23 Apr 2021 1:15 PM +00:00

Are Subscription Services and Discounts Hurting Developers?

The landscape of gaming is changing, constantly evolving alongside the digital age of media consumption. A quick Google search shows a surge in digital game sales on console, in part thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Although the argument of game preservation is still up in the air, gamers worldwide are talking with their wallets, even when unable to head outside.

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Read More: Why You Should Be Playing: Days Gone

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Subscription offerings such as Game Pass, PlayStation Now and free games doled out via PS Plus and Games With Gold makes gaming affordable for all for a monthly fee.

The benefits of the different services on offer are another point of debate, providing players with discounts and free monthly titles, or an instant library of games to jump into.

John Garvin (Creative Director, Days Gone) has made headlines recently, urging players to support developers by buying games on release.

While in an ideal world, every gamer would be able to afford £60/£70 to buy every new release game and support the talent in our industry, it's an unrealistic notion.

Garvin’s own Days Gone has received a second wind thanks to its free status for PlayStation Plus members, with a petition for a sequel gaining over 62,000 signatures at the time of writing. So, do free/discounted games hurt developers in the long run?

Who Wants a Piece of (The) Pie?

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When a game sells, both digitally and physically, the game's price will be divided into percentages for marketing, platform loyalties/retailer margins and cost of manufacture for physical releases.

Publishers/developers will often see less than 50% of these costs, which is split into wages, office space, utilities, equipment etc. It's easy to look at these breakdowns and justify John Garvin's sentiment, and gaming is a risky business at the best of times - particularly in AAA development.

The most successful game franchises also know the importance of building a fandom/following. God of War is a solid franchise known for its visceral combat and roots in Greek/Nordic lore. The 2018 reboot of the franchise saw Kratos in a new environment, with fresh lore, perspective, and combat mechanics, but it still had the advantage of building on an established IP - something the likes of Days Gone, which had been in development for several years, did not.

Read More: Xbox Game Pass (May 2021): All Confirmed And Removed Games

Go For It, Boy

The hype built itself, with more than a gentle nudge from Sony’s marketing team, of course. God of War was always going to sell well on day one, and it's now part of the PlayStation Plus Collection with a free 60FPS update for PlayStation 5 users. Whilst it's easier for big franchises to get great sales numbers, there's also more pressure to make a great game with the rising expectations from fans and executives. Everything needs to be a bankable hit.

Days Gone didn't present anything groundbreaking before release but promised great action sequences fighting off zombie hordes. It looked like a solid enough action/stealth title but was reviewed on a buggier pre-release build vs the finished product. This impacted day one sales and the franchise’s future dramatically.

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For gamers that had waited years for Bend’s open-world adventure, it would’ve been a must-buy, sure. But for others, middling review scores likely prompted a ‘wait and see’ approach which has been rewarded by the title’s inclusion on PS Plus.

Gamers are more reluctant to take a risk on a new IP that doesn't break the mould but slap a discount on the title post-release, or give it away for ‘free’ as part of a subscription, and curious players will no doubt be attracted to it.

Read More: PS Plus May 2021 Countdown: Free PS4 PS5 Game Leaks, Predictions and Deals

Full Steam Ahead?

Steam, the leading PC game storefront, has been running ridiculously low priced sale games for years. Whilst some believe sales devalue games and the industry, developers have previously gone on record to state that Steam sales breathe new life into their IP and increase the developer's revenue, potentially years after launch.

By a similar token, Sony’s impending Days Gone release on PC is another chance to bring in some cash for a game that seemingly didn’t shift the copies the publisher wanted (or needed) it to at launch.

Overall, it looks like subscription services and discount events add new life to old games and give more prominent platforms for new games to launch on. Looking forward to new IP selling well on release, effective post-launch coverage, hands-on opportunities and ample development time always help. New IPs will always be a gamble, but maybe it's time development and release business practices adapt to how players want to consume content in 2021 and beyond.