As I mentioned in my previous article, I think that Xbox’s Game Pass (a “Netflix for games”) is probably going to end up as the future of the way we pay for games. While I do think it will benefit smaller games with more stable funding, I worry about the cultural outcomes. A streaming service that puts 100’s of games at the player’s fingertips can lead to more homogenized games and shorter player attention spans.
We have seen this change take place in the television industry, with streaming services becoming more prevalent and all but taking over traditional TV, people’s appetites have become more and more insatiable. Shows are watched in their entirety in a week and then tossed aside like yesterday’s trash. Talked about excessively for a few fleeting days, and then forgotten. I am concerned that this could reach games through these services. People will play a game for a few hours, stop, and then move on to something else. Games won’t be appreciated for the years of work that go into them, and peoples attention spans will grow short. Games are usually intended to be enjoyed and appreciated; if I buy a game, that is the game I play for a while. It would be a travesty to see gaming meet the same fate as television.
If it did, developers would potentially move on quicker and put less care into their games. There would be no need for secrets or easter eggs if the game won’t be replayed. No need for variety if after people see the credits, they will just move on. Games like Nier Automata saw great praise and success because of their ability to be replayed and see different endings. I honestly can’t say definitively if a game like that would exist in a world where streaming services are the primary way to consume games. This isn’t to say that everyone forgoes appreciating games in favor of the next big thing, and indeed many dedicated fans would remain enthralled with their favorite series. However, the general audience could easily see a shift into shorter attention spans. We see that when people are presented with a great number of options at once, they tend to burn out quicker rather than staying for the full experience.
This wouldn’t necessarily damage the industry, but rather dilute it. In a world with infinite content, games are one of the last solaces of lengthy experiences. Seeing games transform into a similar medium to industries like the television or movie industry might seem appealing, but can culturally shift the industry negatively. While an amazing business tactic that will bring in tons of revenue for indies and AAA studios alike, the cultural downsides of the game can present long-term challenges for the art form.