20/05/2021   Louise Shorthouse
Games content subscription services prompt a range of publisher strategies

Large publishers are taking different approaches to the growing subscription service market in the games space: EA stands alone in being highly active in a multitude of channels, from direct-to-consumer offers to integration into other services; other publishers with sizable catalogues have not committed to their own offerings, but are scattering content liberally throughout others’. There are also those with eminent content but minimal presence, with inactivity indicating a wait and see attitude, or perhaps a precursor to their own first-party services.

EA titles now outnumber those from Microsoft in XBGPU

EA is the most active publisher in the games subscription service space by number of titles available, and it has a unique strategy in terms of the distribution of its content. It boasts five of its own separate services across console and PC, has titles listed in global services such as PlayStation Now and Blacknut, and is also present in local cloud gaming services such as France’s Orange Jeux and Italy’s TIM Games. This is probably a transitional phase; consolidation of EA’s first-party offerings is likely in the future

Thanks to Microsoft’s recent acquisition of ZeniMax Media, multiple Bethesda titles now reside in XBGPU under Microsoft’s name. However, in mid-March, EA Play PC became available to XBGPU members at no additional cost, boosting EA’s presence by more than 60 titles. EA games are now the most numerous in XBGPU at more than 100. One of Microsoft’s key areas of competition with Sony is concerning sports games – most notably FIFA titles – in Europe, where PlayStation has been historically strong. The addition of a range of FIFA content in Game Pass positions the service as a lower-cost alternative for football fans.

Embracer Group, Sega and Disney cast a wide net

At 23 titles in XBGPU as of April 2021, Embracer Group is the third largest publishing parent company to feature by number of games. It is also the most active company within the games subscription space, largely due to its slew of acquisitions in recent years, including Koch Media and Saber Interactive without a direct-to-consumer offer. Embracer’s approach is more about scattering content across multiple services, and the nature of its subsidiaries as operating independently suggests there may not be a unified strategy across the wider business.

Sega and Disney both list multiple titles in seven of the eight tracked subscription services that offer third-party content. Disney titles are most numerous in PlayStation Now and EA Play Pro for PC, with multiple historic Star Wars titles available across virtually every service. These are games which are probably selling very little as individual products, but carry the weight of a renowned IP when appealing to users in a content-based subscription service.

Activision Blizzard and Take-Two remain sedentary

Take-Two, the parent of multiple companies including 2K and Rockstar, has publicly stated that it is sceptical of subscription services as significant market disruptors, believing that the price point for owning a game is reasonable. This suggests that a direct-to-consumer offer is not on the cards for the near future, but that the company is happy to support services with its catalogue titles, in a thus-far limited fashion.

Activision Blizzard has been similarly inactive in the subscription space, with only two titles listed in Blacknut and PlayStation Now (PS Now) respectively, and no presence at all in Xbox Game Pass. Call of Duty: Black Ops III, the only high-profile title out of the four, became available to PS Now users in February, and left the service at the end of April. Given the scale and profitability of the Call of Duty (CoD) franchise, it is perhaps no surprise that Activision has so far decided not to add any titles to Game Pass.

There is also evidence that Activision is collaborating more closely with Sony: CoD Warzone users on PlayStation have recently been given access to benefits such as extra loadouts, an exclusive zombie mode, and a 10% experience bonus for those playing with other PlayStation users. It is possible that Activision Blizzard will pursue its own direct-to-consumer offering, and there is potential for the integration of a service into its PC-based Battle.net launcher.

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