Should Indie Developers Be Worried About A Netflix Style Gaming Strategy

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Kyle Blooicide

Publish Date:

15 Jul 2021

With Microsoft pushing hard subscriptions for their amazing Games Pass service and competitors trying to actively enter the market with a challenger service, a question has recently come to my mind: Are these services a threat or an opportunity to shine for Indie Game Developers? In this article I’m going to share my opinions based on the available knowledge for these services, sharing both an argument for and against them, ending with my opinion overall. I’d be interested to know your thoughts too, so please take some time to find us on social media and share your thoughts with us.

The Argument Against

The problem with these Netflix style gaming deals is quite simply they hold a very little level of competition, meaning that deals for developers can be completely messy and inconsistent. The supplier is in full control, and you have very limited similar style options. Quite frankly, in the interest of having the best service, most of these suppliers will think along the lines of: The bigger you are, the better your deal. People who run these services need people to subscribe to make money, therefore they need games that will attract gamers to subscribe. To attract the biggest audience these services usually target the A, AA and AAA games developers, with smaller attention on Indie Developers. To be clear, I’m not saying they turn down Indie Devs, I’m just suggesting that they aren’t prioritised. PCGamer reported on an interview from Phil Spencer himself, that partially supports this claim. Quoted here:

“[In] certain cases, we’ll pay for the full production cost of the game. Then they get all the retail opportunity on top of Game Pass. They can go sell it on PlayStation, on Steam, and on Xbox, and on Switch. [...] Sometimes the developer’s more done with the game and it’s more just a transaction of, 'Hey, we’ll put it in Game Pass if you’ll pay us this amount of money […] Others want agreements more based on usage and monetization in whether it’s a store monetization that gets created through transactions, or usage. We’re open [to] experimenting with many different partners, because we don’t think we have it figured out…”

So, what’s clear is that for Indie Developers, there is a small likelihood of getting a strong start-up deal and if you plan on trying to good start-up ‘lump sum’… well you are going to have to push hard to get that with a decent pitch. If you’ve got a good game, and a good marketing strategy, you might find that just selling your game through conventional means will be the best approach… and that’s without even talking about trying to get your game on consoles already. One thing to note though.

The Argument For

Though, to continue the final points mentioned above, games like Fall Guys have absolutely “smashed it” with their popularity and sales performances on launch, lifting the developers straight out of that Indie grouping and straight into the world of AAA success. These have been achieved by doing something bold and enabling players to play the game for free at launch and getting them to realise that the game is much deeper than what appears on the surface. Granted Fall Guys did well because of the PlayStation Plus service, but I think that it could have done as equally well on something like Games Pass.

So, to counter my previous points, sometimes just allowing people to play an Indie Game before buying it can result in a surge of popularity, or even talk amongst friends which spreads, leading to a surge of additional sales for the game. As more and more people play and enjoy the game, the demand for it increases and that can lead to much better business opportunities in the future. So, whilst initially, you might not get a great deal, once a game becomes more in demand, so does its value.

I am a fan of owning my games outright and adding them to the ever-growing collection of games I can call ‘mine’… but because I don’t have an unlimited amount of money, I make sure that I think about what I buy. To this effect, being able to play before I pay helps me buy more indie games. With this, I instantly think about an experience I had with an Indie Game called Spinch. Now if I had passed that on a normal day, I probably would not have picked it up… but I got the opportunity to play it for free and it blew my mind as to how good it was. So, I have since then purchased it on basically every platform it's available on and have a collectors version of the game! I think that these Netflix style services can actually enable more of these types of interactions, which only improves people’s perceptions of Indie Titles.

All in all, my opinion from a business sense is a bit mixed. I think these subscriptions game services are a great thing for consumers but are rocky when it comes to developers. The better you can market your product, the better the deal you will get. Until there are more subscription services out there, then deals are going to be limited and in the meantime for Indie Developers, they will be competing against a huge industry landscape. I do worry about the future of these services though, as If it becomes too competitive of a service,  we could see these suppliers drive down their prices, and pay less to developers. If outright buying a game was a thing of the past, then we could simply see the quality of games decrease and the number of developers out there decreases too. I think that these services offer both opportunity and threats to Indie Developers but ultimately poses as a threat due to the sheer volume of indie games being made.

I’m curious though as to what you think. Do you think similarly to me, or do you think I’m completely wrong? Jump onto our social media pages and share your thought with us, opening the conversation for both consumers and developers alike!

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