Recently I have been pondering over the concept of subscription fees and have been wanting to voice my opinion on them. Of course this is going to be gaming related and as such I will be bringing up the obvious bullshit, however I will also be talking about other subscription models that have popped up in recent years and I will be discussing them as well.
As we all know, subscription models are a means of charging people for time of use as oppose to charging people for a product. As a result, many subscription models are a service, many of which are a necessity for our every day life such as electricity, water and internet.
In recent years however, subscription models have become more popular and more accepted. I personally believe this is dangerous due to the exploitative nature of subscription models. For starters, many subscription payments require people to put their card details onto a website. Now you’re probably wondering how this can be exploitative and while I’m not implying that these companies are robbing people, the intent of the paid subscription model is to gain access to people’s finances more discreetly.
What I mean by this is that subscription services are often unclear as to how they are taking their money off of you. You see, many subscription services have automatic renewal such as Amazon Prime, other subscription services do not such as Twitch subscriptions. Now here’s the juicy part, what is the biggest problem with subscription models? Well it’s not the concept itself, rather it is the intent. Put simply, one of the biggest problems with subscription models is the automatic renewal. Automatic renewal is thought to have been designed around convenience. What it is actually designed to do however is to take money discreetly.
When you put your card details down for a one time payment, you never think about that transaction again. Unfortunately the same goes for subscription payments for some people as they may potentially forget that the transaction ever happened. I know this for a fact as I myself have fallen into this trap. I remember one time looking at my bank statements only to find out that I had been paying for Amazon Prime. Now I had absolutely no idea that I was paying for Amazon Prime for the longest time and if I did know I was paying for it, believe me, I would have taken advantage of it but Amazon Prime had essentially taken a ton of money off of me and I had gotten literally nothing back for it. I had essentially been legally scammed by Amazon.
Now how did this happen you ask? You know when you go to pay for postage and there’s multiple options? Well I accidentally clicked the “free prime postage” option. Now this is a very easy mistake to make as there were two free postage options and they both looked similar so I clicked the first one I saw. Little did I know that I would be signing a contract with Amazon Prime… those sneaky bastards. Now I’m pretty well aware that this was my fault and I accept full responsibility for my fuck ups so don’t think that I am whining about a past experience, I am merely using it as an example to explain to people just how easy it is to fall into the trap and if you fall into it, Amazon are most certainly not going to pull you out of it.
You see, the point that I am trying to make is that the true purpose of the subscription based model is to cause people to fall into the same trap I did. Now I’m not going to presume that everybody uses this model with that intent but I do believe that there are companies that do and as such I cannot stress how dangerous it is for people to accept them in their current state as they can be used as a means of scamming people with subtlety.
Now considering the state of the gaming industry today, the whole concept of subscription models is frightening to me. With so many AAA companies clearly having zero empathy towards the consumer, the concept of the subscription trap is likely one that shows up in board rooms quite often. I’m also certain that this subscription model actually has a direct impact on a game’s design as I have paid subscription fees for games before and every single one of them is coated in filler content. This is what I like to call “psychological engagement”, the means of maintaining people’s engagement by manipulating players into believing that there is a worthwhile reward for overcoming a tedious grind. It is this method of engagement as well as the seemingly harmless aesthetic of the games that cause people to stay subscribed to MMORPG’s.
You see, World Of Warcraft is no different from gambling in terms of how it is presented to players. Like how gambling uses fruit in slot machines, videogames use themes as a means of making players feel unharmed during the exploitation process. When people play World Of Warcraft, they are not drawn in by the rewarding element initially, they are first drawn in by the game’s theme and its aesthetic since it is the very first thing that they see in trailers and when they boot up the game.
Videogames are not predominantly a visual art form and as such, merely having aesthetic appeal is not enough, in marketing however, a strong aesthetic is considered adequate to attracting people’s attention and that’s all that matters in the eyes of publishers. When you consider the fact that the AAA industry puts more money into marketing than they do into development these days, it’s pretty scary to know that psychological engagement is a thing and that games can be sold on just visuals alone. It is this very reason why graphics are the biggest focus in AAA game design today.
As a result, companies that use subscription models can get away with making terrible games so long as they look aesthetically appealing. With that in mind, how does this apply to subscription models themselves? Do you remember the trap that I mentioned earlier? Well the same thing applies here. When you get fed up with a game, what is the first thing you do? You stop playing it. What do you do afterwards? You play/do something else. Do you think about cancelling your subscription? Maybe you do… but not everybody does. If you purchased a game with a one time fee, you can either sell the game or simply never touch the game again. With subscription based games, that isn’t enough, you actually have to cancel your subscription.
