Choose your fighter! GaaS or traditional gaming?  In this blog, we’ll examine games as a service. Games as a service, or GaaS, is a way for game publishers to “monetize video games beyond their point of sale“. It also provides players with new content like missions, competitions, and gear. This is done through season passes, microtransactions, and other subscription options. A benefit of GaaS is that it keeps players engaged with a game for a longer time.  It also creates a stream of ongoing revenue for game publishers. Another type of GaaS is known as cloud gaming and game streamingWorld of Warcraft is an early example of GaaS, and contemporary GaaS titles include Overwatch, Destiny, and Fortnite.  

Traditionally, games are purchased one-time with payment occurring up front, after which the player owns the game. Typically, the game is complete and delivered all at once to customers. The shift towards GaaS began when online storefronts allowed players to buy digital copies of games and downloadable content (DLC).  This can include new story missions, cosmetics, weapons, or features, thus effectively increasing the value of a game and extending its shelf life beyond an initial playthrough.  In fact, research by ArsTechnica found that the number of games released digitally in 2021 increased by 64% from 2020. GaaS is the latest evolution of digital gaming. 

Types of Games as a Service 


Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games, or MMORPGs, are a cornerstone of games as a service.  They’re also where GaaS first put down roots through titles like World of Warcraft, Destiny, and Star Wars: The Old Republic.  The trend continues with The Elder Scrolls Online and Assassin’s Creed Infinity, a future live service title in the popular game franchise. 

Let’s travel to Azeroth and discover how World of Warcraft uses GaaS.  First released in 2004, World of Warcraft lets players game online with people all over the world by signing into a server.  WoW offers subscription accounts and limited free-play accounts.  Said free-play accounts allow players to enjoy an adventure up to character level 20 with limited features.  Players buy subscriptions monthly; subscriptions can be purchased with real-world and in-game currency.  In addition, players can buy content and bid in auctions using in-game gold.  Certain expansions are only available to players with higher subscription tiers. 

World of Warcraft has eight expansion packs released over time, with a ninth available for pre-purchase. In 2020, Shadowland, WoW’s eighth expansion sold 3.7 million units globally on its release day.  World of Warcraft also has a WoW Classic service that lets players raid in the base game experience as it was before the expansions were added.  Interestingly, WoW Classic also has content for The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King, the first and second expansions to the base game.  Finally, World of Warcraft has eSports divisions.  For the horde! 

Subscription Services and Season Passes 

Colloquially described as ‘Netflix for gamers’, a subscription is a service where a player pays a recurring fee to access a large library of digital games. Currently, 35% of gamers worldwide pay for a monthly gaming subscription.  Consider the Xbox Gamepass: it allows subscribers to access a library of pre-licensed games to download and play for a flat monthly fee. Subscribers can choose between the $9.99 standard pass or the $14.99 Ultimate pass.  Games are added or removed from the library regularly and include exclusive titles like Halo Infinite.    

Another benefit to using a subscription service is early access to games and exclusive content availability.  For example, the PlayStation Store is offering early access trials for certain EA Sports games at the time of this article. 

A season pass is a specific type of subscription. According to Ubisoft, “a season pass is an extra piece of content which is either included as part of a game edition or can be purchased in addition to a game.  Once purchased, the season pass allows you to access selected content for the game at no extra cost. Content may include extra missions, weapons, costumes and downloadable content scheduled for release over the next year(s).”  In addition, a season pass allows gamers to buy DLC in bulk and save money with discounts, rather than buying expansions a la carte.  

An example of a season pass is the Mario Kart 8 Booster Course Pass: it grants access to 48 racetracks from throughout the franchise history for $25. The player must already have purchased Mario Kart 8 Deluxe to use the Booster Course Pass.  Content is released in waves until the end of 2023.  It may be purchased a la carte from the Nintendo eShop; or included in the Nintendo Switch Online library. 

Industry experts note that PC gaming has largely transitioned to digital games only, and console games are on a similar trend.  Both PlayStation and Xbox offer consoles with digital-only options. 

