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Sponsored: Designing effective but fair free-to-play subscription plans

Xsolla's experts look at industry trends to determine which features should be included in F2P subscription plans to reach an ideal ROI.

Game Developer, Staff

July 23, 2019

4 Min Read

Presented by Xsolla

The Emerging Trend of Game Subscription Plans

The gaming industry is ramping up efforts to create new and interesting services for its expanding audience. At the front of this movement is a mix of monthly subscriptions paired with in-game purchases in free-to-play (F2P) titles.

Games like EVE Online and Dota 2 show this is both a promising and fruitful form of monetization. Players receive exclusive extras and in-game benefits, while developers can establish stable revenue streams. Fortnite used this very strategy to claim the record for most annual earnings of any game in history, reaching $2.4 billion in 2018.

Despite success stories like these, only 5-6 percent of developers are currently leveraging subscriptions in F2P titles. That number is on the rise, and it seems both publishers and platform owners are interested in similar monthly services, as well.

We were curious about this growing trend in the industry, so we took a closer look at the current offerings, what features they offer, and how they manage to boost revenue while keeping players happy.

In-Game & Platform Subscriptions

In-game subscriptions refer to any monetization method that allows players to sign up for a premium or VIP account in exchange for access to exclusive content. This may include new quests, additional resources, stat bonuses to cut down on grinding, free loot, and much more.

Most modern games with monthly subscriptions use a hybrid system that includes a free-to-play core monetized with subscriptions and in-app purchases. Games that require an ongoing subscription for basic access are decreasing in number, often switching to the hybrid model to capture the widest possible audience.

Platform and publisher subscriptions can be described with phrases like "Netflix for games". A publisher or independent developer might offer a subscription in exchange for access to their full back catalog, for example. Platforms like PlayStation or Xbox also offer subscriptions with rotating lists of free games, access to online multiplayer, store discounts, etc.

Players have so far embraced this movement, too, as subscriptions give them the opportunity to indulge in discounts and exclusive content for a minimal monthly price.

Monetizing with In-Game Subscriptions

Subscription fees usually only represent 10-15 percent of a free-to-play game's total revenue. The memberships themselves aren't what boost earnings, though, it's the shift in behavior subscribers take once they hit the "sign up" button.

Subscribers spend an average of $25 per month on in-game content such as cosmetic items, season passes, map packs, and battle passes. This is more than twice as much as non-subscribers, who usually top out at just over $10 per month. Subscribers know their premium status is time-limited and want to make the most out of their membership.

Developers can think of subscriptions as a tool to increase average revenue per user (ARPU). It's a service to their game's biggest fans and should cater to their needs, all while delivering a good experience for non-subscribers in the hopes of capturing their monthly membership in the future.

Understanding which features to include in a plan is key to maximizing returns. While there is no one-size-fits-all subscription framework, there are a number of best-practices developers can follow to ensure they don't step on any toes as they design subscription features.

Platform & Publisher Subscriptions

Game developers aren't the only ones taking note of the rising trend in subscriptions. Platform- and publisher-specific subscriptions let players pay a single monthly fee in exchange for unlimited access to a certain set of games. PlayStation Plus, Xbox Live, and Origin Access are some of the more popular examples of this.

These types of subscription services take inspiration from the likes of Netflix, Hulu, and Spotify. They allow publishers and developers to establish ongoing revenue streams with a minimum amount of overhead, and they provide an enormous amount of value for players.

Features common to most platform subscription services:

  • Online multiplayer access, often exclusive to subscribers.

  • Early access for new and in-development titles.

  • Access to exclusive subscriber-only discounts.

  • New free games added each month.

  • Price point between $4.99 and $14.99 (frequently $9.99)

  • Free trial periods for new customers

Players evaluating platform subscriptions evaluate them in much the same way as in-game subscriptions. Cost is always the most important consideration, followed by the perceived value of the goods they'll be receiving.

Top factors users consider when eyeing a monthly platform/publisher subscription:

  • Monthly subscription cost

  • Catalogue size

  • Discounts when buying games

  • Whether or not they like the free games being offered

  • Frequency of new game availability

  • Exclusive multiplayer games

  • Availability of classic titles

  • Support for early access

  • Direct game downloads

  • Ability to stream games

Developers with an extensive catalog of titles can follow this subscription trend, as well. Utilizing a self-run platform to create custom subscriptions and offerings tailored to their audience's needs is surprisingly straightforward. Learn more about implementing this by checking out Xsolla's Pay Station solution.


We're confident that in-game, platform-based, and publisher-centric subscriptions are here to stay. When implemented correctly they create a win-win situation for both the creator and the end-user. Developers can use the steady funds to keep the lights on, publishers can monetize catalogues with minimum overhead, and players get truckloads of exclusive content for next to nothing.

Download this ebook to learn more about implementing effective subscriptions and effortlessly processing payments.

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