Watch Out for “The Netflix Effect”: Why Streaming Services Could Be Bad for Video Games

By Ben Grandis

I know what you’re thinking. You think this clickbait-y article title is a ploy to prey on the latest hype around Google and Apple’s announcement of Stadia and Arcade, their respective video game streaming services. And you’re right. But don’t let my opportunistic tendencies deter you from hearing me out.

As someone who adores Netflix, Hulu, and the new golden age of television that has come from these online streaming juggernauts, I am excited at the prospect of how this kind of service can improve game accessibility for all audiences. With most new major video games titles being released at $60, having an affordable monthly streaming service could revolutionize accessibility and cost-saving for millions of gamers worldwide.

video game expensive

Not to mention how many indie titles would have a chance to be shown and marketed to a global audience. If you think Steam did a great job of opening up the indie gaming market, just wait until it explodes with original, Stadia-exclusive titles that can only be accessed on the platform once it goes live. It will create many new opportunities for developers and players to get their hands on memorable and unique gaming experiences unlike anything seen before.

So why am I being a party-pooper and warning gamers to be careful with video game streaming? I do so out of what I fear could be the next “Netflix Effect.”

Ask yourself this: How often have you turned on a new show or movie on Netflix, found yourself slightly bored or distracted within the first few minutes, then immediately turned it off to go find something different? I know I do it constantly. It’s not something I’m proud of, but knowing I have a massive library to choose from at any moment makes waiting through a program I don’t instantly like almost impossible for me to sit through.

Ed Norton bored

And the worst part is I’ve already started to notice this behavior in my own gaming habits. As a current GameFly member, I have games shipped to me each month like in the old-school days of Netflix before they entered the streaming world. Whenever I receive a game and don’t love it right away, I am inclined to return it without giving it a fair and proper chance. Since I’m paying $20 a month for GameFly, my brain thinks “why are you paying to rent a game that you don’t love right now when you could trade it in for one that you will?”

This mentality has lead me to send back some very popular and well-reviewed titles like Kingdom Hearts 3, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and Valkyria Chronicles 4 all because they committed the cardinal sin of not immediately impressing me in their introductory levels. Had I purchased these games on their own rather than rented them, I likely would have given them more of a chance before giving up.

Lara Croft shocked

If there are other gamers out there like me who share this mentality,  then I fear that many great titles will see limited completion by players once the power of many instant choices becomes available on Stadia and Arcade. With single-player campaigns already seeing declining interest and completion rates among most gamers, this could potentially be exacerbated even further with limitless gaming choice on streaming services.

It’s no secret that I prefer single-player games over multi-player. I think they present much more compelling narratives and opportunities for player immersion. So here’s to me hoping that my fears are unfounded and that streaming services will make these kinds of games more popular, not less. Until then, we’ll just have to wait and see.


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