Written by Asaf Eldad, Director Business Development and Gaming Partnerships, Incredibuild
In recent years, subscription services have taken over the media consumption space, providing us with an "all-you-can-eat buffet" of television, film, and music at a monthly fixed cost. Gaming, the largest and most lucrative entertainment sector in the world, is a recent but successful newcomer to this trend. With over 18 million subscribers with Microsoft's Xbox Gold Pass alone, there's no denial consumers are eager for subscription-based gaming.
Netflix's recent announcement about adding video games into their subscription bundle means that on top of paying a flat fee, subscribers will be able to stream their games rather than needing to install first on their device. That is, like with video content, you will just get into the Netflix app, hit the play button and….play. Netflix isn't the first to offer such a service but surely large enough to push this form of game consumption closer to casual gamers. Which games, formats, and business model will they be applying? There are a lot of guesses out there in the market. In this article I will focus on one of them, where Netflix will develop their own games but will also open it up to external mobile game studios, much like Spotify record their own content as well as publish other content.
With a wide range of game sizes and qualities, it's unclear how the economics of a one-price-fits-all will work and whether the largest studios will shift to the subscription model. Apple Arcade, a similar concept, is still evolving from this point of view. However, beyond the commercial elements, the technology shift it mandates will challenge many gaming studios out there.
In Hollywood or the music industry, once a song or a movie production has completed, it is (aside from some rare cases) final. A video game, like any piece of software, requires maintenance as well as levels expansions long after it has been published. The one-and-done DVD box of the early console heyday has shifted to digital availability, easily updating the original release over the internet with new content and tweaks to improve the original version, months, sometimes years after the game's original release.
Game studios typically release 1-2 updates every month. Their release schedule is much more lenient compared to web site maintenance, which likely updated multiple times while you were browsing today. Etsy for example, deploys 50 updates every day, while Facebook reports pushing 1,000 updates every day.
Now take a game and place it on a streaming platform, it's not much different from a web site, having to be always up to date, at its best and competing against other games that are just one click away. Here lies one of the technological challenges that game developers will have to face with game streaming. Increasing video game update frequencies from weeks to hours requires a paradigm shift in the way the studio produce games. You can imagine what change a carpenter workshop that produces one item every day has to go through to turn into a high-speed assembly line that ships tens of furniture items every day.
This massive change will require rethinking the delivery methods and scale up the studios’ underlying DevOps infrastructure to withstand the heavier workloads. In essence, each and every step of their assembly line will need to be optimized and scalable by using technologies such as Incredibuild, Continuous Integration systems and to a large degree, transition to cloud-based infrastructure in order to easily adapt to rapid scales.
The change will hit every aspect of their game production practice, from the way the game's code is built and updated, through testing, to final release into the streaming service.
From a game design perspective, studios will have to adapt quite a bit. Since streaming doesn't require any set up or registration per game, users will likely be zapping games just like they do on TV. This will require game designs to draw your attention at first sight and avoid complexities. On the positive side, studios may no longer need to worry about ads, freemium and in-app purchases, which will surely lighten the game to some degree and free up their time to focus on the gameplay.
All in all, game studios who want to join Netflix will have to re-build their game production methodologies from the ground up, invest in automation-based infrastructure, and, to a good degree, their culture, in order to keep up with this new assembly line speed called game streaming.