Live Service Games


#1

What do you think as games as a service? It’s been a consistently hot-button issue in the gaming industry in the past years, with a lot of ups and downs and tons of money spent on them.

It almost goes without saying there have been a lot of issues on this side of the gaming industry from the ongoing Destiny saga, to the Division, and recently Anthem’s launch. At the same time though, there have been several breakout successes as well like Fortnite, Rainbow Six Siege, Warframe, and many prominent MMOs. Killer Instinct could also be seen as a successful example of these product models in its time. However, few of those games have launched in the best state and took a lot of time and money to get to where they are now. All the while, most if not all of them have been magnets for controversy over dozens of various pricing and microtransacation practices.

Is its popularity good or bad for the gaming industry? Does it have its place regardless? How can it improve?


#2

I will start with KI. I think when MS announced it as a “platform” this was kind of a misnomer. Looking back it’s not so much a service game as it is an episodic (or seasonal) release. Fundamentally I think all fighting games will have some variation in this season pass kind of model, although maybe not as extreme as KI.

As far as the “games as services” model, I think developers are looking for ways to evolve their monetization. They have to do this. Making games is a hard business and so many developers go under despite making good games. As with anything there are lessons to be learned about what sort of monetization gamers will like, tolerate, or boycott. And frankly I don’t think gamers as a whole act rationally so I think it’s going to be a while before developers find the “sweet spot.”

The battle royale games have done this by introducing a cheap as heck game, giving it away for free (except PUBGS - which has pretty much died now as far as I can tell) to get a huge player base then charging for micro transactions and cosmetics. I don’t really get it, but I don’t mind being able to pick up and try the games for free. But the key seems to be keeping overhead low, playerbase high and the transactions “inoffensive.”

Destiny and Anthem are a very different model. Much closer to the MMO model only instead of a subscription fee they try charging you for periodic releases of content. Destiny 2 has been a mess because of the pricing scheme angering fans - but purposely encouraging new players to join, which makes some sense. We will se his anthem does it. But the key to this model is convincing the players they are getting good value and giving them something to keep coming back to. I think this model is great because it is being used for AAA games, but there’s no way people are going to get the quantity of content they associate with a AAA game right off the bat. So we will see if they can sustain it.

It’s worth noting that a third option is something like MH world. Where somehow they just sell you the game and then continue to release content for it. In let capcom can do this because they haven’t made a new animation rig since MH3 - and the MH series is the champion at reusing assets. But even so it’s impressive what they have done. We will see what the first paid expansion looks like this fall.

TL;DR I think the model is fine and has a place in the pantheon of gaming. There’s actually a few kinds and it will be awhile before developers work the kinks out.


#3

I basically come down where Andy does. I think the model makes sense from both a production and consumer standpoint, but there will probably be a fairly long balancing period where the two sides figure out how much we’re willing to pay/how much they can charge. I think that path will have some rocky portions, but overall I think there does exist a fair balance for developing new content and charging for it that everyone can live and thrive with.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the game-as-service model, but I do think developers need to be better about launching these types of products. Anthem (whose additional content is free, and thus more like MH3 than Destiny) actually has a very good monetization strategy I think, but it has failed pretty hard on releasing as a complete and stable product. I think there’s a lot of margin around monetization strategies (ranging from MTX only for vanity to loot boxes for “power”), but much less for overall product stability. I think Anthem is a really, really good game, but I can’t begrudge a lot of its negative press because of its significant bugginess. I think Bioware has been really good about fixing things, and I think in another month or two the game will be in a really great place. But at the same time, I think the reviews for the title show that consumers only have so much patience for that. I really hope that it doesn’t kill the game, but I also hope that EA and Bioware and everyone else takes note that yes, your title does need to meet a certain standard for technical quality even if it is a game-as-service.

Long story short, keep playing around with pricing and MTX and find that sweet spot that works for all parties. I think the gaming community is way too angry about some things (Anthem had and has a ton of hate against it just because EA is the publisher, for instance), but at the same time it’s important that consumers exercise their wallets to show what is and is not a valid monetization strategy. On the other side of the coin, it’s important that developers release quality products that work at launch. I think that ultimately company profits will be hurt by doing anything less, and it will further bias the consumer base against the model writ large.


#4

I think this is the most important part of the whole situation. This is a realm of gaming chock-full of redemption stories, but actually launching right has been a constant problem. A lot of it is probably all these developers just entering the genre with no true experience and not enough knowledge of how these kinds of games should work, so development struggles a lot and they eventually have to scramble to put out a product. It’ll be interesting to see how the Division 2 turns out in light of that, because its launch is looking significantly more promising and it’s from a developer that seems to have learned its lessons the first time around.


#5

I’m curious how that will go too. But I think there’s a bigger fundamental issue with the pattern of bad launches. It’s been too consistent for games to launch with basically broken online, incomplete content etc. While I am sympathetic to the size and complexity of modern online games, I have to believe there’s another element: despite all the apologies and scrambles to “fix” things I just don’t think these developers (or maybe more accurately publishers) really see these launches as a problem. Or maybe I should clarify - they don’t see these launches as a problem worth fixing.

It’s pretty clear how you fix these issues and it’s with more testing, longer development time and a bigger investment in infrastructure. But that costs time and money and over and over again they aren’t doing it. I don’t think they are aiming for the worst of these launches but I think they are aiming for “passable enough to be forgiven” rather than “smooth and excellent.”


#6

I mention something similar in relation to deadlines in that post, but I’m not at the point where I believe it’s being done deliberately as a calculated scheme. The only developer I know of to launch a sequel to a game like this before is Bungie, and from various reports it sounds like their engine and organization are just an inefficient mess.