Warner Bros. boss says subscription-based gaming won't replace conventional purchases

(Image credit: Warner Bros Interactive)

The videogame industry is gearing up to take another run at streaming games, and with the muscle of companies like Google and Microsoft behind it, coupled with increased accessibility to broadband internet in general, it might actually work out this time. We said in March that in a broad sense, it's a race to become "the Netflix of games," which obviously implies a deeply disruptive impact on the videogame ecology as a whole. But Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment president David Haddad told VentureBeat that he sees the situation somewhat differently.

Haddad said he believes that cloud-based gaming will be "expansionary," particularly for triple-A games, which are "probably the best-suited right now for the cloud as we know it today."

"As the other platforms are moving into this space, it’s exciting to take even more barriers out of that high-definition console gaming experience across multitudes of screens, giving gamers options," he said. "We’re excited by that."

But he also emphasized that cloud-based gaming doesn't necessarily translate into subscription-based gaming, and while services like Stadia, Game Pass, Origin Access, and so forth will obviously become more common, he doesn't believe that they will supplant conventional game purchases.

"Our observation is that oftentimes it is written that streaming automatically brings subscription, because that’s what happened in other forms of media, other forms of content. I think they’re actually two different topics. I don’t believe that it will automatically come together," Haddad said. "I do think that we’ve proven that a transactional business, as we call it, where you pay a premium price for an experience, where gamers can have 30, 40, 100 hours of play–they’ll pay a premium price for that. That’s great for us. We have a history of that transactional business."

The reason, he explained, is that a significant number of gamers really only play a few games per year, and paying for a monthly service—especially across multiple subscriptions—would be a waste. "There may be people that like the consumption pattern of having a subscription so that they can try more games and play more games," Haddad said. "But the behavior today is actually fairly concentrated on players spending most of their time in a handful of games that they carefully pick and that are able to secure a premium price in the market."

Stadia's base service will be available for free, while a Pro version, with free games and discounts, will go for $10 per month. Google says it will support 4K and 60fps on just about anything that can run the Chrome browser, but others aren't quite so confident: Apex Legends executive producer Drew McCoy said earlier this month that games like Apex aren't "well suited" to streaming because variables including "a user's internet connection and how many hops they're going through and what kind of crappy Wi-Fi router they got from their internet provider eight years ago" make it impossible for developers to ensure a quality gameplay experience.