Now how does this work with the psychological engagement you ask? Well do you think that grinding is a boring, tedious and monotonous task? If so what is causing you to do these tedious tasks? A fancy new sword is it? Is it possible to question why you are doing such a task? Of course it is. So if you were to question why you are doing it and you couldn’t find an answer, wouldn’t you want to stop playing? Of course you would. Here is the problem, you have invested a lot of hours into this game and you have a lot of nostalgia for it, surely you will go back to it eventually just for a brief moment to look back at all of your accomplishments and see how things are going in the game. Unfortunately however, you terminated your subscription with the game and now you can no longer access it. As such you paid potentially hundreds of dollars for a game that you no longer have access to. How in any way shape or form can you consider this to be ethical!?
Do you now see how problematic subscription based models can be? Subscription based models are essentially a method used to blackmail consumers. This is a huge problem that cannot be ignored and I fear that this model is probably going to be more commonly used in future generation which scares me. Companies will eventually refuse to accept games as a product and will instead treat them as a service. When that time comes, we will no longer have the freedom of choice we have today. It starts with digital only games but eventually subscription models will become the norm, people will become attracted to them and in the long-term this will cause videogames to be primarily subscription based.
You might think I’m crazy for thinking these things but it’s true. With services such as Xbox Game Pass and Playstation Plus in existence, this is starting to become normality and we cannot allow this to happen. Now before I start talking about netflix style game services, I want to make it very clear that I am not against every single subscription service related to game distribution. I am merely against the ones that mislead their customers. Playstation Plus is a perfect example of a subscription based distribution model that misleads their customers. Sony claims that by subscribing to Playstation Plus, you will get free games every month. What they don’t tell you is that if you unsubscribe from Playstation Plus, you will lose access to those games until you re-subscribe. Therefore, claiming that their games are free is a big fat lie, you paid for those games one way or another.
Of course Sony are also notorious for using Playstation Plus as an online paywall which makes it an even worse form of blackmail but even as a subscription based distribution service, it is still unethical. I can’t speak for Xbox game pass but I wouldn’t be surprised if that does the same thing.
Now lets talk about another subscription based model that doesn’t mislead people. Now I know that I have talked about Amazon prime before and how I became a prime member by mistake but the truth is that I actually ended up re-subscribing to them. Why you ask? Because Superhot, a game I desperately needed for a video was offered by Twitch as part of their prime perks. Now despite how annoyed I was at myself for how I accidentally became a prime member before, once I found out how to actually de-activate the automatic renewal, I found a way to game the system. This way I could get a game I wanted for dirt cheap and cancel my subscription immediately so that I not only got the game but also got 1 month of the service with it. The truth is that I got a good deal out of it and once the subscription has ended, I actually got to keep the games I purchased.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not shilling for Amazon Prime, sure I use Amazon Associates with my game reviews but in no other way are they sponsoring me at all. Quite frankly I had heard a lot of bad things about Amazon shortly after I purchased Superhot and as such I can honestly say that Amazon are an awful company and doesn’t deserve our support. However I consider Amazon to be a necessary evil and will continue to use them since aside from my prime situation, I have never had an issue with Amazon as a consumer.
The problem with Amazon is how it treats its employees and I believe that the way they treat their employees is wrong. As a consumer however, I am not going to crusade against Amazon because this doesn’t affect me personally. Call me selfish if you want but I will continue to use the platforms that are most convenient for me and if I will give Amazon anything, they are convenient… even if they are sneaky little bastards with their prime. They also try to sell you credit cards too, the bastards. Put simply, just be careful when using Amazon and you should be fine.
One thing is for certain though, at least Amazon doesn’t blackmail you on the same level Sony and Activision-Blizzard do… unless you care about their netflix style video service in which case… yeah, that’s blackmail but let’s be honest here, the purpose of prime isn’t to distribute videos, the purpose of prime is to cut down postage costs on items you buy as well as all the perks given to you by Twitch prime. Is it worth it? That’s impossible to say. I’d personally tell you not to bother with it but if you can find a way to exploit the model to get something you really need, by all means, go ahead… just be careful.
There is also the Humble Monthly bundle which is $12 a month for a bundle of games including free games you can play immediately. I haven’t tried this bundle yet so I have no comment on it besides the fact that I find it odd how Humble have both regular one time payment bundles and a monthly bundle. Perhaps they think that they can trap people into paying without realizing it but I don’t know. You see, I do not know for certain the intent of game distribution services in general, I only know of the intent of games like World Of Warcraft and certain distribution services.
If anyone has purchased Humble Monthly, fee free to share your experiences with it in the comments. I cannot help but laugh at the possibility of Humble expecting people to subscribe yearly… but who knows? Maybe people do. If you ask me, you’d be foolish to subscribe to Humble Monthly for a year since it is literally a gamble as you do not know what you are getting. Plus who has the time to play all of those games anyways? I can barely cope with 2 games, let alone 6 or more. Ask yourselves this question, is it worth both your time and money to pay for 1 year’s worth of Humble Monthly? Think about that.
In any case, while there may be some certainties related to subscription based models, there are still some uncertainties and as such this topic is still up for discussion, be sure to share your thoughts with me on this as I really do want to know what you guys think about subscription based models.