Free to Play 

Some GaaS games, such as Fortnite and Apex Legends, are free to play but include paid upgrades.  The National Law Review describes Free To Play Games as “a base version of a game is made available to all players at no cost, while certain features of the game require a payment to be accessed. The most popular method of implementing in-game purchases is through microtransactions which are usually smaller purchases that unlock only a small feature of the game, but can be done multiple times.”  

Cloud Gaming 

Cloud gaming is “a game that resides on a company server rather than on the gamer’s computer or device. The gamer enters the game by installing a client program that can access the server where the games are running.”  Notable cloud gaming services are Xbox Cloud Gaming, Nvidia GeForce Now, PlayStation Plus Premium, and Amazon Luna.  A 2020 study found that cloud gaming market size would be worth 7.24 billion by 2027

Another plus is that cloud gaming is device agnostic, meaning gamers can play “on a range of different devices from TVs, PCs, mobiles, and handhelds”.  This is possible because “Gameplay is then streamed over the internet back to you, allowing you to play the latest games on nearly any device, even ones that are not capable of running that game.”  For instance, gamers can buy Cyberpunk 2077 on Nvidia’s GeForceNow cloud gaming service, and play it on computers, smart TVs, and mobile devices.   Cloud gaming brings the computing needs out of a player’s living room and into a cloud array.  Not only does this reduce the cost of entry with no need for individuals to buy a high-powered console or PC, it also allows for exponential increases in computing power, thus unlocking a new frontier of improved graphics, AI, and other experiences. 

Gamer Perspectives  

Games as a service is a big field, and gamer perspectives on GaaS vary.  Some gamers praise GaaS, but some gamers feel that GaaS is anti-consumer. Like many digital assets, the player owns the individual license to the game, rather than the actual game. The wariness around GaaS is magnified around microtransactions and loot boxes, which many players feel create pay-to-win situations. Gamers feel frustrated when core gameplay functionality is locked behind microtransactions. Players and parents alike note that certain microtransactions are designed to mimic gambling and can be addicting for kids. This concern also applies to MMORPGs, which can be addicting for some people. 

 Conversely, some players like the ability to “try before you buy” and treat a game subscription service like an extended demo. This is such a popular use case that PlayStation offers a demo for certain titles bought from the PlayStation Store. VR gaming giant Meta Quest includes a two-hour trial period with every purchase and allows players to return digital purchases. Gamers praise cloud gaming for enabling cross-platform playability. 

Release days are special occasions in the gaming hobby, and many players are pumped for Day 1 access to new titles through subscription services.  In 2021, Microsoft (the parent company of XBox), purchased Bethesda Studios for $7.5 billion USD. Bethesda is the publisher of games like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Fallout 76. Xbox chief Phil Spencer said “If you’re an Xbox customer, the thing I want you to know is that this is about delivering great exclusive games for you that ship on platforms where Game Pass exists. That’s our goal, that’s why we’re doing this, that’s the root of this partnership that we’re building.”   

In addition to exclusive access, this makes new games more affordable. Most new AAA titles cost $40-$80 USD for individual copies, but subscription memberships can cost as little as $3.99 USD. Both XBox Game Pass and PlayStation Plus have standard memberships for $9.99 USD. 

One bonus to gamers is that GaaS catalogs frequently include older games that have been ported over to modern systems. For instance, Nintendo Switch Online allows players to enjoy games from NES, SNES, N64, and Sega Genesis.   

Of course, player choice and preference are factors. Some players prefer owning a physical copy of a shiny collector’s edition; others enjoy having access to lots of digital games for a flat, low cost at their fingertips. Still others like to resell or gift their physical game copy after completion. 

Finally, cloud gaming lets gamers play online with their friends. Titles like Animal Crossing: New Horizons helped people connect online by building their village and selling turnips during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. MMORPGs can be a platform for establishing or growing relationships with friends and strangers.  Some players have even met their future spouse through online gaming. Anecdotes abound of games helping people endure tragedy and major life events. There have even been times when gamers have contacted emergency services for their online acquaintances. A group of online gamers met for the first time IRL to support their friend with a terminal illness. Scroll through Reddit, and you’ll find many posts about lifelong friends made through gaming live chats.  

