- We listen to music, watch TV shows, and play our games via subscription services from Spotify, Netflix, and Xbox Game Pass and others.
- Subscriptions mean we don’t have to buy content outright, sometimes saving money and making things more affordable.
- But the subscription model means we don’t have control over the content we consume.
Subscriptions are everywhere and many of us use them to consume games, music, and TV shows, but we can't expect that content to live forever.
As promising as the subscription world can be—pay a small fee every month, gain access to a large library of content—it has its downsides. Apple Arcade, Apple's iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple TV game subscription service, recently made some titles unavailable for the first time after the contracts with their developers expired. It shocked subscribers but probably shouldn't have been because it's nothing new. Netflix, Spotify, and other streamers routinely remove content from their services.
How big of a problem is disappearing content? That depends on your point of view. "Removal of content doesn't necessarily concern me, but it does a little more as a parent," Richard Devine, a long-time game and technology journalist at XDA Developers, told Lifewire via email. "[Xbox] Game Pass has already lost a couple of games the little one hadn't finished yet, so naturally, he wants me to buy them now so he can."
It’s All About Communication
Many of the problems customers have with subscriptions and how content disappears is that they don't always know when it will happen. Xbox does warn players when a title is about to expire, but it doesn't give gamers more than a week or so.
"I get that it's part of the model, but I think being more upfront from day one would be a huge benefit. If this show/game/album is only available for x months, say so when it's listed," Devine suggested, pointing to a lack of communication as a big problem for subscription providers and their customers. That's a stance that's difficult to argue against.
Xbox is far from the only company that strips content from subscribers, though. Netflix is notorious for how content comes and goes on its streaming service, and songs have been known to go missing from Spotify with alarming regularity. We can now add Apple Arcade to the list of services that will have waves of games become unavailable at a moment's notice.
Get It Before It’s Gone
It isn’t just about the immediate loss, though. Game developer Ralph Barbagallo also pointed to a problem we might not feel right now, but will definitely have to deal with further down the line. As is the case with Apple Arcade games particularly, titles removed from the subscription service are immediately unavailable across Apple’s devices. There is no way to play those titles. They’re gone forever, and it doesn’t seem likely that there will be a business model that makes it worth developers re-releasing their titles in the App Store. Are games that have been removed from Apple Arcade lost to the sands of time?
Content removed from Netflix is often impossible to buy on any other service, especially in a post–DVD world. Once it’s gone, it could well be gone for good. And you aren’t allowed to back any of these things up for various reasons, including complexity and laws around the world.
On the flip side, subscriptions are making content available to more people when it might otherwise not be to some. Xbox Game Pass is one example, making games that wouldn’t always be big enough to drive a marketing campaign available to everyone with an active subscription.
Devine continues by saying, “[Xbox Game Pass] is a godsend because my kid gets access to a bunch of games through my subscription,” without any extra expense. Those titles are ones that wouldn’t be bought at full price, meaning they wouldn’t get played at all. That more ephemeral approach to music, TV, and games might be the way to approach things in the future—but it doesn’t make it less annoying when something you enjoy is taken away.