Why do console makers charge for online multiplayer? Do developers benefit at all from this? Or do only Sony and Microsoft benefit? How is pc able to be free multiplayer when I am constantly told servers cost money to run? Hoping you could shed some light on this. Thank you for your time.
Why do console makers charge for online multiplayer?
The general reason is because people are willing to pay for it. Microsoft tried it way back with the original Xbox and it turned out very well for them. Sony followed suit in the PS3 generation and players paid for it there too. People have gotten used to paying for it now, but it isn’t just for online multiplayer either. Players who pay for the service also get other kickbacks - free games, access to demo content, access to certain additional features, and so on.
Do developers benefit at all from this? Or do only Sony and Microsoft benefit?
We (devs) have benefited historically from paid online services (if a bit indirectly). A lot of the online features we’ve come to expect today were pioneered on the paid platforms like XBL and PSN - chat rooms, friends lists, achievements, DLC sales and distribution, and so on and so forth. Features like achievements were built by engineers on the platform side; the game devs were then supplied with a SDK full of new tools to use on our projects. Having that kind of support, especially in the 2004-2008 era was really helpful. Those features didn’t migrate to Steam until later.
That said, it’s practically impossible to take just the online platform as a discrete, self-contained thing because we really can’t. Part of any dev studio or publisher’s relationship with console manufacturers is via the certification process, and their online services are deeply intertwined with it. The online platform isn’t so much its own thing as it is an extension of the total console package.
How is pc able to be free multiplayer when I am constantly told servers cost money to run?
It’s mostly because the biggest service set up on the PC (Steam) is free, and everybody who followed couldn’t sustain a critical mass of customers while switching to a paid service. It’s really very similar to how Microsoft managed to establish the paid service early on.
The maintenance, development, and hardware costs for online play are always being shouldered by somebody. On Steam, it’s paid for by the publishers and devs who sell games on the platform. Steam takes roughly 30% of every sale, and some of that goes to paying for the service and any other endeavors Valve is taking (Steam Box, VR stuff, etc.). On the consoles, it’s paid for partially by the publishers, and partially by the user fees. Consoles also take around 30%, but that isn’t just for online services and game development. It also pays for console manufacturing costs, R&D, administrative costs, continued development of the platform software, and so on.
The business stuff can get really complicated really fast due to all of the different parts that can change. It could be possible that Microsoft decided to make XBL free, but that would result in a reshuffling of the overall allocation of funds. Microsoft could make up for the loss of subscription fees by raising the cost of publisher certification, or scaling back XBL development to be less expensive. If they raised the cost to the publishers, it could drive publishers to competing platforms, or it could mean that game budgets get adjusted down to defray the higher costs. If that were the case, it could mean that new games would ship with smaller scope or with more bugs, or any number of things. There’s no one single result from a change like this, but many possibilities depending on what each involved party decides is in their own respective best interest.
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