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If Subscription Models are the Future of Sports Gaming, What Does That Look Like?

Sports Gaming

If Subscription Models are the Future of Sports Gaming, What Does That Look Like?

Last week, EA CEO Andrew Wilson hinted very strongly that a sports gaming subscription model was coming.

Today we’re taking a step back from that and discussing what such a model could mean for the future of sports games in a new roundtable. Let’s dive in!

Kevin Scott

I suppose my biggest concern about a subscription model is that it would remove the inherent accountability that accompanies an annual release for game companies. If they are freed from having to release a game every year, will that mean they drag their heels a bit in making improvements to the game?

The counter-argument to that thought is perhaps it actually ends up doing the opposite. Without having to rush to get a game on shelves by a certain date, companies could make more substantial changes on the fly and provide a better product without people having to wait until next year for things to get fixed.

The truth is that in the already patch-heavy landscape of sports gaming, this probably isn’t as monumental or even all that surprising an innovation as it initially might seem to be. Assuming the price of a subscription isn’t all that crazy, of course…

Elliott Jenkins

It would really depend on the price. If it is too high, it could be a deterrent to get casual or new players from picking up the title. As a casual/learning hockey fan, I saw a great deal on NHL 18 this year and scooped it up. I love every minute of it. but the price point was a colossal incentive to take a chance on the title. I would not have done the same thing if I had to opt into a $100 subscription model. But if the model is, say, Netflix priced between $8-$11 a month and includes a free trial? Then that’s a different story.

Outside of a lack of a rush to meet the release deadline, what exactly do even hardcore players gain from the subscription model? What could publishers offer to justify a higher price tag? MLB The Show offered considerable free in-game updates all season long and have more expansions planned for the offseason. How would DLC factor in? As a die-hard MLB fan, I cannot think of what would justify the need for a subscription from a content expansion perspective. Unless they suddenly converted free content into subscription-only content, which would not go over well with any franchise’s fan base.

Matt Llewellyn

I actually have the opposite concern with a subscription model. We’ve already seen examples of nickel and diming consumers in the current sports game climate, and going to a subscription-based model could actually exacerbate the microtransaction problem we currently see with games like NBA 2K.

How will the price of subscription be decided? What falls inside of that subscription and what must be paid for above and beyond that?

On top of that, having a subscription model could make it harder to take care of legacy issues within a game engine. Madden just recently switched to a new game engine and has started to iron out some of the old legacy issues that haunted the Ignite engine. If they were doing a subscription model that is theoretically concentrating on incremental updates, I don’t know if the resources to change game engines would’ve been there.

Even current subscription-model games such as World of Warcraft still release full-priced expansions that include engine and meta updates for the game on top of the monthly premium charged. I can see how going to a subscription model could be problematic for consumers’ wallets.

Brian O’Neil

With my beloved NBA 2K I feel like it already is a subscription ($59.99, yearly), with a ton of patches and updates in between. So maybe they should just make it official.

Let’s say $5 a month ($60/yr, or basically the same price to us) becomes the new norm. Then they hopefully aren’t worrying about hitting that September release date, and can focus on releasing awesome features and content when they’re ready. Let’s allow the artists to create art at their own pace. Innovation might not come yearly (because each new game has to have that blockbuster feature to get us to buy the new version), but maybe they can swing for the fences on stuff like augmented reality, or in pursuit of ideas we can’t even fathom right now. That’s the idealized version of this, I suppose.

The cynical side is that we’re paying $5 a month for nothing more than roster updates because “they got us.” If subscription is the way of the future, I’m keeping my fingers crossed it’s the former, not the latter.

