Games

What the All-Digital Future of Games Might Look Like

As hardware prices continue to rise, subscription models could be the way of the future.
September 14, 2020, 1:00pm
Text reading "Oops! All Digital" in the style of the Captain Crunch "Oops! All Berries" is flanked by images of the PS5 digital edition and Xbox Series S
Image courtesy of the author

Last week, amongst the news of the Xbox Series S and X price dropping, Microsoft also confirmed that they would be revisiting their Xbox All Access plan for this next generation. For $25 or $35 a month (depending on the Xbox model you choose) you can essentially lease-to-own a next gen Xbox with an included subscription to Xbox Game Pass. Alongside the fact that the cheaper Xbox Series S doesn’t have a disc drive, Microsoft seems to be shifting more and more away from a physical media model towards an all-digital future. We discuss the appeal of this model, potential pitfalls, and more on this episode of Waypoint Radio.

Austin: The thing I think about a lot was like I was freelancing in the early 2010s, when like the PS4 came out and I spent over a year without a PS, well over a year without a PS4, when I just couldn't do reviews of those games, you could not tap me in to do a review for any PS4 game or Xbox one games. I didn't have either of those consoles, I couldn't afford either one of those consoles. I ended up just blowing an entire check on a PS4, I've said this before, to review Battlefield: Hardline because EA sent me a PS4 copy instead of a PC code. And I was like, well, I guess I have to go, to make this deadline, I have to go into my savings, go buy a PS4.

So that was the first game I played on PS4. That was in 2015. That console came out in 2013, it was over a year [since launch before I owned one], but if there had been a thing where you can pay this off over the course of two years, I could have afforded 25 bucks a month. I could not have afforded 500, 300 bucks all at once.

Gita: It's pretty similar to Apple's payment plan they used to have. When I bought my first iMac it was actually on payment plan where they basically gave you a line of credit and then just, you paid it off like a line of credit and you could make a mistake and use that credit card, which you shouldn't do. But you could just pay it off. My brother bought a computer from Apple through that. And like all payment plans, if you pay attention to the fine print and pay everything on time, it works out just fine for you.

Austin: Right

Gita: If you don't, and that's what they're counting on, then it won't. It will work out badly for you.

Austin: That's where they'll get you.

Patrick: Yeah, it should be clear, if you're on top of things this can work out well for you, but the moment you fall off the track, they make their money somewhere. And so if you're on this payment plan and then you suddenly say “well, I've lost my job, actually this $35 is the difference between putting food on my table and not,” the Xbox [probably] goes away.

Austin: A hundred percent, yes.

Patrick: You don't get to put it in the closet. “Well, I'll pick up that payment plan later.” I presume it's like “we're going to send you a box and you can send that Xbox back.”

Austin: The thing that is probably worth pausing and saying here is, from a purely “I’m a person going about my life in the world” perspective, I think all of this stuff is very enticing to me. But also as a critic, I know that when I'm being enticed, something is happening. And in this case it's Microsoft pushing the shift towards a model that is platforms and services and ongoing subscriptions. I don't know what that leads to in the long run. The classic quote I always bring up in situations like this is the Paul Virilio, “when you invent the ship, you invent the shipwreck” analogy. That when you invent electricity, you invent the electric chair. There was a quote going around from Frederick Pohl, who's a science fiction writer, that was similar “good science fiction shouldn't be able to anticipate the car, it should be able to anticipate the traffic jam.” Which is fucking fantastic, yeah, that is the sci-fi I like, you're right!

I don't know what the traffic jam of this switch [to subscription models] is. I don't know what the unintended, or the intended but obscured, consequences are for pushing this shift so hard. And that does not mean the model we have now is good. And that's part of why I'm able to be enticed, because I look at the model we have now, and I don't think it's good.

Gita: Any alternative to this feels exciting because we don't have any vision of what it would be like to have a video game economy that is more affordable and more accessible.

Patrick: it's not everyone either, right? Like it's, if you, if you look at this model and go "it makes me feel weird. I wanna own disks. I want to, you know, a company that's going in different direction." Like by all accounts, like Sony isn't pushing very hard in this direction. Nintendo is never, like, they're not going to do a subscription service. They would like you to pay $60 for every one of their games, especially their rereleases.

Gita: And then $80 for all the joy-cons that you have to buy.


This transcript was edited for length and clarity. Discussed: News 10:42, Crusader Kings III 53:32, Paradise Killer 1:21:33, Wasteland 3 1:43:44, Gordian Quest 1:57:41, Star Renegades 1:59:42, Special Announcement 2:24:24

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