Tobold's Blog
Thursday, April 27, 2023
Humankind has a problem

While the title is probably more than true for the real humankind, in this post I am talking about the 4X strategy game Humankind from Amplitude Studios, published by Sega. The game is two years old now, and it isn't selling very well. So there currently is an 80% discount for the game on Steam, plus a new DLC that you can get for free if you get it before May 10. I would advise against it. I played 70 hours of Humankind and kind of liked it, but I never bought the game. It was, and still is, available as part of the Game Pass for PC. So for the same $9.99 you could spend on the discounted Humankind, you could also get a full month of Game Pass for PC, and play Humankind plus a bunch of other games. You don't get that free DLC, but who cares? And given that Humankind only has a 77 Metascore, and mixed review on Steam, trying it out as part of a bundle might be the better strategy anyway.

The timing is awful, because Paradox's Age of Wonders 4 is just around the corner, and will presumably be the "game of the year" in the 4X category. But the bigger problem is obviously the Game Pass. Even Microsoft recently had to admit (as part of their regulatory filing for their failed takeover of Activision Blizzard) that the Game Pass cannibalizes sales. The regular price for Humankind is still $50 on both Steam and Epic, and anyone who knew that Humankind was on the Game Pass probably preferred 5 months of that to buying the game.

You can buy a collection of 4 seasons of The Crown on DVD on Amazon for $36, which corresponds to 2 to 5 months of a Netflix subscription, depending on the subscription plan. While that situation looks somewhat similar to trying to sell computer games that are available on Game Pass, it is not exactly the same. A physical DVD has some practical advantages over a stream, like portability (I once watched Netflix on the go on a 4G connection, but that exceeded my mobile data limit and cost me dearly). For computer games there is less of a difference: Downloading the game from Steam and Epic and playing it is functionally identical to downloading it from the Game Pass and playing it.

I have no idea what the financial conditions for game studios and publishers are on the Game Pass. But there must be some financial interest, because there are 436 games on the Game Pass for PC currently, and they aren't all old or published by Microsoft. But the parallel offering of a game on the Game Pass and other online stores to me looks like a trap for suckers who weren't aware of the Game Pass offer. As that sucker could well be me, I am now using Game Pass Compare, which allows me to check my Steam Wishlist against games available on Game Pass.

The other difference between DVDs and games is that, as many are now realizing, tv shows and movies swap steaming services frequently and sometimes vanish from all of them. If you want to watch a number of seasons of a show you'd need to check not only that it was available on your streaming platform of choice but also that it was going to be staying there long enough for you to find time to watch all of the episodes. You'd also want to be pretty sure you'd only want to see it once.

If you want to take your time and watch at your own pace with no pressure to get it over with or you think it's a show you'd like to come back to again, maybe several times, you;d be better off buying the DVD. Once you've done that it's yours to enjoy until society collapses. Games, on the other hand, almost all require some form of internet connection to play these days, so the attraction of owning a physical copy barely exists - if a physical copy even exists, which mostly it won't for PC games.
I assume companies get a lump of money up front from Microsoft to host the game on Gamepass. This could be very attractive for strategy games and other more niche titles who don't benefit from the massive day one sales that FPS and action games get but who normally get a lot of their sales spread out over time. Up front money from Microsoft could well be a welcome trade off against reduced long run sales on other platforms.
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