Paying a subscription for a service is nothing new, especially not in the media space. Yet, the past few years have seen more companies adopt the service model to appeal to more niche audiences–a pattern that has come to a head in 2019.
Games are one of the newer participants to the subscription model when it comes to distributing content, with Microsoft dominating the console space with Xbox Game Pass. That said, other companies started offering their own game-based subscriptions in 2019 as well, like Apple. The games industry hasn’t been the only one, as the past few years have seen subscription services for comics, manga, TV series, and movies gaining increased popularity too.
In the following article, we highlight the major subscription services that continued to operate or began in 2019 and also discuss how they grew or adjusted their offerings throughout the year.
Subscriptions That Continued In 2019
2019 saw plenty of subscription services continue–some more successfully than others. In terms of gaming, Microsoft continued to offer Xbox Live Gold and Xbox Game Pass, Sony has PlayStation Plus and PlayStation Now, EA has EA Access / Origin Access, and Nintendo has Switch Online. For TV and movies, there are a bunch: Crunchyroll, Funimation, Hidive, Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, HBO Now, DC Universe, and Hulu.
Xbox Live Gold / Xbox Game Pass
When it comes to gaming, Microsoft is pursuing a subscription model the hardest. 2019 saw the natural evolution of Xbox Live Gold and Xbox Game Pass, as Microsoft bundled the two together on June 9 into a subscription called Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. The service includes the PC version of Xbox Game Pass as well. With Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, you get access to online multiplayer and over 100 games for a fraction of their total retail cost.
2019 also saw the release of the first console to solely support games that are purchased digitally: Xbox One S All-Digital Edition. It provides a cheaper option than both the Xbox One S and Xbox One X and falls in-line with Microsoft releasing all games digitally–both via its store and Xbox Game Pass. Xbox Game Pass Ultimate is likely only going to improve with Project xCloud, Microsoft’s cloud streaming service, being added to the subscription in 2020–as announced at X019.
PlayStation Plus / PlayStation Now
First launched in June 2010, PlayStation Plus offers subscribers access to only a few titles per month, but those that are featured on the service typically see huge spikes in their overall popularity–like Rocket League back in July 2015. PlayStation Now is Sony’s version of cloud gaming, offering subscribers a way to stream select PS2, PS3, and PS4 games to a PS4 or PC.
In 2019, PlayStation Now saw a massive growth in subscriber count–with a 40% increase between April and October that upped the total to one million users. This is likely in response to Sony changing PlayStation Now so subscribers could finally download the games on the service (instead of just streaming them) and the expanding library of major first-party titles on the service. Like Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass, Sony’s PlayStation Now is becoming a service where users can download big-name indies and first-party console exclusives for a fraction of their total retail cost.
Sony isn’t planning on adopting Microsoft’s policy of adding first-party titles to its subscription service day one, however. In November 2019, Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO Jim Ryan said this is to ensure the company’s first-party games remain “clean and pure.”
Nintendo’s subscription, Switch Online, launched in late 2018, so the service’s first attempt to really hit its stride began in 2019. In comparison to both Microsoft and Sony, though, it has a long way to go. Aside from offering online multiplayer in games like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Splatoon 2, Switch Online provides subscribers with a library of NES and SNES titles. There are some excellent games in that library, but as 2019 has come to a close, Nintendo has not added any new games.
Unlike Xbox Game Pass and PlayStation Now, Switch Online doesn’t offer any way to get a discount on first-party titles either. In late 2018, Nintendo started a voucher program that was tied to Switch Online, but that inexplicably ended in 2019. This is made more disappointing in the wake of the launch of the entirely handheld version of the Nintendo Switch, Switch Lite, in September 2019–a console that seems to encourage owning a bunch of games digitally in order to play on the go.
EA Access / Origin Access
EA has done well with its Access subscription services. EA Access launched on Xbox One in August 2014, offering subscribers a selection of older EA games to play and both discounts and early access for certain new releases. Origin Access, which launched two years later, offers the same service for Origin members on PC.
