I subscribe to the Nintendo Life site RSS feed. Today I found an article with a provocative headline in my feed reader: Players Need To Start “Feeling Comfortable” With Not Owning Games, Says Ubisoft Subs Boss. For those who are not in the know, Ubisoft is a major video game publisher (note that I have little experience with Ubisoft games and have never bought any of it services, so I have no preexisting strong opinions about the company). The headline gives off the impression of a Ubisoft executive telling consumers what they need to do and, in effect, telling consumers who do not like the idea of not owning games to get over it. For reasons I will note in the next paragraph, I was very interested to read this take as someone who has articulated my pro-ownership sentiments with respect to games in multiple New Leaf Journal articles. However, instead of finding the prompt for a new article in my proverbial pro-ownership series, I stumbled upon another topic: Misleading headlines.
Before I address the new Nintendo Life article, allow me to re-introduce my writings on related subjects. In my piece On Nintendo’s Pro-User Cartridge-First Strategy, I was prompted by an older Nintendo Life article to praise the Nintendo Switch for emphasizing physical game cartridges. In Stadia and the Value of Owning Games, I made the case for owning games over streaming them. In a more generalist article on owning vs renting, I addressed a thoughtful piece on digital movie “purchases” in The Thin Digital Line Between ‘Buy’ and ‘Rent’. Finally, I published an article on DRM-free Steam games in large part to advocate for patronizing DRM-free digital games as a general matter.
Taken together, one can see that I feel no need to feel comfortable with not owning my games. I do not think I need to own every single game that I play no more that I need to own every book I read or movie I watch (I am a long-time subscriber to Crunchyroll for anime streaming). However, I am nevertheless very much in favor of end user game ownership – both in the physical and digital spheres – and I make a point of trying to buy games from pro-ownership sources. Moreover, while I only write about libertarians and do not personally identify as one, the libertarian in me has a reflexive distaste for being told what I need to do by some video game executive.
But I digress.
Let us quote the first paragraph of the new Nintendo Life article, authored by Mr. Jim Norman:
Yesterday, Ubisoft launched a rebrand of its subscription service, Ubisoft+ Premium, and brought its Classics package to PC. Clearly, the company sees this as a step into the future of gaming as its director of subscriptions, Philippe Tremblay, told GamesIndustry.biz that players need to become “comfortable” with the idea of not owning their games.
To Nintendo Life’s credit, it links to Mr. Tremblay’s interview with Games Industry Biz in the first paragraph (an example of good external linking). The interview was published on that site under the headline The new Ubisoft+ and getting gamers comfortable with not owning their games. The original headline is less provocative than the Nintendo Life version, but more than enough to invite interest. As a general matter, if I am interested in a subject and can choose between reading the original source or an account of the original source, I will opt for the original source. Thus, I began with the Game Industry Biz interview, which was conducted by Mr. Christopher Dring. As I always, I encourage you to read the original interview yourself as well as the Nintendo Life summary of it and reach your own conclusions.
Mr. Tremblay begins the interview by explaining why Ubisoft decided to launch Ubisoft+ Premium, a digital game subscription service that costs $17.99 per month. He explains the business logic of the decision and why Ubisoft saw an opportunity – but we can sum up the rationale as money. It goes without saying that Ubisoft believes it has good reason to believe that enough people will subscribe to its new subscription service for it to be financially beneficial to the company.
Close to the half-way point of the article, Mr. Tremblay is quoted about buying games after touting the benefits of the Ubisoft+ service:
The point is not to force users to go down one route or another,” [w]e offer purchase, we offer subscription, and it’s the gamer’s preference that is important here. We are seeing some people who buy choosing to subscribe now, but it all works.
As soon as I saw this – I became suspicious of the framing of the interview in the headline. Note that I am not asserting that Ubisoft is a pro-consumer company – I dare say that I have my suspicions that its concept of purchases may run afoul of my ideal for digital media purchases. But here, Mr. Tremblay is very clearly stating for public consumption that Ubisoft is not trying to force people who want to play its games to subscribe and not buy, but instead it offers a subscription service while also offering game purchases for people who do want to buy the game.
