The Perils of Games as a Service

There are two main benefits for Games as a Service.  Players maintain an investment in the game over time, and it therefore has a very long shelf life.  Companies then can harvest money on the game for longer periods of time.  Very few companies have figured out how to balance those two items.

The more traditional model is simply box games, with a 1 time purchase, and maybe an expansion pack down the road.  With most games being on-line enabled, we got horse armour (and cosmetics in general).  Western players have generally avoided the gatcha/pay-to-win monetization models that dominate the east. Paying a subscription… that lasted about 10 years.  The good/bad of capitalism is that it’s a race to the bottom.  F2P came in, and here we are.

Games as a Service is the new synergy/cloud/blockchain buzzword.  It’s been around for a long time, but in the more explicit sense means a game that continues development long after release, and continues to generate incomes on that new development over time.  The minimum of that time is 1 year (for annualized games), but can go up to an as-yet-unknown number.  You’re looking at something like FIFA compared to something like WoW.

The challenge of this model relates to refresh, or sequels.  In the sports license world, there are arguably minimal improvements from one year to the next (except maybe console generations).  NHL19/20 have marginal changes that could easily have been patches.  The roster updates are already included over the year.  This model is really weird to me – especially FIFA where the MTX only apply to one game, then you need to do the same gambling steps the year following…

Semi-persistent games are the start of the challenge.  Something like Destiny has people sinking a lot of hours of effort to kit up their character, and the developer spending many cycles improving the base game.  After a couple years, the general game is really smooth.  Then a sequel is launched, which always is a downgrade mechanically (more bugs) and erases all player progress.  This is worse when the sequel isn’t easily distinguishable from the original (Division 1/2 here).  This problem gets worse the older the first game gets as compared to the next.  I don’t see how something like For Honor or Rainbow Six could ever have a sequel due to this.  It would have to be an entirely new game.  Ubisoft is public about that learned lesson.  Bethesda sure as heck isn’t.

For fully persistent games, like an MMORPG, it is near impossible to launch a true sequel without cutting your user base.  EQ2 and FF14 are the only ones where this could be considered a success, and for vastly different reasons.  There’s a LONG list of sequels that failed.  It’s not possible for WoW to ever have a WoW2, mainly for the fact that every expansion is in most essence a sequel – 95% of the progress from the previous version is meaningless.  ‘Cept pets – they are forever.  The downside is that the engine behind the game needs either updates or rebuilds (see Cataclysm & Legion), something that’s really only possible on PC only.

Hate on it if you want, but Fortnite here may actually have hit the right spot.  The recent black hole reboot acts as a mini-reboot.  It’s cross platform, rejigged the baselines systems, added new ones, maintained the player identity/investment, and increased players.

Still evolving landscape, makes it really interesting to see how this new game model stabilises.

2 thoughts on “The Perils of Games as a Service

  1. Has Fortnite’s black hole and new map really retained players though?

    I’ve experienced two game Cataclysms by now, one on an old MUD and observed WoW’s, and while I’m of the player subset who thrills to change and was in favor of world shakeups and new developments, I couldn’t help but notice there was a much larger group than my subset who got upset or at least discomfited by too much drastic change, especially to systems or worlds they have gotten familiar with. Instead of embracing the challenge of relearning all the new nuances, it gets taken as a stopping point to put the game down and move on to something else instead.

    Be interesting to see if Fortnite’s changes were not so drastic and thus kept old players as well as new, or if a whole bunch of kids decide that, “oh, it’s not the same anymore, and Fortnite is old and unhip now.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow’s version is a good example. It threw almost everything out the door. Player names stayed. Art, mechanics, class changes, all gear, enemy AI, talents… was more in line with the gap between destiny 1 and 2. Tick off the D1 players cause that game is dead, and the D2 players wonder why the polish from beforeeis gone.

    Fortnite we will have to see. Still top of charts in most major metrics.


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