Lovefilm Ditches Game Rentals: Bitter Irony or Sign of the Times?

July 11, 2013, Author: Andy Buick

As a gamer, the times are a-changing. This particularly seems to be the case if you like to rent your games. What does this mean for the landscape of gaming, though? Read on for Andy B’s thoughts.

Lovefilm has just announced that it’s ditching its game rental service for both new customers and existing customers who want to add games to their rental package. There’s no announcement yet as to what this will mean for those who already use this service, but it’s safe to assume that at some point very soon they too will lose the possibility to rent games.

Looking past the rather cack-handed way in which this announcement came out (it was announced in an FAQ response to a customer trying to rent games rather than officially, although Lovefilm have since confirmed this news and apologised), this is a somewhat ironic moment for us gamers. It comes so soon after Microsoft reversed the very policies that would have blocked you from renting games if you had an Xbox One (as reported by TIMJ Editor Andy Corrigan).

I have to wonder, was this plan in the works at Amazon (who now own Lovefilm) because of Microsoft’s policies? If that was the case though, would they not have cancelled those plans once Microsoft changed their plans? It seems unlikely that this is the cause. Though if that isn’t linked, then why make this decision now?

First of all, perhaps we can look at the online offerings from Sony and MS. Both companies offer a multitude of games to download, and it’s quick and easy enough to just jump onto their stores and buy something. Now, common sense suggests not buying a full “AAA” title online as they normally cost silly money, but there are plenty of smaller games at good prices, so perhaps some of this rental money is going to them instead. Yet then we also need to consider PlayStation Plus, and Microsoft’s Games for Gold, where owners of the PS3, PS Vita and Xbox 360 can subscribe for about £40 a year and as a result get a number of games each month.

Yes folks, that's 5500 games you won't be ordering through Lovefilm.

Yes folks, that’s 5,500 games you won’t be ordering through Lovefilm.

Now I’m not going to go into the respective merits of these services, but as a PS+ subscriber it’s safe to say that I don’t need to rent games any more, because right now I have more games than I know what to do with. Last month’s offering in particular, if you’re an RPG fan like me, was a monster, with about 250 hours of game time in the PS3 games offered alone.

With this service also being confirmed for PS4, and with improved online offerings for next-gen on the way, it seems that the rental service may naturally be on the decline anyway. It should also be noted that for most online games with PS+ you can download the game and play the first hour for free. Of course, game rental still offers a service that isn’t provided elsewhere (for the time being at least), but is it such a stretch to imagine MS and Sony starting to provide different online offers within their existing services? Would you be more interested in downloading titles if you could buy them on a time-limited basis at a reduced rate for example? That’s really just an extension of what PS+ is already.

The good news is that despite the Lovefilm news, game rentals aren’t dead yet. Blockbuster are still offering games and have even posted an update on the subject (clearly written by marketing so it’s a bit salesman-like but it gets the point across!); and Boomerang Rentals only offer rental games, so there is clearly still a market for this for the time being. I’m sure there are also many other stores offering this service beyond these two.

The big question now has to be: will there still be a big enough market for this once the PS4 and Xbox One are out there and their online services are in full swing? Amazon making such a move on the eve of the next generation is a moment that shouldn’t be under-estimated. Are we about to see the end of rental games? To end on a slightly more controversial question, did MS see this coming and if so, could this have informed some of the policies of the Xbox One? If they knew rentals were declining anyway, it certainly casts their anti-rental policy in a slightly different light.