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Ubisoft Is Excited About Streaming via Cloud, But Thinks The Subscription Model Doesn’t Cut It


Speaking at a panel sponsored by Akamai (transcript by GamesBeat), Ubisoft Vice President of Partnerships & Revenue Chris Early explained that the company known for Assassin's Creed and the Tom Clancy tactical shooter franchises is very much looking forward to streaming games via the cloud to increase the TAM (total addressable market) of their line-up.

At the same time, though, Early clearly said that the issue right now for Ubisoft and other publishers is the business model. He then went on to add that the subscription model as it stands today is actually inhibiting progress in that area.

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For us, it’s a question of addressable market. We believe that there are plenty of people who are willing to play the games that we make today if we can deliver it into their hands in a way that they’re willing to pay for. Today, our 150-million customer base buys our games, and as we all know here in this room — we’ve all got friends who stopped playing games because they didn’t buy the last console or didn’t upgrade their PC, who still reminisce about games. We saw that about a game we announced recently [Starlink] where Star Fox is going to be a character. There was an amazing outpouring of nostalgia that created at the press conference. They’re there.

There are more people talking about cloud gaming and the ability for us to create that addressable market, whether it be Microsoft’s service, whether it be your service. The challenge we have is that those are all unprofitable business models for us as a publisher. We have to figure out a way that we can take advantage of that type of distribution or increase in the addressable market. We have to find a way to monetize.

We might be part of some subscription service. Anyway, the challenge comes back to, is there a way we can take cloud gaming’s benefits, extract the concept of subscription from that, or figure out a way we can make money with a subscription, neither of which we’ve seen yet. But more people are talking about it. More big players are talking about it. There’s going to be a bit of hope there.

I actually view subscription gaming as inhibiting our progress, and I’ll give you two examples. One is with PS Now. I think that’s a great technology for getting streaming content to people, but we don’t make the money as a publisher — we don’t make the same amount of money as we would even just putting stuff on sale. So why bother, from a publisher’s standpoint?

The technology is great for a player. I can play anything anywhere instantly! It’s awesome technology, which is inhibited by the business model. So charge a PlayStation Plus add-on to be able to stream any game you own to any device you own. That’s a great service for the player. It’s going to start people adopting that streaming concept in more places. You’ll be able to get to a place where you have more people focused on streaming.

There’s a similar challenge with your business model. We see it works. We’re believers. You’ve capped it with a subscription plan, where publishers aren’t able to make money. On the other hand, you could just sell the game and let people have the five-minute experience while it downloads, or pay you an add-on price to be able to continue to have fast access in many more places. With the subscription, it’s just giving it away.

This echoes the Piper Jaffray report we published yesterday, which mentioned how publishers (including Ubisoft, we bet) had told the analysts they're much more excited about the future of streaming games via cloud than they are about the subscription, Netflix-like model.