Why Subscription-Based Gaming Has Some Hurdles to Overcome

Audience and availability are still underdeveloped

Key Takeaways

  • Netflix reportedly is exploring the idea of adding a subscription-based gaming model to its platform. 
  • Other platforms doing similar things include Apple Arcade, Google Stadia, Amazon Luna, and more. 
  • Experts say before subscription-based gaming can really take off, there are some hurdles to overcome to make it accessible and intriguing to all types of gamers.
Closeup of a hand reaching for a gaming controller.

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Reports about Netflix's interest in a subscription-based gaming model prompt the question of whether this way to play could be the next big thing in gaming. 

Experts say that a subscription-based gaming boom potentially could happen, but platforms like Netflix have a lot to iron out first before they can become widely successful in the gaming community. 

"I think there will be a huge boom in subscription-based gaming, but service providers are going to have to be very strategic about how they roll it out," Melanie Allen, a gaming writer at Partners in Fire, wrote to Lifewire in an email. 

Subscription-Based Gaming Today 

Netflix is far from the first company to try subscription-based gaming. Long before you could stream a game online, GameFly and Redbox gaming rentals (popular in the 2010s) allowed users to subscribe for a monthly fee and choose their games. 

Now, companies are starting to offer cloud-based/subscription-based gaming platforms to act as a game streaming service of sorts, such as Xbox Gamepass and PSNow. Apple Arcade—which reports say is what Netflix’s gaming bundle would be similar to—gives users access to over 180 games for $5 per month, with a focus on casual pick-up-and-play games.

Then, there’s Google Stadia. Although it shut down its internal development team, known as Stadia Games and Entertainment, experts have said it still has plenty of promise with the $9.99 Stadia Pro subscription service. Most notably, the platform had a super successful rollout of Cyberpunk 2077 late last year. 

"These changes may hurt those who don't have access to reliable internet services capable of streaming gameplay."

Even Amazon is getting into the gaming world. It introduced Amazon Luna last year. Once it's officially available, Amazon Luna will allow gamers to play games across all kinds of devices, including Windows PCs, Macs, Fire TVs, iPhones, and Android phones. 

"[Companies] have been experimenting and perfecting alternate income methods for years with free-to-play games, subscriptions, skins, and in-game content," Joe Terrell, the founder of Drifted, wrote to Lifewire in an email. 

With more companies cashing in on this type of gaming model, Terrell notes that it could become as overwhelming as our current endless choices of streaming services. "In the way your favorite movies and TV are spread across five or more different streaming services, it will be the same for games," he said.

Levels to Overcome 

Experts say there are still a few kinks to work out, though, before subscription-based gaming can become as popular as streaming services for TV shows or movies in the gaming community. 

"Subscription-based gaming services is a heavily debated topic within the gaming community, as some people prefer to pay for a game then not have to worry about recurring costs down the line," Henry Angus, director of Reboot Technology, wrote to Lifewire in an email. 

"The thing with subscription-based gaming is the idea that the customers get access to a wide variety of games if they choose to get the subscription. However, this does not always benefit people as many of the games won't even be played by the people who have subscriptions, and a lot of the time, gamers choose to play only one, two, or three games for a long period."

Looking over the shoulder of a person playing video games on a small television.

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Rex Freiberger, the CEO at Gadget Review, added that there’s also the nature of exclusive titles when it comes to subscription-based gaming services. 

"Other companies can offer [exclusive titles] while Netflix would have to make outside deals," Freiberger wrote to Lifewire in an email. 

"That will be tough because game publishers are notoriously stingy and dislike offers that don't continuously generate a profit for shareholders, something I feel would be difficult to achieve once Netflix takes its cut."

However, the model could prove useful for certain types of gamers who don’t want to drop $60 for just one game and would rather play different games all the time. 

An industry shift to subscription-based services would give some gamers access to more games at a lower cost and open the market to new customers. However, it also could hurt an entire community of gamers who rely on physical copies of games. 

"These changes may hurt those who don't have access to reliable internet services capable of streaming gameplay," Allen added. "If the industry as a whole shifts away from physical copies of games, many people may be unable to play."

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