After Mr. Tremblay makes the case that Ubisoft+ is attracting an audience of people who did not previously buy Ubisoft games, we finally reach the section of the article referenced by the two headlines. The interview, not quoting Mr. Tremblay here, prefaces something he says with a question: “[W]hat is it going to take for subscription to step up and become a more significant proportion of the industry?” Now let us see Mr. Tremblay’s quote, as presented by Mr. Dring:
I don’t have a crystal ball, but when you look at the different subscription services that are out there, we’ve had a rapid expansion over the last couple of years, but it’s still relatively small compared to the other models…
After noting that PlayStation and Xbox are shifting toward focusing more on digital game streaming (note for the record that I think that is a bad trend), we reach the key point which follows from the passage quoted above:
‘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.’
So, I am calling foul on the Nintendo Life headline. It makes it sound as if Mr. Tremblay had said – unprompted – that video game players need to change how they engage with games. However, the original article – for those who care to read – paints a different picture. It is clear that Mr. Tremblay is explaining what he thinks needs to happen for game subscription and streaming services to become more popular. To this effect – he analogizes the shift that would need to happen in a significant number of people who play video games to the type of shift that clearly occurred in the context of movies – where streaming overtook physical DVDs and blu-rays. This is not only not as provocative as the Nintendo Life headline suggests, it is also not provocative at all – I dare say it is a simple and sober analysis.
Moreover, perhaps wanting to ensure that he was not at all unclear – Mr. Tremblay is next quoted as saying:
I still have two boxes of DVDs. I definitely understand the gamers perspective with that. But as people embrace that model, they will see that these games will exist, the service will continue, and you’ll be able to access them when you feel like. That’s reassuring.
To recap, Mr. Tremblay states that Ubisoft will continue to offer its games for sale and gives no indication that this would change. He touts Ubisoft+, the company’s new streaming service, and opines on what he thinks needs to change in consumer behavior for the service to be successful in the long run. However, with respect to video gamers, he expresses his understanding that some people prefer to buy their games but encourages people to consider the subscription service and offers reasons why he things it is a good option.
Returning to the Nintendo Life article – it includes two quotes from Mr. Tremblay, but, for whatever it is worth, I do not think it offered the quotes in their full context – which would have been welcome after the opening paragraph led with Mr. Trembaly’s need to become comfortable quote. While I tend to avoid comment sections because they are generally awful (one of many reasons I do not have comments enabled at The New Leaf Journal), I took a quick look and saw many comments that seemed to be responding more to the headline than to the original article Nintendo Life was citing to. As always, I encourage you to read the original articles for yourself and decide whether you agree with my assessment.
This is not a defense of Ubisoft or the Ubisoft+ service. As a pro-ownership video game player, I think Ubisoft+ is in line with bad trends in the game industry, from digital purchases that the end-user does not own to consoles of all things moving toward a Ubisoft+ model. An own nothing society is not at all desirable. I would much rather see things move back to the halcyon days of the 1980s through early 2000s with respect to game distribution and ownership and see more game companies offer DRM-free digital games for sale (not to mention more open source games). For these reasons, I have no interest in seeing the Ubisoft+ model become successful as a general matter.
My issue with the Nintendo Life headline is that it leaves out important context about what Mr. Tremblay actually said (I think the original Game Industry Biz headline is acceptable). Before criticizing a statement, one should understand it. It is entirely possible to criticize Mr. Tremblay’s hopes for the game industry and the fact Ubisoft’s current conception of buying digital games probably leaves a bit to desired, or even to opine based on knowledge of Ubisoft’s history that some of his promises are disingenuous. But before criticizing what he purportedly says, one should understand what he actually said and not just excerpts divorced from the specific questions he was answering.