Call it the end of cable TV as we know it, a threat to cinema, or the death knell to DVD rentals, but Netflix employs a business model that's popular with a colossal number of users. The company recently hit a milestone: 100 million users are now enjoying its monthly pay-up-and-watch-what-you-want scheme.
A version of Netflix could happen to video games, employing a subscription model to play any game you want every month for a price. At least that's what Phil Spencer, Microsoft's head of Xbox, is exploring at present.
A Video Game Version Of Netflix
Speaking with The Guardian, Spencer elaborated his vision for a video game version of Netflix:
• Spencer says that what makes subscription-based services such as Netflix, Amazon, or Hulu popular is because of how strong their original shows or content are. He thinks this model can support narrative-driven games, too.
• Spencer notes that Xbox already has a subscription model in place, the Xbox Game Pass, which offers a variety of games in exchange for a monthly subscription fee.
• Spencer says that games would not have to be complete for such a service, and such a setup would allow developers to parse the game into chunks and release them as episodes.
He thinks we're in the golden age of TV, and he's right. TV at present features so much diversity in terms of characters, stories, and storytelling formats. The binge-watching concept has paved the way for meatier forms of narrative, and it's partly what keeps people glued. Spencer wants this enthusiasm to translate to games, too.
"The storytelling ability in TV today is really high, and I think it's because of the business model. I hope as an industry we can think about the same. [Subscription-based content] might spur new story-based games coming to market because there's a new business model to help support their monetization."
Video Games Are Changing
The way games are played has changed — and is changing, still. Before, a customer would buy a game from a retail store, pop it on the console, and begin playing. Nowadays, one would rarely find a video game that's ready to play out of the box. Only a part of the title is actually on the CD. Often, you need to get online and download other parts of the game to play it in full.
It's a nuisance, of course, but it's a direct response of the world's ballooning consumer electronics technology and accelerating broadband speeds and availability.
These points of discussion are of significant concern for Spencer. He has always prided himself as a champion of video games, as opposed to a heartless corporate big-wig out there to solely milk cash from the video game industry. He genuinely cares about games, himself an ex-game developer. He knows games skin to bone, but that knowledge is changing because games and the way they're played is also changing.
So, will a subscription-based scheme be the next big change for video games? It's a point many will debate for a long time. Is it profitable from a developer's standpoint? Will it attract a large group of audiences, and in turn pave the way for more games to be made? Will it introduce a new concept of media consumption akin to binge-watching?
For now, there are no answers to these questions. But you can be sure that the head of Xbox is thinking about it seriously.