You said nobody should pay for a multiplayer subscription on Switch. Do you feel the same about the PS4?
I feel the same way about the PS4, The Switch, and the Xbox One. Paying for multiplayer access is stupid to the point of being offensive to me.
Back in 2010 or 2011, I won a “lifetime supply” of Xbox Live Gold from Microsoft for one of those “download and win” sweepstakes they’d have on the 360 dashboard – you know, where you’d download a branded gamerpic (like a company logo or whatever) and that would count as an entry?
“Lifetime” by their standards was 30 years, shipped to me in a big cardboard box as 30 individually packaged 12-month subscription cards. No joke.
I gave away some of them to friends, sold others, but I kept three cards for myself. Three years is the maximum prepaid amount you can have on one account, and there was no guarantee how long these cards would even still be usable (and the release forms I signed when I won explicitly pointed this fact out so Microsoft could avoid liability if they stopped working before my “lifetime” was over). So, it was kind of a “use it now or lose it” situation for me.
After my three years ran out, I had no desire to pay for Xbox Live Gold. These sorts of premium subscriber services are some of the biggest scams in gaming right now. There is nothing that they offer that is actually worth paying the subscription fee for. You may think there is, because it is something you have paid for and use frequently, but that in my opinion is just part of the scheme. Everything about these services has been engineered to create a false sense of value.
You need to remember that, at least in the first five or six years on the Xbox 360, Microsoft had the final word on pricing. This was a deliberate move on their part in order to block publishers from giving content away for free. The role of Epic Games here is particularly depressing – they went to war with Microsoft early on because they had a history of giving away Unreal Tournament map packs for free on the PC, and Microsoft refused to let them do the same for the first Gears of War. By the end of the 360 generation, Epic had a storefront in Gears of War 3 selling hundreds of dollars worth of ugly weapon skins.
Point was, Microsoft hated giving things away for free, because it messed up their structured pricing hierarchy for “perceived value.” By making sure little-to-nothing was free, it made $2 for a Gamerpic or $3 for a dashboard wallpaper an easier purchase to swallow (in theory). If you gave away a Gears of War map pack for free, well, that’s a $10 value. According to Microsoft’s sales metrics, that then makes items priced at $10 (or less) look inherently more worthless because now they are being compared to the free Gears of War map pack and the value you get with that. So, Microsoft didn’t want that. I don’t know if they’re still that anal retentive about it these days, but back then, everything had to cost money, everything had to fit in to a specific “role,” etc.
That is the concept of “perceived value” in a nutshell. Establishing price standards for digital content and getting consumers comfortable with them even though by their nature they have no intrinsic material value.
Nowadays, of course, everybody is practically giving games away now. Throw a buck at every given Humble Bundle, and you’ll end up with hundreds of games a year for less than the price of a one month phone bill. Sony was the first to start giving Playstation games for “free” with Playstation Plus, then Microsoft got on board with Games With Gold, and now Nintendo’s going to start (trying to) do it with the Switch’s paid multiplayer service. But here’s the catch that may or may not be obvious to you: Those “free” games aren’t free.
For a $60 annual subscription you are getting more than a thousand dollars of software every year. If they were bleeding that much money that often, surely it would spell doom and gloom and not become a hot new trend that even Nintendo is getting on board. But they aren’t bleeding money. In fact, developers like Psyonix say that services like PS+ made Rocket League more successful than they would have been if they had just released the game in to the void themselves. It’s almost like you’re paying Sony to be their marketing team. In return, you get a shiny status symbol that says you’re rich enough to afford the subscription.
And believe me, it is a status symbol. This is rarely talked about, but I remember years ago, the blog for Xbox Live’s Major Nelson used to let you log in with your Gamertag and it would actually display a little icon next to your username saying whether or not you were an Xbox Live Gold or Xbox Live Silver member. And I remember the bloody, aggressive class warfare that would go on in those blog comments as the Gold users used their status to complain about how Xbox Live Silver users were freeloaders and how they were ruining the service for the paying members. It was disgusting, and eventually, Major Nelson’s blog ditched the Gamertag login for something a little more traditional in order to cut down on the flame wars that were breaking out in literally every single post.
A status symbol has value if you perceive that it does.
Multiplayer matchmaking? Paying for that is a joke. That’s not to say running that service costs $0, but I would assume that, compared to the kinds of expenses in modern games, keeping the lights turned on in the server room would probably account 5% or less of a game’s overall budget. The only times it becomes a problem is if you are a broke indie developer who can’t afford it and maybe doesn’t even have a player base worth supporting, or you’re insane like Electronic Arts that is constantly releasing “this year’s version of last year’s game” and needs to cull the list or run the risk of needing server infrastructure that scales literally in to infinity forever. It’s nice that something like Xbox Live Gold gives developers a safety net that their game will “always be on” for the duration of that console’s life span, and I’m sure it’s worth a sort of peace of mind, but from a consumer perspective, on some level you’re paying for a service that supports the ability for me to sit in a Puzzle Fighter 2 HD lobby for an hour never getting a match. The server’s there, the matchmaking’s there, but nobody’s playing. And as a subscriber, you’re paying for that as much as you are the ability to play Halo or Call of Duty or GTA Online or whatever’s “hot” right now.
Meanwhile, on PC, you can launch Counter-Strike Global Offensive, Overwatch, Battlefield One or whatever, hit “Matchmaking” and get in to a game just fine without needing to spend a dime. Sure, games like Speedball 2 Tournament are almost impossible to play online now, but the strong survive and the weak do not. It’s multiplayer natural selection.
“Premium subscriber services” like that are all a farce. It’s fake “perceived value” generated by marketing engineers who sit in board rooms all day and figure out new ways to make you think you need to spend money on something you shouldn’t actually have to. It’s the same line of thinking Microsoft had over making you pay $2 for Xbox 360 wallpapers, except somehow this one stuck.
They know they have you over a barrel. There’s no Steam on their consoles, there’s no pre-established standard for free multiplayer. Microsoft and Sony have
locked the gates and they hold the key. You either perceive their value, or you get out.
Don’t pay for Xbox Live Gold.
Don’t pay for Playstation Plus.
And definitely do not pay for Nintendo’s Switch multiplayer service.
They are a cult’s Kool-Aid and you don’t have to drink it.