Tobold's Blog
Friday, November 15, 2019
Consumer advice on subscriptions

In a recent thread some readers suggested I should play The Division 2. The game is not on Steam, but I do have UPlay installed, and so I checked it out there. I could buy that game for €60. Or, for just €14.99 a month, I could subscribe to UPlay+, and play not only The Division 2, but a hundred other Ubisoft games as well. Now I'm not saying that I won't do that; but I would like to give some consumer advice on subscriptions.

I'm old enough to remember door-to-door salesmen peddling subscriptions to magazines. The subscription price seems low compared to having to buy those magazines one by one, plus you get the convenience of having them delivered. So why do companies want to sell you that subscription? Because it makes buying their magazine or whatever the default option, and it makes not buying the more complicated option that requires more effort. Getting you to go to the newsstand every single month to buy a monthly magazine is hard, selling you a subscription once is a lot easier. You can usually count on people being lazy and not thinking deep enough, so they just let their subscriptions run far beyond the point where they would have stopped buying the goods one by one.

So, what's the danger? Surely I can afford €14.99 every month for UPlay+, can't I? Well, the danger, now as back then with the magazines, is getting persuaded to buy more than one subscription. If I subscribe to the Xbox Game Pass for PC, UPlay+, Apple Arcade, Origin Access, and Google Stadia, the subscription fees add up to €50 a month, and that is if I don't take the premium versions of the subscriptions, which can be up to €30 for a subscription. And I would have access to more games than I could actually find the time to play, so some of those subscriptions would remain unused every month. Also I would probably still have to buy some other games, as all of these services combined have only a few hundred games all together, while Steam now has 30,000 games.

So my consumer advice would be to subscribe, but only to one service at a time. Play all the games that interest you, then unsubscribe and subscribe to the next service. I am currently on the Xbox Game Pass for PC, but I will unsubscribe that one to try out Google Stadia for three months. Then I'll unsubscribe from that one, and try either UPlay+ or Origin Access, and so on. I might sometimes have a bit of overlap, but the idea is to be most of the time subscribed to only one service, and never to more than two.

For the record, I am subscribed to both Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, but no third video streaming service. And Amazon Prime doesn't really count, because I order parcels from Amazon frequently enough that the free delivery pays for the cost of the whole service, and Amazon Prime Video is just an extra.

You might want to wait a while on Google Stadia; current reports are not encouraging in terms of availability of promised games and features.
I think of it more like this: I want to play Outer Worlds. Spend a buck for Game Pass, beat Outer Worlds, stop Game Pass sub (unless the next game I want to play is also on Game Pass). Rinse repeat for the next game on whatever subscription service.

Unless its on Steam. Then I just buy it on Steam because that is my 'hub' for gaming and I'm willing to pay extra for the game being integrated into my friends list, stat tracking, and all the other stuff Steam has.
Magazines also want subscribers because the more subscribers they have the more they can charge advertisers. Not really sure what the gaming analogy to that is.
The Division 2 is one of those games that you will play on and off depending on patches and updates. You may play for two months straight because you get hooked and then you simply get bored and let it alone. Then 3 months later the game gets updated (new skills, new loot, new missions, ...) and you come back for another month. Rinse repeat. In this specific case having a monthly subscription is not worth it. Better spend the full $60 once and you're good to go.

Single player games, on the other hand, can be a lot more convenient with a subscription model. You may finish them in a month or two and never play them again. The Outer World seems to be a perfect example, unless you love repeating the main story multiple times of course.
You can still look at the disk / icon / file of a game you own and think of revisiting those happy memories, though! (Of course it your tastes are not too niche, Gog can often provide old classics for a couple of dollars anyway...)
@Gerry Quinn: Thank you for the warning. After having a closer look, it turns out that the handful of games on Google Stadia are *not* all included in the subscription. In fact, it might be only Destiny 2 that is included, at least that is the only confirmed one. So if I want to play Red Dead Redemption 2, I might have to pay an extra €60 on top of the €129 for the controller and Chromecast. I thought Google Stadia was a game subscription service, but in fact it is more like a new brand of console that only plays games already available elsewhere.

No, thanks! I cancelled my order.
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