#133: All you can eat

Subscription services are irresistible value. But they're changing the way we consume, think about, and fall in love with games. I am starting to worry about it.

#133: All you can eat
Photo by Ulysse Pointcheval on Unsplash

On Monday I wrote, at my customary slightly excessive length, about my struggle to find a new game to fall in love with: a game to call my home. As I sat down to write it, I believed that my inability to find a new forever game — my next Destiny, Street Fighter IV or Slay The Spire — was in part a reflection of my own changing tastes, and in part a matter of how today’s games are being designed. But the overwhelming response to Monday’s edition (it quickly became the most-commented Hit Points to date, sparked a thoughtful discussion on Twitter, and the back-and-forth in the Hit Points Discord went on for several days) has prompted a rethink. Evidently I am not alone in struggling to truly connect with games at the moment.

The biggest single factor, it appears, is the change in how we all consume games, prompted by endless freebies and new arrivals on subscription services. With so much choice before us, we are forever conscious that maybe the game we’re playing isn’t the one; that maybe a better use of our time is a few button presses away. It is not just that choice exists. Rather it is that we are actively and endlessly being presented with it. (Since I started typing this my phone’s Game Pass app has pinged me about all this week’s new additions. Talk about timing.) It nudges us towards, as one Monday commenter sagely pointed out, a sort of Tinder mentality. It is no surprise that we should find ourselves struggling to devote ourselves to a single game when we are being so frequently encouraged to get out there and play the field. (I will leave the dating analogy here, lest things get suddenly mucky.)

I find this abrupt shift in our collective mindset quite concerning. I think we all knew that the rise of subscription services would change the way we consumed games, just as we approach an à la carte menu differently to an all-you-can-eat buffet. These services, by their very design, encourage us to be less discerning and more consumptive, changing our motivations from ‘I like the look of this game and think I will enjoy playing it’ to ‘Well it’s there, and it’s free, so I might as well check it out’. I think, whether consciously or not, we all sort of saw this coming, but I admit I did not expect it to happen so quickly, or so widely — or for it to result in us feeling a little less connected to the medium we all love, and in which many of us earn a living.

Nor did I foresee the knock-on effects. Already I am seeing worrying evidence that ‘I’ll wait until it’s on Game Pass’ is the new ‘I’ll wait for a sale’. And yeesh, that isn’t good. Gaming in the 2010s was about asking yourself if you really had to have a hot new game at launch, or could hold off a few months for the inevitable waves of ever-deeper discounts to begin. In the 2020s, it is still about that — but it is also about whether you can wait for it to be free, or at least subscription-airquotes free. We have all, I am sure, experienced the pain of buying a game at full price, and barely playing it before its price is slashed in a sale. An ever-growing number of us have no doubt had a similar experience with a game that has popped up on Game Pass within weeks of our purchasing it. That will no doubt become even more of a trend. For how long, in this environment, will we continue to take the risk of paying full price for anything? The smarter thing is to wait, surely — and with so many free or free-ish games to tide you over, the wait is easier to endure than ever.

This is a problem Sony has given itself this month with the launch of Nu-PS Plus, which finally landed in the UK yesterday. Firstly and most obviously, it is just one more way for players to get their mitts on hot thirdparty games for sort-of-free, and therefore one more reason to hold off buying games at launch. But a bigger potential concern for Sony is what our new buffet mentality might do to sales of its firstparty games. I understand, broadly agree with, and have covered before Sony’s reluctance to follow Microsoft and put all its firstparty wares on Nu-Plus at launch. Its business is too reliant on blockbuster exclusives that cost fortunes to develop, that retail for the highest mainstream price the industry has ever known, and sell in the tens of millions.

But there are enough reasonably recent firstparty games in the Nu-Plus launch catalogue to potentially undermine that. Returnal is on there, barely a year after release, so let us use that as a yardstick. The £70 price point Sony introduced in the transition to PS5 has made us all think a little more carefully about what we are prepared to pony up for at launch. It remains to be seen just how much impact Nu-Plus has on this equation, but given the way Game Pass has changed our attitude to such things it seems inevitable that Sony’s sales model will be disrupted, to some degree, by its overhauled subscription service. The company may, before long, have some difficult decisions to make about how it makes firstparty games, and how and when they arrive on Nu-Plus.