In July 2019, EA Access was expanded to PS4 as well, pushing the service to all major platforms except for Nintendo Switch. Additionally, in October 2019, EA announced a Steam version of EA Access, which will allow PC players to use the service without Origin.
2019 has been a turbulent year for EA–with lows like Anthem and highs like Apex Legends–but getting EA Access on PS4 and announcing plans to expand its reach on PC could help turn things around for the publisher. A subscription service can act as marketing for lesser-known triple-A titles and indie games, allowing users to try these games “for free.” It offers a less costly way for players to retry games that launched with problems too–which may help save EA titles the publisher is trying to fix. Players may be hesitant to pay to jump back into Anthem when it relaunches, for instance, but via EA Access / Origin Access, they can get the game for “free.” It’s probably an appealing prospect for publishers that have a large library of multiplayer-focused or games-as-a-service titles, which may be part of what inspired Ubisoft to offer a similar subscription service in 2019. But more on that later.
New Weekly Shonen Jump
In December 2018, Shonen Jump–a Japanese magazine responsible for publishing the largest shonen manga in the world, like Dragon Ball and Naruto–transformed into a completely digital, free-to-read model that offered every new chapter to its included ongoing series in their English translation the day they released in Japan, allowing international readers to stay up to date on all the latest shonen manga without paying a cent. For those looking to catch up, a new $2 subscription fee would unlock nearly the entire Shonen Jump back catalog to read at any time.
It’s been an incredibly smart move on the cusp of the shonen genre’s transformation–as it’s bringing in new readers right when new types of shonen stories are taking off. Though the high-action battle stories of My Hero Academia and Boruto: Naruto Next Generations still dominate, shonen has begun to take a more thoughtful turn in recent years. Stories like The Promised Neverland and Dr. Stone are likely to be shonen’s future, one where women aren’t always regulated to a support role and the main male protagonists don’t always overcome the villains by physically out-fighting them.
Live-Action TV Series And Movie Subscriptions
Whenever the topic of game-based subscription services comes up, there’s typically at least one or two people asking if it’s the “Netflix of games.” This isn’t to say that Netflix is the originator of the subscription model when it comes to digital media distribution, but the streaming service (and those like it) popularized the model long before gaming did. Netflix isn’t going away any time soon, and neither are its direct competitors: Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube Premium, and HBO Now.
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to remain subscribed to only one service as 2019 saw all six streaming apps increase their portfolios of exclusive series and movies. If you want to stay on top of all the best television, you have to remain subscribed to most of them. That said, each service further fell into their niche roles, making it a bit easier to focus on the subscription you prefer.
Animated TV Series And Movies Subscriptions
In 2019, dozens of anime made their debut on Crunchyroll, Funimation, and Hidive–the major players in digital anime distribution in the US. Hulu and Netflix (especially the latter with its exclusives) also rose in prominence within the growing anime industry with more shows. Yet it was Amazon–the same company that made the very poorly received Anime Strike subscription model in 2017–that managed to secure exclusives for some of the most thought-provoking and well-animated anime of the year.
2019 saw major ripples in the anime scene–ones that are likely to be felt in the next few years. When it comes to watching anime, Crunchyroll and Funimation are still at the top, but both are still recovering from the end of their partnership in November 2018. Upon separation, each company lost the rights of certain anime to the other, and as 2019 is coming to an end, both sites still feel incomplete. Plus, their escalating rivalry is unintentionally leading to a boring uniformity of shonen and fantasy isekai across both brands when it comes to marketing.
That leaves sites like Hidive, Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime Video to host a lot of the more experimental or niche stories. If anything, 2019 is the year that companies like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon really began taking stock of how popular anime is becoming and decided they wanted in on the subscriptions they can attract. And unlike Crunchyroll and Funimation, these companies can invest in and promote more niche genres and stories because their primary business of live-action TV shows and movies can account for an anime series falling short of monetary expectations.
