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Will game streaming finally kill single-game purchases?

TL;DR not entirely, but that won’t stop some in the industry from stressing about it.

game streaming services on purple background
Image: KnowTechie

There always seems to be resistance to the next evolution of technology, whether it be home video, gaming, or the freaking lightbulb (look it up). The same goes for video game streaming services.

With Microsoft leaning heavily into Xbox Game Pass and Sony launching its new PlayStation Plus tiers on June 13th, streaming games is the new paradigm. That’s right, paradigm.

Yet, there is some trepidation. The lack of AAA titles has caused some users to express a bit of worry about the service. While others are worried that a subscription service will harm the actual sales of games.

This could be one reason why Game Pass is lacking the star power of major AAA releases. Developers want to sell games, not stream them for a pittance. Or do they? Does it really make a difference?

Is game streaming scaring developers away?

It’s still unclear, but former Microsoft Xbox Executive Ed Fries is making headlines today for his gloomy opinion of the Game Pass type services.

Speaking to Xbox Expansion Pass, Fries (who left Xbox way back in 2004) expressed an opinion on Game Pass, comparing its impact to that of Spotify.

“The one thing that they’re doing that makes me nervous is Game Pass,” said Fries in the interview. “Game Pass scares me because there’s a somewhat analogous thing called Spotify that was created for the music business. When Spotify took off it destroyed the music business, it literally cut the annual revenue of the music business in half. It’s made it so people just don’t buy songs anymore.”

Fries’ claims about Spotify destroying the music business can be easily disputed. Industry experts would be quick to point out the detriment of piracy to sales, or how Spotify opened up a world of music to users who previously might not have ever listened.

The same could be said about Game Pass. According to CEO Satya Nadella, subscribers play 40% more games and spend 50% more than non-members.

xbox game pass coming to pc
Image: Microsoft

Gamers will always spend their time in three camps. There are gamers who play all the games. They subscribe to Game Pass so they have a variety.

Then there are gamers like me, who play one game for a long time. Right now, it’s FIFA 19 and Fortnite. One of those games was free. The other was purchased. These gamers tend to purchase a game and play it. I’m still working on getting 100% in Far Cry 5 and Just Cause 2.

Then there are gamers who do both. The point is, with microtransactions and DLCs still a thing in Game Pass games, gamers are spending money regardless. Fries is correct though, in his assertation that streaming AAA games won’t see the immediate revenue desired.

The thing is, while gamers won’t be paying $60 for a new game, more gamers will pay less for access to that game. More gamers than would buy the game outright. The math will work itself out. AAA studios will alter their distribution strategies. Life will find a way.

In the end, we’re all going to be streaming everything

streaming services on tv
Image: Unsplash

The worry is that people like me, who play one or two games a year, won’t want to subscribe to a service. As time moves forward, that will become an outlier.

Developers and studios will press harder into streaming distribution, leaving gamers like me no choice. Subscribe or die. We might bitch about it, but it’s the way things are moving. And they don’t move in such a direction without reason.

Of course, it’d help if Microsoft could get its shit together. Gamers are still waiting for the Game Pass video game roadmap. After the Starfield debacle, Game Pass is answering some rightful criticism. But this is a slow process. It’s still a new thing to the game industry.

You’d think large corporations such as Microsoft would do better, but they are still children in the streaming world. Learning to walk.

We’re not to the point yet when we have to choose between buying or streaming

xbox series x and playstation 5 console
Image: KnowTechie

Right now, we have both options. Frankly, Game Pass and PlayStation Plus are much better options than spending hundreds of dollars on single games in a year.

Just like Netflix is a much better option than renting three movies every week. It just works. Some weeks it sucks and there’s nothing to watch. Other weeks it’s the freaking best. The same will be said about game streaming services. Patience is key.

Because, ultimately, we’ll still be buying games. We might not be buying them at the same frequency as before, but they will be bought. There will be a slowdown as gamers transition to streaming.

Single-game purchases might look like a dying industry, but we still buy movies. We still buy music. Hell, we buy it on vinyl. We buy Atari and Nintendo games. GameStop still exists (somehow).

Aside from that, AAA studios will learn how to make more money through streaming. Either from DLCs, microtransaction, or something we’re not thinking of yet. If they want to survive, they’ll adapt. And if we want to keep playing video games, so will we.

Have any thoughts on this? Let us know down below in the comments or carry the discussion over to our Twitter or Facebook.

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A tech writer on the internet for over 15 years for outlets such as Forbes, Wired, TNW, and others, Curtis is exhausted, burnt out and happy to just write buying guides and the occasional review for KnowTechie, the best tech blog your mom never told you about. Ephemeral existence for ephemeral times. Please send pitches and grainy pictures of the inside of your elbow to kevin@knowtechie.com

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