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Wo Long: In On The Ground Floor

One of the big releases of this week has been Wo Long, the Soulslike set within the Three Kingdoms period of China. I’ve not played it much, but I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen. And the most amazing thing? I was in on the ground floor.

In all the talk about subscription services, it tends to be the value that comes up the most. People will get really excited about the prospect of getting something for (seemingly) nothing, especially if that thing is really good. But what doesn’t get mentioned enough is what a good equalizer this is. And it’s not just Game Pass, it’s every subscription service.

The beauty of having a single pool of content, is everyone gets access to that content. This isn’t always a good thing – and we’ll talk about that after – but it’s undeniably a great equaliser. When God of War Ragnarok came out, there was a buzz all around the net. But only people who could play it, who had the time and money to buy and experience it, could take part in that conversation. That’s fine, and is obviously the traditional way games are released and this isn’t about the financial ups and downs of day-one releases. But with games like Wo Long, everybody already in that pool can take part in the conversation.

This isn’t just new games either, although those are the ones that get the biggest reaction. It’s interesting to see how retro games have received the same treatment, both on the Nintendo services and when they’ve come to other platforms. Seeing a lot of people collectively rediscover new titles is just as interesting.

Wo Long – Beating the Crowd Viewing Effect

Right now, this is all really novel. We can download Wo Long and we can enjoy everything about it day one, and be in on that conversation despite not paying a chunky upfront fee. Awesome.

But there’s a downside to this. When a subscription service becomes big enough, the conversation stops being led by getting great content and the content becomes “great” because it’s easily accessible. Let me explain.

I’m not going to muddy the waters by naming any specific TV shows – people love different things. But I was recently reading a study about just this. When something is released on a big enough platform, it becomes self-feeding. It doesn’t matter about the quality, people will watch it because they have the sub-service it is on, and everybody is talking about it, so they might as well. And then everybody talks about it afterwards as well, because everybody else is talking about it so… might as well. There is a collective fear of missing out. Suddenly terrible shows are massive because the buzz is built-in by default.

This never really existed in the same way in the old days. There was must-watch TV, naturally. But a combination of there being massive international services like Disney+ and Netflix, and the rise of social media, means there’s a constant self-inflicted pressure to be up on the thing everybody is talking about. You enjoy it, because you feel like you’re part of a community that is enjoying it.

This wouldn’t be a good thing in games. It’s not a good thing in telly either, but games take so long to make. Our industry cannot get to a point where the “it” thing everyone is talking about is talked about because it’s the “it” thing. Quality and variety need to be high. And the inevitable rise of one or two major subscription services needs to champion that, not squash it.


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blank Mat Growcott has been a long-time member of the gaming press. He's written two books and a web series, and doesn't have nearly enough time to play the games he writes about.

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Twitter: @matgrowcott