As someone professionally invested in the game industry, and sympathetic to those that work in it, all this worries me. I fear that game sales will fall, subscriptions will become the norm, and developers will have no option but to launch their games on them because they just can’t shoulder the risk of going it alone. As someone who has played and loved games nearly all his life, it worries me even more. We have never had more games to play, and yet as I have learned this week, many of us have never felt less connected to them. One of my favourite things in games is that surge of hype and discussion when some hot new thing launches — when it feels like the entire connected world is playing something, unable to talk or think about anything else. It would be a shame if that went away because we were all too afraid of paying through the nose for something that experience tells us will, before long, be offered to us on a plate. But in the game industry’s buffet era, it feels to me worryingly inevitable, and Nu-Plus has done nothing but speed that process up.


Honestly there was so much good stuff said around Monday’s edition and I cannot choose. I love all respondents equally. (Also it is Friday and I am tired.) Just go read the post comments, maybe some Twitter stuff, and definitely check out the Discord discussion.


  • Some quick Nu-Plus thoughts: PS4/5 lineup surprisingly good, PS3 catalogue fine but undermined by streaming, retro offering abysmal. Pretty much what I expected going in, really. What I wasn’t prepared for was how absolutely terrible the user experience is. The layout is a disaster, the taxonomy is even worse, it takes ages to find something specific, and I’m getting ‘thank you for your purchase’ emails every time I download a game. I am far too much of a realist to have expected Sony to get this right on day one, but never in my wildest dreams did I imagine it could have made this much of a mess of it. Catalogue services exist, you guys! So do websites, now I think of it! Perhaps you could have a look at some of them, then come back and give this another crack.
  • Ubisoft CEO — sorry, beleaguered Ubisoft CEO — Yves Guillemot is forgoing a third of his salary after the publisher’s failure to hit financial forecasts. He will now take home just the €624,824, the poor sausage. That doesn’t sound like much for a gaming CEO, does it? Good.
  • Everywhere’s Geoff Keighley will be rubbing his hands together at Sony becoming the latest company to publicly opt out of having a presence at Gamescom. Nintendo, Activision Blizzard and Take-Two have already said they won’t be at the show in Cologne in August. Geoffcom it is, then.
  • The former CEO of PlayStation Visual Arts and creative director of Days Gone have announced new studio Liithos, and debut game Ashfall, “the first true Web 3 triple-A title” for PC, consoles and the Hedera network, which the press release says is — ah, who cares. Pressed by Axios on if this meant Sony and Microsoft were now welcoming blockchain bollocks with open arms, Liithos co-founder Michael Mumbauer said: “It isn't only Web 3. It's also a console/PC game off chain.” So not Web 3 at all then, if we’re honest? Right you are.
  • Creative Assembly has announced its long-rumoured multiplayer shooter, Hyenas. As someone smarter than me pointed out in one of my many secret Slack channels, whenever you see a multiplayer game announced these days your first reaction is ‘well, good luck with that’. I do understand why game companies keep trying, though. Warzone aside the dominant multiplayer games of the day all came out of nowhere. No reason to believe your game can’t be the next one, though obviously the odds are pretty long.
  • I may have to eat my words about Netflix’s move into games: in addition to the forthcoming release of Sam Barlow’s Immortality, the streaming service has announced that an expanded mobile port of the sublime Into The Breach will stomp robotically onto the platform next month.
  • First you couldn’t buy a console: now Microsoft has admitted that “supply disruptions” have sparked a shortage in Xbox controllers. I’ve got an old 360 one with a dangerously frayed cable that any desperate mug is welcome to. A snip at £200.

That will do, I think! Gosh, this has been yet another week. I do like being busy, to be clear, but I also like sleep, and there hasn’t been enough of that of late. Of course, if every single Hit Points reader took out a paid subscription for the princely sum of $5 a month, I’d never have to chase down a consulting gig again, and could be tucked up in bed by 10pm every night, as a man of my advancing years probably should be.

Oh, and one more thing. Substack introduced a new Recommendations system a couple of months ago. I was super sceptical about it but then a few other newsletters recommended me and, hoo boy, I like Recommendations now. Hit Points has grown by over 15% in the last six weeks. Recommendations have been the main driver of that — and those that have come from one newsletter in particular.

I would therefore like to shout out, particularly to industry pals, Simon Carless’ GameDiscoverCo, which is an excellent source of insight on discoverability. I promise I am not just saying that because he’s sent me nearly 300 readers (though it helps, sure). But look, if you make games for a living and aren’t already signed up, you really should be, I think. Go:

The GameDiscoverCo newsletterAnalysis, data and insight about how people find & buy video games in the 2020s.By Simon Carless

Have an excellent weekend, whatever you have planned. We’ve had burly men with loud tools round this week, clearing the embarrassing jungle we once called a back garden. I’m looking forward to getting out there this weekend, and making plans for what to do with it in the future. Exciting dad stuff really. What have I become.

Anyway! Have a good one, and I’ll see you all next week. Cheerio!