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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Google's announcement of a plan to pay some game developers based on how much their games are played has stirred concerns among industry insiders about the downside of game subscription economics.

Why it matters: The concern over engagement-based payments is that they incentivize developers to make games that are artificially longer or that pressure their players to keep coming back.

  • Those worries are on the rise as players, developers and publishers reckon with the impact of increasingly popular subscription services from Xbox, Apple, PlayStation and Google, which provide gamers access to scores of games for a flat monthly fee.

How it works: Google's approach will give developers whose games are accepted into the Stadia Pro subscription a cut from a pool of 70% of the revenue generated by Pro. The cut will be based on player engagement for a given game.

  • Stadia isn't logging total hours. It will instead reward daily check-ins. If a player plays a game for two days, that's two moments of engagement.
  • Some gaming subscription services offer a mix of upfront payment for putting the game on the service, followed by engagement-based revenue, but a Google rep declined to specify whether upfront payments are part of this.
  • Stadia complemented its news with the announcement of an unusually generous split to new games signed to Stadia for their first $3 million in revenue.

What they're saying: Johan Toresson, a talent scout for acclaimed indie-friendly publisher Raw Fury, told Axios that engagement-based payments incentivize the creation of games that press players to "log in every day, put every waking hour into the game" he said.

  • "While there is usually an up front paycheck, which is great, the people curating these platforms clearly signal that they are more into these types of retention-heavy projects, which in turn likely leads to projects being bloated with unnecessary padding content just to keep you in there."
  • Some games can derive engagement simply by being fun enough to play every day, he noted. And subscription gaming plans do seem to encourage people to try games they otherwise wouldn't have seen or bought.
  • But the impact of paying for engagement worries him (and others) who fret for the fate of more self-contained projects.
  • "This model wouldn't make sense for establishing the value of say Bukowski's 'Women,' Cass Khaw's 'Hammers on Bone' or Gaspar Noé's 'Irréversible' on the amount of time spent reading or watching them (or amount of times it's re-read and re-watched), so why should it for games?" he said.

The bottom line: The industry's business models have affected how developers get paid — and what kind of games they make — since quarter-munching arcade cabinets in the '80s rewarded creators for making games hard.

Go deeper

"New World" players are running out of in-game money

Image courtesy of Amazon Game Studios

Consumers are grappling with inflation in this world. But in another world, it's deflation, Axios Closer's Courtenay Brown writes.

Driving the news: Amazon's massively multiplayer online game "New World" — recently out after a slew of delays — is dealing with a crisis in its player-driven economy, PlayerAuctions reports.

The hard math behind America's labor shortage

Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Congressional Budget Office; Chart: Axios Visuals

Yes, the pandemic has created unusual temporary labor market dynamics. But in the bigger picture, the 2010s were a golden age for companies seeking cheap labor. The 2020s are not.

The big picture: In the 2010s, the massive millennial generation was entering the workforce, the massive baby bo0m generation was still hard at work, and there was a multi-year hangover from the deep recession caused by the global financial crisis.

Advocates fret Roe v. Wade's 49th anniversary could be its last

Photo: Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for Women's March Inc

As Saturday marks the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court's landmark decision that legalized abortion access in the U.S., advocates warn the ruling is "more at risk now than ever."

The big picture: The Supreme Court in December heard a challenge to a Mississippi 15-week abortion ban that could throw Roe's survival into question, or at least narrow its scope.