October 24, 2019 - Video games are set to follow music, film, and TV into the world of subscriptions and streaming, ushering in a new era of rivalries that hinge on content libraries and not technical specs. And this time, two giant corporations that are newcomers to the console party are looking for a slice of the traditional games business.
There are varying opinions on which video game hardware battle was the best. There was the Sega Genesis vs. Super Nintendo in the late 80s; there was the dominance of the PlayStation 2 in the 2000s, before the tight-fought contest between the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Every generation of console wars has sparked innovation in the gaming industry, but these battles are no longer one-vs-one, and these days they are as much about online service as hardware (and software, of course — games are what sells hardware long-term, not vice versa.) Paying a monthly subscription to play videogames is a concept that was pretty unfathomable just a couple of years ago. By 2020, it might be the norm. Big names in the gaming industry — Microsoft, Sony, EA, and Ubisoft — already offer a monthly subscription for unlimited access to their libraries of games. Competition for committed customer spend is tough; it’s about to get tougher.
With Apple’s recent premiere of Apple Arcade (released September 19) and Google Stadia (releasing November 19), two of the biggest names in the tech world are entering the battle for video game supremacy. Neither company is a newcomer to gaming; however — as of writing, there are over 900,000 gaming apps on the App Store and almost 350,000 gaming apps on Google Play Store – but their experience is markedly different from that of Microsoft, Sony, or Nintendo. That’s why both Apple and Google are offering different ways to play videogames.
Google Stadia allows players to stream games on any device that can run a Google Chrome browser. It’s a bold statement that was backed with an impressive demo at Google’s Developer Conference, where Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey (a 46 GB download on Xbox One!) booted up instantly. However, questions have risen since then. For one, streaming something as large and heavy as a videogame demands a substantial internet connection (20 MBPS is required to stream games in 1080P), and the infrastructural pre-requisites is unattainable in most areas of the known world. Google’s promise of “gaming on any device” is likely a gross overstatement, at least around the time when the Stadia launches (and it will only work on third and fourth generation Android-powered Pixel phones.)
Time will tell whether the Stadia can be a direct rival to Xbox, PlayStation, and Nintendo, especially when Microsoft combines Project xCloud, Game Pass, and Project Scarlett next year (which VP of Gaming at Microsoft, Phil Spencer, eluded to in a conversation at E3.)
Meanwhile, Apple is carving out its own niche with the Apple Arcade, creating a bridge between mobile and console gaming. The launch of Apple Arcade has been a surprise sleeper hit to many in the games industry, and unquestionably, Apple owes its success in part to Apple TV’s clever move to suddenly (and officially) support both Xbox One and PlayStation controller hardware.
Seasoned gamers may scoff at the idea of mobile gaming, but the numbers don’t lie: 66% of people play games on mobile, making it the most popular video game platform. Such popularity has led to mass monetization of gaming apps, however; the free-to-play, pay-to-win structure can create a disjointed experience when ads routinely interrupt gameplay, while there was plenty of controversy surrounding games like Mario Run, which replaced pay-to-win with “pay-to-keep-playing.”
Apple Arcade costs $4.99 a month, putting it at the low end of video game subscriptions. Its price point should appeal to casual gamers that are willing to pay $5 on premium versions of mobile games rather than suffer through ads and monetization tactics. And no doubt there’s a certain appeal to parents who are tired of their kids asking for money to buy gems on Angry Birds 2.
Apple describes its Arcade as the world’s first subscription service for mobile, desktop, and living room (Arcade is out now on iOS 13 and is coming to iPad, Apple TV, and Mac OS in October). Cupertino is working with game developers to create a unique and exclusive library of over 100 games – ranging from a Lego-licensed brawler to an arcade skateboarding sim – that aren’t available on any other mobile device or subscription service. There’s a defined focus, as is often the case with Apple, on streamlined user experience. It’s entirely possible to play multiplayer FPS Shadowgun Legends on your iPhone during your morning commute to work, sneak in another thirty minutes on your MacBook during lunch, and play another couple hours on your Apple TV when you get home. To prospective gamers already part of Apple’s ecosystem of hardware and software through their phones, iPads, and Macs, it’s certainly safe to say that Apple Arcade is serious with their “play anywhere” approach.
The initial response has been positive regarding whether Apple Arcade’s library is worth the price — a question that will be the decisive one for all subscription services moving forward.
|Service Platform||USD per Month|
|Xbox One Game Pass||$9.99|
|Game Pass for Windows||$9.99|
|Game Pass Ultimate||$14.99|
|EA Origin Access Premier||$14.99|
|Nintendo Switch Online||$7.99|
Those of us willing to pay a subscription to play games will soon be spoilt for choice. It’s a pleasant problem to have, but the matter of exclusivity could create some difficult decisions too. Games like the upcoming Star Wars: Fallen Jedi will be locked to EA Access, meaning an Xbox Game Pass subscriber would have to pay $60 on top of their monthly subscription to play it. Things could get tricky when trying to find the best value for your money, and that might include sacrificing a particular game because of its publisher.
The biggest challenge in the future of video games might be choosing whose side you’re on. Better get your free trials ready for when the time comes to making your choice.
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