Another shot has been fired in the war against physical media. In a recent interview with GamesIndustry.biz, Ubisoft’s director of subscriptions, Philippe Tremblay, talked about the video game company’s new subscription service, Ubisoft+. (Disney really started a trend with that plus sign, huh?) When asked about gaming subscription services becoming the dominant form of purchasing games – or, rather, the ability to play them as long as the hosting company decides to let you – Tremblay said something that has gamers worrying about the future of their favorite form of entertainment:
“One of the things we saw is that gamers are used to, a little bit like DVD, having and owning their games. That’s the consumer shift that needs to happen. They got comfortable not owning their CD collection or DVD collection. That’s a transformation that’s been a bit slower to happen [in games]. As gamers grow comfortable in that aspect… you don’t lose your progress. If you resume your game at another time, your progress file is still there. That’s not been deleted. You don’t lose what you’ve built in the game or your engagement with the game. So it’s about feeling comfortable with not owning your game.”
To be fair to the man, Tremblay also stressed that this is a choice Ubisoft wants to afford gamers, that they’ll still be able to purchase hard copies of their games:
“We offer purchase, we offer subscription, and it’s the gamer’s preference that is important here.”
But he also seems dismayed by the idea of people buying physical copies, even if they subscribe to the online service and purchase the disc after they’ve tried the game online:
“There are definitely a lot of people who come in for one game and then decide to buy it after [the subscription ends]. That’s part of the reality and that’s ok with us.”
So, on the surface, it seems like Ubisoft simply wants to give gamers a choice about how they play their games. But the problem comes with them pushing their subscription service, the notion of “feeling comfortable with not owning your game.” Because that’s correct: when you “buy” a game online, just like a movie or TV show, you only have access to it as long as the service allows you to do so. They can revoke your access at any time. But if you have a hard copy, you have the game, and that’s it. It’s installed on your game system or computer, and you can play whenever you want.
Another drawback to subscription services is that they can alter the product without telling you, and you’re stuck with the new version. They’ve done this with movies; the classic film The French Connection was edited on the Criterion Channel, and no one was alerted. Unfortunately, they can now do this to video game hard copies through mandatory updates. A while back, BioWare altered the ending of Mass Effect 3 after fans expressed their displeasure. Whether this was good or bad in terms of the story is irrelevant; they changed an existing story, and there’s no reason a video game company can’t do it again on a larger scale. Suppose Rockstar suddenly decides that a Grand Theft Auto game is too violent, so they soften it up. It may seem crazy right now, but so did changing an Oscar-winning film a few months ago.
And despite Tremblay’s assurances, it’s getting harder to get ahold of physical media. Best Buy has stopped selling hard copies of movies and games in their stores. It’s hard to imagine something like GameStop doing the same – what would they sell otherwise? But the idea of eliminating physical copies is music to the ears of companies that want to control what you play, how you play it, and whether they have to spend money manufacturing discs that, depending on the game’s popularity, may not sell. In Australia and New Zealand, Disney has stopped making physical copies of its content available. If video game companies do the same here, GameStop’s desire to remain a viable enterprise won’t matter. Hold on to your discs, folks.