Setting The Record Straight
Anthem, Destiny, The Division. These three games are some of the most popular, most talked about, and in some circles, most hated games of the last decade. Anthem, Destiny and The Division are also part of what’s known as the “Games As A Service” business model. This business model is an evolution of the typical game development, release and purchase model that has been in practice within the industry for decades now.
At its core, the idea of Games As A Service is simply to provide more content for players at a faster pace. Providing more content gives gamers like the Alpha Nerds more things to play. More content also brings in more revenue. More revenue means publishers are happy, publishers being happy means developers get to keep developing. This business model, like everything else, has its benefits and its detriments. My intention with this article is to better educate people on what games as a service actually are. With the hope of having the reader be more able to make informed purchasing decisions.
“Back In My Day….”
There was a time where games released as a finished product. Anything and everything that was supposed to be in the game was put on the disc at launch. In the early days of gaming, there were no day one patches. You had one chance to make a good first impression as a developer. If you didn’t, chances are you’d never get to make another game. Devs worked tirelessly to ensure quality within their games and it showed by the level of prestige titles like “Duke Nukem”, “Baldur’s Gate” and “Resident Evil” achieved. While these games all have their issues, they’ll stand the test of time in gaming history as some of the best developed and most influential titles to ever release. Modern day gaming is a much different affair.
“We didn’t have that when I was a boy….”
Due to the advent of the internet in the digital age, we’re able to get games in ways we never could before. New release methods led to new marketing, development and release strategies. Games take less time to finish than ever before so gamers are always clamoring for something new to play. As an end result, publishers want to get games into the hands of gamers faster than ever. The problem with the faster than ever approach is game development is more expensive and more time intensive than ever before. Eventually a middle ground was found, and the MVP ( Minimal Viable Product ) was created.
Source Of The Problem
Games can be released and supported after with patches, Downloadable Content, add ons and expansion packs. This idea is wonderful in concept, however it has been extremely flawed in execution. Games like Anthem, The Division and Destiny have launched in content sparse states. After a few hours of play, gamers have seen all there is to see. After a few more hours, gamers have done everything there is to do. This lack of content leaves those games feeling hollow and bare bones. This cut content has then been repackaged as DLC (Downloadable Content) and sold to consumers as a way to complete the experience. Games have also been released half finished, buggy, unplayable and broken experiences. These games release with problems that require large patches that sometimes don’t come for weeks, or months at a time. A perfect example of this is No Man’s Sky, which took over a year to finally be in the state that it was promised to be in at launch. Street Fighter X Tekken was notorious for having content on the disc that gamers purchased but then charging gamers to unlock that content. Essentially forcing them to pay twice for content that they should have had access to when they bought the game originally.
Hope For The Future
Games As A Service, however, has also been done extremely well. A good example is Supergiant Games “Hades”. Hades was released in early access. This early release gives an infusion of cash to the studio and gets the game into the hands of clamoring fans. Instead of having to wait until the official release date, gamers can play today and get updates tomorrow. However instead of the updates just being things the developers want to do, the updates also come from community suggestion and feedback on what is and isn’t working. This real time feedback and collaboration/development loop between the community and the development team has led to an outstanding experience. Hades is a perfect example of exactly what Games As A Service should be, a way to enhance a gamer’s experience, not a way to take every penny they’ve earned. Developers deserve to make money, just as the publishing house does. Game development, publishing and marketing are expensive endeavors, however integrity should play a key role in how games are put out into the world. Unfortunately, for us as gamers, integrity has been lacking, seemingly sacrificed at the altar of profit.
How To Solve The Problem
Solving the many problems of Games As A Service isn’t going to be a simple endeavor but I truly believe it’s both possible, and beneficial for gamers and the gaming industry as a whole.
1:The first solution is to let development run its course, let developers execute on their visions for the game design, characters, story and the world of the game. Don’t intervene and rip out the best content so you can save it to sell back at a later date.
2: The second solution is honesty. Be honest with gamers about what they can expect and when they can expect it instead of breaking promises and deadlines. Breaking promises only damages trust and makes the consumer wary of trusting you, which decreases the chances of them spending money with you.
3: The third solution is to listen to the community. People will always tell you what they want, you just have to listen. Gamers are an opinionated group, we spend copious amounts of money to enjoy our chosen hobby, so we have a right to be critical of the product we receive. Very rarely will you encounter someone who just outright wants the game to fail. More often than not criticism is leveled by a gamer that has been let down by the product they received, because they want to make the game better for themselves and others like them.
There are many ways to solve the issues that crop up as a result of Games As A Service game development. The above solutions are three that I consider to be the most important considering the current state of the gaming industry. Service games typically do end up getting fixed down the line, bugs will be patched out and content will be added. This support eventually leading to a completed product. However sometimes that late arrival can signal the death knell for what could have otherwise been an extremely popular franchise if the game itself and the methods used to design it weren’t so problematic.
Wrapping Things Up
I’d like to close by clarifying that I don’t hate the Games As A Service business model. I think it’s a wonderful idea that unfortunately has terrible execution. Publishers want to chase the kind of sales and revenue that Call of Duty was reaching during its peak years. My goal with this article has been two things. One, to educate and help people make more informed purchasing decisions. And two, to help the gaming industry better and improve itself by leaving behind archaic practices and adopting consumer friendly policies that will help spur creativity among developers and excitement amongst the gaming community as a whole.