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Discussion
  1. Like I said on the comments for the previous article, if they shift to the subscription model, I'm done. Period. End of story.
    I want to own my games, not pay someone for a long term rental.
    I don't have a ton of time for gaming these days, and would definitely fall in the "casual" category. Typically I'll wait until a game is on sale and then play that for two or even three years before upgrading. Not sure there is even a place for folks like me in the new world??? When I do play sports games, I usually do along with the real season, so in February, any football games go up on the shelf.....and at that point, I don't think I will be too inclined to pay a subscription fee, nor deal with the hassle of cancelling. Meh, will be interesting when more details roll out.
    We can talk about things like this as if they are simply natural progressions but what we need to accept is that none of these things will become reality unless there is a benefit to the developers.
    If EA went 100 to 150 bucks a year I would be okay with that if it was there entire sports library. However what happens if I want the deluxe Edition for let's say NHL then what.   
    I doubt that this model would be considered if the developers didn't see the potential for increased profits. Let's not kid ourselves into thinking it will be done because it's what gamers want. Problem is, with limited competition in some sports games and none in others they will do what's best for them and we'll pay what they ask.
    I share the concerns of The Senator and Cardot. As strictly an offline gamer, who usually only plays sporting games during the season of that sport, I would have almost no interest in a subscription. Since I only play Franchise/Career play, updated rosters have no meaning for me. I rarely buy a game when it first comes out, and have stopped buying each year's release (as I had for many years in several sports). There is no way I am playing MORE than $60 a year/season for a game. I am not sure where this leaves me.
    I buy 1 EA title (Madden) every year and dabble if FIFA or NHL or one of their racers or shooters every other -or- every third year (or pick them up when the price drops to $30 or lower)....so in other words I buy 1.5 EA titles a year (on average). Any thing that charges me more than $90 a year and forces me to spend beyond that is where I tap out. I don't really care if I "own" a disk or not and usually buy the digital versions of these games anyway. 
    I will not be paying for a game after I already bought it.
    I don't buy  every year already, since I play NBA, NFL, and NHL and like to get thru multiple seasons of my Offline Franchise mode.
    So if this is where you have to pay more thanonce I would not be interested. I don't play each game enough for it to be worth it.
    I cannot fathom the idea of not owning a copy. I not only play sports game .but also have been an avid collector of 2k, Madden and the Show since each titles inception.  I even go out of the way to buy the old games for $2 -$10 bucks a pop  when I can find them at local retailers.  I am afraid this strategy will only price out great titles and the days of games today to be tomorrows nostalgia for the next generation of kids and adults will be no more...I guess I'm just trying to hold on to simple more cost effective times.
    Over the last 3 years I've moved completely away from consoles and back to PC gaming. This matters because EA doesn't bring any of their sports games to PC but Fifa so if that trend continues then I'm done with all sport games.
    I have to many games I enjoy playing which don't feature any type of subscription model and I won't jump on that train now. EA created this problem of micro-transactions when Madden Ultimate team took off. They saw people were willing to drop real cash in hopes of improving their team, thus the pay to win model was created. This has now impregnated various titles from CS:GO Skins, H1Z1 loot crates, Hearthstone card decks, to naturally the sports gaming landscape aka EA Sports. It's a very troubling trend that isn't going away anytime soon.
    Gamers continue to complain about it, but until they stop taking part in it (spending money) companies will continue to try to nickle & dime the industry.
    Phobia
    Over the last 3 years I've moved completely away from consoles and back to PC gaming. This matters because EA doesn't bring any of their sports games to PC but Fifa so if that trend continues then I'm done with all sport games.
    I have to many games I enjoy playing which don't feature any type of subscription model and I won't jump on that train now. EA created this problem of micro-transactions when Madden Ultimate team took off. They saw people were willing to drop real cash in hopes of improving their team, thus the pay to win model was created. This has now impregnated various titles from CS:GO Skins, H1Z1 loot crates, Hearthstone card decks, to naturally the sports gaming landscape aka EA Sports. It's a very troubling trend that isn't going away anytime soon.
    Gamers continue to complain about it, but until they stop taking part in it (spending money) companies will continue to try to nickle & dime the industry.

    Not quite, EA lifted the concept from mobile gaming by-and-large. Loot box mechanics also were commonplace in Japanese and Korean MMORPGs long before any game included them stateside, console or mobile. In addition, Zynga had a hand in popularizing the model stateside well before EA touched it with their free-to-play games on Facebook such as Zynga Poker, YoVille, and FarmVille.
    Point being, EA absolutely wasn't the industry leader on this. Rather, they saw where the industry was going and went with that flow, just like literally every other AAA publisher has at this point.

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