GamesNetflix: A solution to industry troubles
(I originally wrote this out as a comment on the State of Games article recently posted on The Verge, but it came out too long and too well thought out for just a comment, so I thought I'd post this here to encourage some discussion. I think its time we as gamers had a little discussion on different ways the industry could work, since we've seen what happens when the companies try to figure out how to do things - badly done DRM, overcharging consumers, etc.)
A SOLUTION: A Netflix for Games
With today's game industry grappling to deal with the issues of falling game purchases, a used game market eating revenue, how to correctly do DRM, and with the digital successor to brick&mortar stores, there is a huge opening for a new method of how the game industry interacts with consumers. I think the best solution to the current roster of gaming industry problems is a Netflix for games. For about $30/month you get unlimited access to all games in the library, which will have most to all video games on the market. Considering the value proposition to consumers, of almost all the games they might want for a reasonable monthly subscription rate, I wouldn't doubt that a large majority of people who play games would subscribe to it - from the casual users to the most hardened gamer. And, considering that most don't spend more than ~$360 a year on games, the total industry revenue would increase. Some heavy gamers might claim to spend more than that per year, but they are a relative few compared to the large segment of the market who are casual/moderate gamers and who don't. Even heavy gamers probably spend less than that, and just game a lot on a limited selection of games. This GamesNetflix method would also solve the used games dilemma as this method is superior to the used games market as it allows fair and reasonably-priced use of all games, new or old. But how would this solve DRM...?
DRM For Games Netflix
GamesNetflix would provide a complete solution to fair and effective DRM. To discourage hacking the application/OS itself would be super-hardened against penetration. This would make it ridiculously difficult to penetrate the OS & install an app that would allow side-loading of games, and would absolutely disallow online play because you must have a registered GamesNetflix account to go online. This difficulty, combined with lack of online play, would make it so much of a hassle - and such a limited experience - that most people wouldn't "jailbreak" their systems. Meanwhile, subscribers to GamesNetflix WOULD be allowed to play as much as they wanted offline, including LAN/Wifi connection to other consoles, AS LONG AS they connected to the GamesNetflix server once per month which would tell the OS/App that they indeed do have a valid account for the next month. Think about it, if a user has paid for a FULL month, then there is no risk in allowing the user to go offline for that month, as long as they were forced to go online the next time their billing cycle would be up. AND!! The GamesNetflix company could experiment with offering longer billing cycles (ex. 3 months) for longer offline play for those who needed it and couldn't access the internet very frequently. The number of consoles allowed to be "live" (ie. with a valid key to use the games for the current billing cycle) could be decided to be "fair use" (ie. around 3 or 4) to allow for families with multiple consoles. Thus, every DRM issues is solved. It's extremely difficult to hack, and provides a limited experience, ensuring most gamers subscribe. Subscribers do have a method of offline play, unlike most to all current DRM solutions. And companies are ensured to be paid because gamers are forced to authenticate with servers once per billing cycle, which is very fair. This system also allows for special cases where users may go for a long time without internet with the availability of longer billing cycles.
Getting Physical Copies
Games could be attained via physical medium at a price of cost+10% of that medium; this would be for both users who could not get download the games (ex. poor internet download cap, etc) as well as users who just didn't want to wait. People could go to their local GameStop and buy the game data on a physical medium, it would essentially be paying for an instant-download/offline-copy of the game. This method of getting the actual game data would work perfectly in conjunction with the DRM as explained above, because it really doesn't matter if the user gets the game via the internet or via physical copy, as long as they ensure to sign in to their GamesNetflix account on each device/console once per billing cycle.
Some Thoughts on Revenue Distribution to Developers
As for the monthly subscription rate, the rate listed was an example, but is a good one of how it might work. For example, there could be an algorithm that weighted game popularity combined with game quality/reviews to come up with a percentage of total revenue that should go to the maker of that particular game. Or, each users subscription fee could be divided over the games they accessed that billing cycle (as determined when the user connects to authenticate). Lastly, we could do one of those two combined with a base rate paid to all games that are registered to the GamesNetflix, ensuring everyone gets paid at least a little. Thus, the revenue distribution method options we have so far are:
- Popularity&Ratings based
- What games the users actually played (ex. if you played only two games, each game producer would get one half of your monthly subscription fee)
- Base Rate + Performance (Ex. popularity, ratings, etc)
We could also seperate the games into two or three packages. For example:
- Mainstream for $20/month (ex. COD, BF, Mass Effect, etc)
- Indie for $10/month (ex. Braid, etc, all the indie games)
- Mobile for $10/month (ex. Vita, etc)
Then use the Base+Performance method to divide that revenue up.
Keeping the Old Method of Just Buying a Game
And, lastly, to absolutely make this system of game subscription AMAZING, we could combine all this with actually buying the game. So, if you want, you can buy the game and have access to that game regardless of whether you were a subscriber to GamesNetflix or not. So those users of GamesNetflix who didn't play enough to warrant a subscribtion could just user the service as a marketplace and buy the games they wanted individually for typical retail prices.
With today's game industry grappling to deal with the issues of falling game purchases, a used game market eating revenue, how to correctly do DRM, and with the digital successor to brick&mortar stores, there is a huge opening for a new method of how the game industry interacts with consumers. There is a strong argument for a Netflix-like service which would benefit both users and companies, and would solve the aforementioned industry issues as well as many others. Whether or not the industry could gather together and support a service like this is unsaid, but considering Netflix's success, and the popularity of slightly similar digital marketplaces such as Steam, it definitely is viable.