The video game industry is entering new frontiers. In the past, you plonked down US$60 for a copy of Grand Theft Auto or Madden NFL and played it out – after that you could trade it in or let it gather dust. Now, you increasingly have the choice of subscribing to games, playing for free or possibly just streaming them over the internet to your phone or TV. Welcome to a new world of experimentation in an industry that hasn’t been seriously shaken up since Nintendo launched its first home gaming console in the 1980s or when mobile gaming surged in popularity a decade ago. “We’re in an environment where people want content and media when they want it, how they want it,” says Scott Kessler, an analyst at research firm CFRA. “You can play a great video game with a console or on a computer or with a mobile device and you might not have to pay anything. That’s a dramatic departure from even a few years ago.” Of course, people will still buy and use traditional video games and consoles for years to come. But as games have become more accessible online and on mobile, it is becoming harder to convince people to spend a chunk of money upfront, says Joost van Dreunen, co-founder of research company SuperData. Responding to changing consumer behaviour, video game makers and new entrants are offering new ways to play. Why game streaming is great for Assassin’s Creed, not so for Call of Duty – yet Google, for example, announced Stadia, a console-free game streaming service due out this year. The platform will store a game-playing session in the cloud and let players jump across phones, laptops and browsers with Google’s software. Google didn’t say how much its new service will cost, whether it will offer subscriptions or other options, or what games will be available at launch – all key elements to the success of a new video-game platform. The company will be hoping to avoid the fate of OnLive, which debuted in 2010 and streamed high-end video games over the internet. The service had promise, but failed to garner a big enough user base. It closed down in 2015. Apple recently announced a subscription service, Apple Arcade, that some are calling the “Netflix of Games”. Subscribers will get to play more than 100 games, curated by Apple and exclusive to the service. Games can be downloaded and played offline on iPhones, iPads, Macs and Apple TV. Notably, Apple says players won’t have to pay for virtual weapons and other extras – something free mobile games typically charge for. The company didn’t say how much Arcade will cost when it launches this fall. And then there is Fortnite , a free-to-play game that has become a massive hit with its “battle royale” mode winning over millions of fans. In this mode, 100 players battle one another for weapons and armour until only one player is left. The game was created by developer Epic Games, which is backed by Chinese mobile behemoth Tencent. A key aspect of Fortnite is being able to play it on anything from your phone to a decked-out gaming PC. Free-to-play games such as Fortnite make money from in-app purchases. In Fortnite , for instance, players use real-world money to buy for their characters outfits, gear or “emotes” – brief dances that have become a cultural phenomenon performed on playgrounds, in social media posts and in the scoring celebrations of professional athletes. The trend started a few years ago with Candy Crush and other mobile games that appealed to casual gamers looking to pass the time on a subway or in the doctor’s waiting room. The success of Fortnite shows that this model works with more sophisticated styles of games, too. Despite being free to play, Fortnite raked in an estimated US$2.4 billion in 2018, according to SuperData. And there are many signs Fortnite isn’t a one-hit wonder. Electronic Arts’ Apex Legends was played by 50 million players worldwide in its first four weeks. While it doesn’t have a mobile component – yet – its style of gameplay and revenue model are similar to Fortnite . Meanwhile, Activision Blizzard is working with Tencent on a mobile version of its popular Call of Duty first-person shooter franchise. But it’s a gamble if users don’t spend enough money in the game itself. “Even though we can start to see the shape of things to come, it will take a while before they come into focus,” van Dreunen says.