The Gaming Subscription Bubble Just Keeps Growing. How Long Until It Bursts?

How many subscriptions can the market take?

Last week, Square Enix president Yosuke Matsuda offered up the company's vision for 2019. Part of that open letter to employees and shareholders touched on cloud streaming and subscriptions.

"Streaming is likely to bring a number of new platform operators into the market in addition to the existing console providers, while platform holders are also joining the PC gaming space. Streaming also lends itself to new subscription-based business models, so we believe deciding how to engage with these forthcoming trends will be key to future growth," Matsuda wrote.

Reading these words filled me with dread, because I already have too many subscriptions. I understand the business sense—a corporation gets money from me directly instead of going through a middle man—but I've nearly reached my limit. If you're jumping into the subscription or platform holder scrum in 2019, you have a tough fight ahead.

Like Epic Games, everyone wants their own platform.

This is important because everyone thinks they're getting in on this action. The success of Fortnite brought more folks into the Epic Games account and launcher, and the company is building on that with the Epic Games Store. In terms of subscriptions, some companies have started putting subscription on top of subscription. Microsoft launched Xbox Game Pass last year to resounding success, Sony has had PlayStation Now for a few years, and Electronic Arts recently built upon the PC-driven Origin Access with the new Premier tier. Humble Bundle has had the Humble Monthly subscription since late 2015, but it's now gaining more prominence.

I currently juggle a number of different platforms, launchers, and subscriptions. A lot of that is for work: companies tend to offer review keys on their personal platform. CD Projekt Red's games come on GOG.com, Bethesda has its own launcher, Ubisoft's PC titles come on UPlay. I have accounts for Xbox Live, PlayStation Network, Nintendo Account, Steam, GOG, Battle.net, Bethesda, Uplay, Epic Games, EA Origin, Twitch Desktop, Final Fantasy XIV, and Guild Wars 2.

A recurring pain point for me is my Nvidia video card: whenever I need to update my drivers, I have to sign into GeForce Experience. But since I don't use GeForce Experience very often, I rarely remember my password. That means when I update, I generally have to reset my password, because GeForce Experience locks you out after a certain number of tries. Locks you out of updating your drivers. There's no real benefit to me for doing this either, the value add is solely on Nvidia's side.

The joy of being locked out from driver updates. [Via Reddit]

My wallet continues to drain as the subscriptions mount up. I don't even think of Xbox Live and PlayStation Network anymore, I simply buy new 12-month cards during Black Friday when they're discounted. Nintendo Online is rather cheap. World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV duel for my single monthly massively multiplayer online payment. I've eyed Humble Monthly and Xbox Game Pass, but I can't really afford it, given that I also retain subscriptions to non-gaming services: Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Spotify, Crunchyroll, Viki Rakuten, and Kindle Unlimited. CBS All Access survived for the two months it took to watch Star Trek: Discovery, and despite my love of comics and general intrigue about Titans and Young Justice, I haven't subscribed to DC Universe at all. I'm full up.

I'm on the top end in terms of subscriptions, according to a report by Deloitte Global.

"We further predict that a fifth of adults in developed countries will pay for or have access to at least five paid-for online media subscriptions, and by the end of 2020, they will have 10. For these adults, aggregate spend on digital subscriptions they have access to (paid for by themselves or by someone else in the household) is likely to average over $100 per month by 2020, or over $1,200 annually," says the report.

The truth is, we exist on the path of least resistance. Our money is limited and our patience is low. The Epic Games Store sounds nice for developers, but I have an existing library of 522 games on Steam. Unless you find a way to carry my games over to a new platform, any additional benefits ring hollow. And putting your game exclusively on a new platform that doesn't already have a consumer's game library tends to lead to ignorance about its existence or resentment. Even new hardware platforms need to provide significant reason to jump in.

I like Xbox Game Pass, but it's a sign of the future.

The future of gaming is like the current market of video streaming services. A few years ago, all we had was Netflix; everything under one subscription. Now, everyone is pulling their content in every direction. Even Disney is about to pull a whole bunch of stuff from Netflix to launch its own Disney+ service. What was one payment becomes two, for the same content.

More platforms are coming. More subscriptions are coming. And exclusives will be the leverage companies use to pull you in. Hades and Super Meat Boy Forever on the Epic Games Store, or Last Year: The Nightmare and Bad North on Discord is just the beginning. Post-Fallout 76, Bethesda Game Studios might decide that all of its published games are exclusive to its launcher. Imagine a future where Microsoft offers up enough money to get Capcom or 2K games as exclusives on Xbox Game Pass. Maybe Sega or Ubisoft does something similar with Sony's PlayStation Now. Perhaps the same could happen to your favorite smaller developers, with Bandai Namco, NIS America, or Koei Tecmo breaking in different directions.

Just as you currently need three or four video streaming subscriptions to keep up with the new hotness or best stuff on television, that's going to become the norm for video games. There are going to be new platforms and subscriptions pulling you in different directions. Things will continue to splinter, both in terms of the number of accounts you have and how much you'll be paying on a regular basis to access them. Every publisher and platform holder wants a piece of the pie, even though most of the pie was eaten before they noticed it was there.

Tagged with Analyses, Discord, Epic Games Store, Nintendo, PlayStation Network, Steam, xbox live.

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