Up For Debate – Are gaming subscriptions like Uplay and Xbox Game Pass worth the money?

When Uplay+ launched earlier this week, we actually ran a quick poll to see what everyone here on GD thought of it. The results were quite eye-opening. Uplay+, for the uninitiated, is a PC gaming service which grants subscribers access to a growing library of more than 100 Ubisoft titles. It’s basically every Ubisoft title available on PC, as well as all of its DLC. The $15 subscription also includes day one access to the ultimate editions of upcoming titles such as Ghost Recon Breakpoint and Watch Dogs Legion.

There’s usually a big backlash to subscription services in the comments on similar stories but, based on this fairly small sample of results, 71% of those polled will be giving the Uplay+ free trial a go, and 23% said they’d be willing to pay for a subscription, either a permanent one or an occasional sub for the big games.

That’s certainly a bigger percentage than we were expecting and perhaps a telling sign of things to come for the gaming market. Right now, gaming is still a relative outsider in the entertainment world in  terms of how our content is delivered to us. For TV, movies, books, music, and comics, there are plenty of widely-used services like Spotify, Netflix, Hulu, Comixology and Audible which grant us access to a bewildering array of content.

Games are dragging behind though, presumably down to a number of factors such as the size of game downloads, unreliability of streaming options, preference for physical media, and the massive disparity between the prices games launch at and how much they cost in a sale two years down the line. A book that was $10 five years is usually still $10 today, while games hold their value as well as a sieve holds water. For all these reasons, and more, we’re still tiptoeing into content-on-demand gaming services.

We are getting there though. Uplay+ has now launched. Xbox Game Pass is earning all the headlines. Origin Access Premier can save us from making costly mistakes, and PlayStation Now is, er, we’re not sure actually.

But are you ready for subscription gaming to become the norm? Could it perhaps forever change how games are delivered to us? Will the value come from the length of time we engage with a title rather than the inherent quality, and would this mean developers will begin to tailor their games towards endless engagement and the daily grind rather than a two-hour gem? 

Before all of that, however, the publishers need to get us subscribing first. There’s a whole lot going on when it comes to subscription services, both in terms of how we think, how marketing can train us to think, and the ways in which we can be manipulated. It’s a big leap from offering us a new way of doing things and us actually doing it, although we foresee a gradual erosion in resistance just as we saw in the move from physical to digital.

The bottom line of any subscription service is the provider, in this case Ubisoft, believes they can get more money out of everyone paying a smaller amount, regularly, rather than a fewer users spending bigger chunks occasionally. The end goal, as always, is to make more money. We all know that, which obviously makes us wary, but a company making more money doesn’t necessarily mean we’re getting a worse deal because of it. 

Netflix, as an example, is obviously very hit and miss in terms of quality, but so was/is cable TV. The difference being, Netflix arrived at £6 a month versus £30+ a month for satellite telly. It’s also more convenient  in terms of watching (mostly) what you want, when you want. The point being, subscription services tend to use cheap pricing and ease of use to weasel their way into our lives. Before we know it, it’s just another part of our essential monthly outgoings alongside all the other bills.

At $15 a month, Uplay+ is definitely on the expensive side in terms of subscription packages. It’s basically the same as Origin Access Premier, which is $15 per month or $100 for an entire year. Origin Access Premier does include a growing library of non-EA titles though, as well as the reduced rate for an annual subscription. What makes both of these services look bad is Xbox Game Pass and Xbox Game Pass for PC. There’s so many discounted deals that can be had for Game Pass it’s a bit ridiculous. Microsoft keep handing out $1 months and the like. Once Game Pass for PC settles tough, it’ll be $9.99 a month and already includes a list of games into the hundreds, including titles from dozens of different developers. Next to this, paying $15 flat per month to access Ubisoft’s three, maybe four AAA games release a year does seem a little steep.

Some of you have probably been doing some internal arithmetic while reading that last paragraph as well. It doesn’t take Einstein to work out that with all these publishers offering competing services, we’re set to have a very fractured marketplace for subscription services. If you want to subscribe to Uplay+, Origin Access Premier, and Xbox Game Pass for PC, you’re looking at $40/month, $480 a year. That’s a GeForce RTX 2070 every year, on playing three publishers’ games.

But, the truth of the matter is it’s never as simple as this. We can look at it logically for as long as we want, but subscription services thrive on the illogical masquerading as the logical. Let’s take Ubisoft as an example. Over the coming year, Ubisoft will release Ghost Recon Breakpoint, Watch Dogs Legion, Gods & Monsters, The Settlers, and Skull & bones.. It’s unlikely many people actually want all of these games, but I’d imagine most of us would like to play to at least play a couple of these at launch. So let’s say March 6th, 2020 rolls around, and Watch Dogs Legion is about to release. We can either pay $60 for the basic version, $100 for the Ultimate Edition, or we could spend $15 to activate a Uplay+ version of Watch Dogs Legion and play the Ultimate Edition content. I think a lot of folks will choose the subscription option, and then Ubisoft has you right where they want to.

You see, Ubisoft’s plan is going to be a whole lot more thorough than EA’s shabby excuse for a subscription service. The French publisher has been sowing the seeds for years now, supporting practically all of its games for years after launch, even the ones that haven’t necessarily ever succeeded. Steep is in its 3rd year of DLC conent. Ghost Recon Wildlands has been supported right up to Breakpoint’s launch. For Honor is somehow getting season after season of content. And there are the obvious success stories like Rainbow Six Siege.

Ubisoft has planted expectations of fantastic post-launch support, and now it’s poised to make a crap ton of money from it. You can bet that every major game that comes to Uplay+ will have a ton of post-launch support. And you can also bet that Ubisoft will stagger the release of expansions, maps, and other goodies so there’s always something new every month for at least a couple of its games. This will keep subscribers hooked between the tentpole releases, hanging onto their subscriptions while they wait for that next bit of content which is right around the corner. It’s a deliciously capitalist way of doing things but it’s absolutely a game plan worth pursuing for Ubisoft.

Which all circles us back around to the games themselves, and how such a move will forever alter how they are delivered to us. Were services like Uplay+ to take off, it wouldn’t serve Ubisoft well to give us a complete gaming package in one go. They’d want to carve it up further, spreading the goodness month to month. We’ll keep playing and talking about their games for years rather than weeks or months, and every one of those months, another $15 will drip from our bank accounts to Ubisoft’s vault.

It’s certainly shaking up to be interesting times, and we’d love to hear your thoughts on subscription gaming services. Are you willing to pay for a Netflix-type service for games? If not, what could convince you? And do you think subscription gaming could fundamentally change what games we get and how we’re given them? Get voting and let us know your thoughts on the situation below!