Netflix and DC Universe have been hitting hard on the animated front this year as well. The most notable series are Netflix’s She-Ra and the Princesses of Power and DC Universe’s Young Justice: Outsiders. It’s been a good year of super-powered teens in animated series.
Subscriptions That Began In 2019
As much as the aforementioned subscriptions continued to excel in their related fields, 2019 saw the arrival of several new services as well. In terms of gaming, 2019 gave us three new subscriptions to consider adding to our growing list of monthly fees. For TV shows and movies, we only got one, but it’s likely going to be a major player in the subscription-based streaming space for years to come.
On September 3, Ubisoft launched the beta of Uplay+, a subscription service that provides users with a library of over 100 Ubisoft games. It’s a lot like Origin Access Premier.
Uplay+ won’t officially launch until 2020, and when it does, it will be offered through both Uplay and Google Stadia. As Ubisoft continues to invest in games-as-a-service titles, Uplay+ presents a cheaper alternative for buying into every game. That said, Uplay has always had its detractors and Google Stadia did not launch to exactly stellar reviews–so some people may not want to go through the potential hassle of either PC portal to access Uplay+.
It may benefit Ubisoft to take inspiration from EA and release its subscription service on consoles as well, or at the very least allow subscribers to access Uplay+ through a more popular PC game distributor like Steam or the Epic Games Store.
Right on the heels of the launch of the Uplay+ beta, Apple released its own game subscription service, Apple Arcade, on September 19. Unlike the aforementioned game-based services, Apple Arcade is exclusively for Apple-supported hardware–not Xbox, PlayStation, and PC. Though some of the games, like Sayonara Wild Hearts and Stela, are available on consoles, most of Apple Arcade’s titles are exclusive to the service. Other than those distinctions, though, the service works pretty much identically to Xbox Game Pass: pay a monthly fee and you get access to a library of games.
Mobile gaming has been dominated by the free-to-play model for years, which has caused microtransactions within the space to grow over time. In this regard, Apple Arcade is a wonderful service, as none of its games have microtransactions. In this case, the “microtransactions” you’re paying for amounts to the subscription fee. Apple Arcade promotes some of the best games ever seen on mobile devices too–so that’s a bunch of great games that you don’t have to keep paying for in-game in order to play. Apple has been fairly consistent with adding new games to Apple Arcade since launching the service as well, and many of the new titles have been just as good as the collection of games included at launch.
Google Play Pass
On September 23, Google followed Apple’s lead with its own game subscription service, Google Play Pass. However, instead of opting for a limited number of games, Google stuffed 350 games and apps into its subscription. None of the Google Play Pass games are new or exclusive to the service though, and Google is also not assisting in the development of the included games.
Here’s the big one. On November 12, Disney launched Disney+, a subscription service that offered a way to watch dozens of Disney movies and TV series, both long-beloved classics and eagerly awaited newcomers. A lot of the stuff on Disney+ has been unwatchable for years–hidden away in Disney’s “Vault”–so the subscription provides one of the most sought-after services ever requested by Disney fans. Disney+ also packages 4K/HDR streaming in its basic fee–something not seen on most of the other TV/movie subscription services.
It hasn’t been completely problem-free. At launch, Disney+ included edited pieces of media, specifically The Simpsons, which ruined the content of the show by cutting out certain jokes. The service also launched without certain features that others had already popularized, such as a way to continue seamlessly keep watching a series when you’re binging through a show. Thankfully, Disney plans on fixing these issues (the continue watching feature has already been added). And in spite of these shortcomings, Disney+ has managed to be a fairly large success (to the surprise of basically no one), and one of its first new shows, The Mandalorian, is already becoming a fast GameSpot favorite. In 2019, Disney confirmed more original content is scheduled to come to the service, including additional TV shows in the company’s Star Wars and Marvel expanded universes.