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Pause! The Killer Feature No One Has Figured Out Yet

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By Nelson Schneider - 11/07/20 at 09:10 PM CT

As they did with TV, movies, and music, subscription services are now trying to consume the world of videogames. While Microsoft endeavors to become the “Netflix of Gaming,” Netflix itself has already fallen prey to the next step in subscription saturation – that is fracturing into many separate subscriptions as rightsholders withdraw their consent from Netflix to broadcast their content, in favor of ‘rolling their own’ solution, thus allowing them to keep more of the profits.

But as subscription services change from monolithic to marginal, the end user, the customer, the gamer, is the one who suffers, forced to shell out ever more money every month just to maintain access to what they had before. Customers are suffering from subscription fatigue and wasting hundreds of dollars per year as individuals, which all adds up to untold billions of dollars wasted worldwide.

This begs the question: Why stay subscribed to all these services all the time? After all, most people can only watch one video stream or play one game at a time. Binge-watching has been a worldwide phenomenon – be it good for us or not – that only emphasizes the point. If someone has X amount of free time in a given month and focuses all of their free time attention on a single subscription service, then every other co-active subscription service is pure waste for the customer and pure profit for the business behind it.

Yet, if a user realizes this and cancels all the subscriptions they aren’t currently engaging with on a daily basis, when, not if, the end user wants to re-engage with a different subscription in the future, they have to go through the sign-up process all over again.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just pause our subscriptions if we’re not planning to actively use them?

One of the three subscription services I called out as being of least-dubious value includes a prototype of just such a feature: The Humble Monthly Bundle subscription allows subscribers to pause their monthly subscription (thus missing out of the free games for the paused month and losing access to both their discount and the Humble Trove for the month), provided they do so before the last Friday of the preceding month. Any pre-paid months won’t be deducted from the user’s time allotment, nor will a user without banked months be charged. While this is a good first step, Humble’s pause feature is still half-baked, automatically reactivating the following month, requiring the user to manually pause each month in a row they don’t plan to engage with the subscription’s content.

What we need in this world of proliferating subscriptions is a universal regulatory mandate to include a pause feature, but it needs to be much more robust. We need the ability to pause our subscriptions indefinitely, until we choose to manually unpause them. We need the ability to interact with the content available from our paused subscriptions, in order to build playlists and see what’s available, thus allowing us to more accurately judge when a given service has accumulated enough new content to justify unpausing. We need our accounts and preferences and ratings to continue to exist, even when no money is currently changing hands. In short: We need a subscription model that respects the subscriber instead of exploiting human fallibility to wring the subscriber dry.

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