The Fuel Cycle Advantage 

GaaS has potential to grow the gaming hobby in positive and negative ways. The Fuel Cycle ecosystem can help take the grind out of GaaS, giving you more time to grind in-game for XP.  

Using FC Community and FC Live, game developers can communicate with their most passionate fans.  Gamers are vocal about their likes and dislikes, and with a community you can define the focus to get answers to specific research questions. Our dedicated community managers are the ‘quest givers’ of market research, helping to lead discussions and moderate live chats to discover what matters most to your customers. Fuel Cycle’s Community can be used to tap into the gaming zeitgeist by testing new concept development. Your community members can share their ideas on new character skins, new levels, and new competitions, helping you allocate development resources for a competitive edge. Gather quantitative data through surveys, product tests, and quick polls; and, obtain qualitative insights with discussions, video focus groups, live chats, and diary studies. Gamers come from all walks of life, all over the world. FC Community has support for multilingual translation, geolocation validation, and user generated content so that your business can reach players across the globe. Set up profiling points within your community to measure social media use, and send tailored surveys to members active on gaming social media like Twitch and Discord. 

Fuel Cycle’s Ignition apps provide a whole suite of support at all levels. GaaS platforms will find value in Brand Health Tracking which tracks share of wallet and gives actionable feedback of how to win over competitor’s customers. Imagine that you are publishing a sci-fi adventure game and want to gauge whether players would buy your game or a historical adventure game releasing the same month. What motivates someone to purchase one game over another? Is it rich lore and complex storytelling associated with a beloved IP? Or perhaps it’s superior parkour mechanics and stealth missions that immerse the player in larger-than-life capers. Would prospective players rather pilot a spaceship or take the wheel of a pirate galleon? Brand Health Tracking enables game publishers to measure performance against their competitors and understand what they need to do to get more engaged with future games.  

With Feature Prioritization (Kano) and Concept/Creative Screening, learn which game mechanics delight test players. The Feature Prioritization app helps sort potential features into key categories to determine how your team should prioritize the development budget. Continuing with our example sci-fi adventure game–Do game testers want smoother combat, PVP mode, or more solo adventures? With Feature Prioritization, determine MVP must-haves in addition to features that players are indifferent to. Concept/ Creative Screening harnesses the power of monadic, sequential monadic, and grid data collection to prioritize stimuli with a statistically tested scorecard. Use this to compare stimuli like logos, character designs, or atmosphere music.  

Looking to invest in customer experience and support? Bring beta testing to life with Delta Testing and put your most passionate gamers into action with live conversation and self-guided video recordings. Delta testing enables continuous product development and feedback which results in user feedback throughout the entire product lifestyle, not just at a single point in time. It allows you to share wireframes and concepts for commenting, up-down voting, and value scoring. This allows for more relevant designs for each persona with feedback throughout. With Delta testing, get bug reports and feature requests giving you time to implement bug fixes and patches in time for Day Zero. Support your dev’s product team as well as your players with an API that integrates with tools like Jira, ProductBoard, Azure Dev Ops, and more. Delta Testing–It’s next-gen beta testing for your next gen games.  

Fuel Cycle Exchange (FCX) is the ultimate co-op adventure. We’ve partnered with 39 different apps to bring you solutions for all your research needs. Screen content like gameplay trailers with test audiences using and Course5. Find Wow! moments in boss fights through emotion analytics by FCX Affectiva.  Give your CX design a stat bonus with FCX UserTesting. Already spec’ed into a market research skill tree but don’t want to lose points? FCX Qualtrics, FCX Salesforce Marketing Cloud, FCX Alchemer, and FCX Momentive are here to work for you.   

Ready to get in the game?  Contact a Fuel Cycle sales representative to schedule a demonstration.  Grab a controller and join us, let’s play!