Nvidia’s GeForce Now service has lost another set of publishers. As of Friday April 24, games from Codemasters, Klei Entertainment, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment and Xbox Game Studios will be leaving the service. They aren’t the first. Activision-Blizzard, 2K, Bethesda, and Konami have refused to work with Nvidia on GeForce Now as well.
Why Are Publishers Pulling Out?
One of the distinct features of GeForce Now is the fact that it draws on your own Steam library. From a consumer’s perspective, the service is great. You pay $5 per month for GeForce Now (a free tier is also available), and you can stream any of your Steam games to your Android device, laptop, desktop, Mac, or Nvidia Shield. If your networking hardware is fast enough to handle the service, it’s easy to see the appeal — from the consumer’s perspective.
Publishers and game developers, however, see things differently. When Nvidia streams Steam games to other devices, it’s effectively distributing games to those platforms as well, without permission from the developer of the title or the publisher. The publisher has a deal with Valve to distribute games on Steam. It doesn’t have a deal with Nvidia.
Evidently companies were willing to overlook the fact that Nvidia had injected itself into the software distribution process when Team Green wasn’t trying to make money at it. As soon as Nvidia started charging, the company was creating revenue for itself by providing a service — and at least some publishers don’t consider existing contracts with Steam and Nvidia sufficient to cover that use-case.
I expect we’ll see much more of this.
‘Play your steam library anywhere’ services are amazing for the consumer. They’re (potentially) terrible for devs.
It kills the ability to commercialise ports for new platforms (partic mobile) or to negotiate exclusivity deals. https://t.co/2zpLXvC60W
— Pete Lewin (@LegalGamerUK) March 1, 2020
If a popular game doesn’t work properly on GeForce Now, the dev team could be hit by requests to fix problems on a platform they’ve never worked with and haven’t previously supported.
There’s also a potential revenue loss in play. Imagine that you developed a game with plans to release on PC, Mac, and Android simultaneously. While this added to some of the development costs, you wanted to be able to provide a Day 1 release of equal quality across multiple platforms. Why would customers buy a platform-localized version of a game if they can purchase it on PC and stream it everywhere?
The best way to get devs to invest in building quality ports is to create sales opportunities for those projects. It also complicates the question of exclusives, which are definitionally tied to a specific hardware or software platform. With streaming, that’s no longer true.
We don’t know much about the specific reasons why publishers are pulling out of GeForce Now, but these are some of the issues that complicate the situation from the publisher/developer perspective more generally.
Personally, I think we’re watching the evolution of the next method of game-sharing. Physical media distribution is fading. The first sale doctrine that guarantees you the right to resell a video game is fading right along with it. But just because people don’t have physical media to swap doesn’t mean they’re going to stop wanting to share content with each other. The ability to stream games to multiple devices is one part of an overall shift in how we expect to access the content we’ve purchased.
Ultimately, publishing companies and streaming services will have to reach agreements regarding what content is available and under what conditions. It’s not clear yet what those arrangements will look like, but the limitations on how we experience content — and the idea that certain content is inexorably tied to the device you play it on — is fading. It’s also worth noting that not all developers are opposed to streaming via GeForce Now. Tim Sweeney is on record saying that he and Epic Games support GeForce Now, “wholeheartedly“.
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