a de-homogenization," says Darrah. "There's more different television being made. And what I worry is happening in games, and triple-A in particular, is a homogenization. Games are getting more like each other. We're chasing, not the same audiences, but ever sort of convergent audiences—audiences with similar behaviors and play styles. And what I would hope that we see as subscription start to rise is the same kind of thing, a de-homogenization. Where more different kinds of things are targeted. Genres that don't even exist now can come into being and exist and maybe find a niche. Maybe that niche isn't very big, but it doesn't need to be that big because it can be addressed in a very different way."

Mike Gamble says that subscription services can help games like Unravel for example which will be available to players who might just subscribe to EA Origin Access Premier for games like Madden and Anthem. Like with Netflix, these players might dabble with Unravel, and become fans in the process. So instead of the next Triple-A game being marketed to the specific slice of players, the audience can be everyone (granted they're subscribed to Origin Access Premier).

EA Origin Access Premier is EA's highest-tier subscription plan which gives players access to all EA games days before launch for $14.99 a month, or $99.99 a year. The new subscription supplants the original Origin membership which is now being called Origin Access Basic, which only includes first-look previews of games and select titles from The Vault.

Sea of Thieves

Xbox has a similar service called Xbox Game Pass which for $9.99 a month gives players access to a select library of games as well as same-day access to first-party games like Sea of Thieves. If rumors are true, Microsoft might even be working on a streaming-only console for its next-generation hardware.

Whatever the case it's clear that subscription-services for video games are ramping up after years of false starts. But while we've always heard the benefits for the customer, this is the first time we might have heard what subscription services do for developers and for BioWare at least the possibilities are quite positive.

For more on Anthem, check out our complete Anthem guide with all our previews, news, and release info. We'll have a bigger interview with Mark and Mike later today, but you can check out what they have to say about Anthem's post-launch plans here.

Anthem is coming out on February 22, 2019 for PS4, Xbox One, and PC.

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Comments 11

  • Avatar for nimzy #1 nimzy 14 days ago
    One of these days they'll realize that being a big Triple-A game developer means you can't make small, risky games anymore for financial reasons, much less cultural ones. This is what the game industry cycle is all about: big studios become stagnant and go out of business, the diaspora reconstitutes into indie studios and make the next big hits and grow large, etc.

    DotA, and before that, Counterstrike and Natural Selection -- the "new genres that sprang into being" -- were all small experimental mods for Triple-A games first. Mods simply won't be possible once games move to subscription models and streaming-only. That way lies Bethesda's infamous Creation Club, and no fun allowed.
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  • Avatar for PlatypusPlatoon #2 PlatypusPlatoon 14 days ago
    @nimzy I dunno, I think that's a bit reductive. Blizzard's Hearthstone is the best example of a big company using a very small team to experiment and try their hand in a new space where they didn't have much experience, and also where there weren't too many big players in the genre. It's now the biggest digital CCG on the market, by far, and yet the development team remains fairly small and nimble (for better or for worse).

    I think every developer will have their own process on how to approach new, unexplored territory in game design, and some studios will be happier taking on risk than others.
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  • Avatar for riderkicker #3 riderkicker 14 days ago
    Affordable access to broadband internet also diversifies AAA games.
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  • Avatar for Captain-Gonru #4 Captain-Gonru 14 days ago
    @PlatypusPlatoon Also, what's stopping a studio from releasing a small game on a small budget? What about Child Of Light? Nothing is stopping EA or anyone else from making a $10 game once in a while (and they do, on mobile).
    And I'm still unclear on just how people paying for a subscription is somehow more economically beneficial to a company. Do they not know the shoestring budgets and nebulous ROI (for the content creators themselves) some of those Netflix and HBO shows operate on? Edited 2 weeks ago by Captain-Gonru
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  • Avatar for yuberus #5 yuberus 14 days ago
    But... Origin is just so terrible to use! We went through hell just trying to buy and install Unravel last week!
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  • Avatar for Fourfoldroot #6 Fourfoldroot 14 days ago
    I'm of the opinion that subscriptions can only reduce the pressure to make a great free standing game, and increase the pressure (especially longer term) to add microtransactions or keep players engaged through the service model.. Will that bring greater diversity? Nope. Just a different style of homogeny.
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  • Avatar for SargeSmash #7 SargeSmash 13 days ago
    I'm very skeptical of this line of reasoning. I don't think the model for AAA games is going to change any time soon, at least not as long as "AAA" is defined as large-scale, high-fidelity, huge-budget games. Personally, I just want to play games that are good, and it doesn't take a AAA budget to make one. There's nothing keeping companies from trying smaller titles on their own, and they should; as@nimzy points out, many times smaller titles become the next big thing. I'd like to see some of these studios find a creative balance between the huge/expected and small/unique. There's room for both. (And I wish we had something resembling the B-tier game devs like in the PS2 days.)
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  • Avatar for Monkey-Tamer #8 Monkey-Tamer 13 days ago
    More like the diversification of investor portfolios. This just means you will be even further removed from owning your games. EA isn't proposing this from a sense of altruism. This is about making as much money as possible.
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  • Avatar for bradtorville #9 bradtorville 11 days ago
    What will be interesting to see is just how many people decide to download and install the game even with subscriptions. The thing with Anthem is I doubt its appeal to a broad audience. This move seems to want to guarantee a built-in audience for the game but what if that turns out not to be the case? What if subscribers decide they don't want to play a Destiny-wannabe?

    Maybe they should try decreasing their budgets and making betters games instead of more costly flashy games that everyone ends up complaining about for months and years. Decrease the massive staffs used to create games because honestly, it doesn't come through in the final products. The games get released half-finished, unpolished disasters that require a year or more of patches just to get to where they should have been on Day One.

    These huge staffs prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that more does not translate into better. Get better people. Give them time to make the games right. Don't promise what you cannot deliver. And you'll see the cost of games come down considerably. But then again, that won't mean that games will cost less. It'll just mean more profit for them. But at least we'd get better games.
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