Games as a ‘service’, yeah, right

I think many executives currently working in game development need to look up the word service in a dictionary, because they obviously don’t know what it means anymore.

Unless they think what they’re doing is deliver games that are already very good and totally worth their price tag at release, and then continue to refine and expand them for years afterwards.

Problem is, they are not doing that. Not even close.

It’s shocking how many high profile, full-price games that came out during the last couple of years were arguably unfinished and/or disappointing messes at release. Destiny 2, Fallout 76, Anthem, Battlefront II, Sea of Thieves, No Man’s Sky, Mass Effect: Andromeda; to a lesser degree Battlefield V, CoD Black Ops IV and probably some others I’m forgetting right now.

This is not to say there weren’t any good releases at all, quite the contrary. But it’s impossible not to notice a very disturbing trend here. Especially whenever developers or publishers can’t shut up about their fabulous Games as a Service chances are we’ll be getting only half a product for full a price. If we’re lucky.

Of the games mentioned above I can (fortunately) only talk about Destiny 2 from my own experience. I bought it at release and can’t deny that I had quite a bit of fun for a while. Though even at my pace, which seems to be considerably slower than that of most gamers, I reached the point where there wasn’t anything of interest left to do pretty quickly. The first two ‘expansions’ – more like rather meaty content drops, really – were too expensive for what they offered. The first one, Curse of Osiris, even shut out those who didn’t buy it from most endgame content. Bungie only changed that after the playerbase had expressed their outrage quite explicitly.

Destiny-Trio
With guns. Destiny 2 players solve every conflict with guns. Just kidding of course.

The first ‘real’ expansion, Forsaken, seems to have pretty much fixed the game for many a player, I hear it’s pretty great now. I don’t care though because I had given them too much money already for what they’d offered me in return up to that point. Basically Destiny 2 players who still play today have paid at least 120 bucks – if they bought everything at the time of release or shortly thereafter – to be able to play the finished game. Only now does the service part begin, which – you guessed it – won’t be for free either. No thanks. Fool me once, and all that.

Destiny 2 has yet another problem that’s become a blight in recent years: content that has been developed and could be earned through gameplay – thus making us feel rewarded and, you know, good about the time we spent playing the game – is kept off of loot tables to be sold in the cash shop instead. Gee, thanks, what a great service you’re doing us there after already taking our money for half a game and then some more for the rest of it.

Not all of this is ‘just’ caused by greed either. Sometimes there’s also mind-boggling incompetence to be blamed, as seen in the case of Anthem.

Anthem
What are you looking at? Search your feelings, you know it to be true!

On Tuesday Kotaku published an article by Jason Schreier titled ‘How Bioware’s Anthem went wrong’. I highly recommend reading it. It’s pretty long, but if you’re still here at this point I assume you won’t mind. If you’d prefer a video, Angry Joe and friends have summed up their reactions to the piece on their show.

The article is based on interviews with 19 people who either directly or indirectly worked on Anthem and basically boils down to this: while the game was in development for about seven years total, the actual production had to be done in the last 12 to 16 months, crunch time style, because years and years had been wasted flailing around and not knowing what exactly the game was to become. When they showed this ‘gameplay-demo’ at E3 2017 the ground-level developers themselves were like “Oh are we actually doing this? Do we have the tech for that, do we have the tools for that?”

Anthem2
They were not only lying to us, but basically also to their own developers

How can stuff like this even happen when you have so much developer talent and a massive budget at your disposal?

In my opinion the big publishers and development studios suffer from a development (no pun intended) that Steve Jobs already talked about in fricking 1995. Basically he’d observed that once a company gets big enough the “product people” get driven out of decision making because the “sales and marketing people” become ever more important, get promoted and so on. In the end the company “forgets what it means to make great products”.

This seems to describe spot on what’s been going on with EA, Activision and the like *cough*Apple*cough* for quite some time now, but Schreier’s article proves that not even developer studios who once were hardcore gaming enthusiasts are immune to this.

Now, is there a silver lining at all?

I sure hope so. The Battlefront II disaster has shown that we can fight back, that we can make ourselves heard. It’s critically important that we keep it up now. We need to stop preordering stuff. We need to stop buying games on day one when we don’t know if they’re any good yet (review embargoes anyone?). We need to stop buying season passes when we don’t even know what those will entail. We need to stop buying stuff from the cash shop in full-price games.

I’ll do what it takes, even if I have to miss out on games I’d actually like to play. Who’s with me?

9 Replies to “Games as a ‘service’, yeah, right”

  1. It’s tough. I usually wait unless I’m too hyped already and buy on day one. But as I get older the waiting seems to be easier, and I wait for trusted bloggers or sites to give decent reviews before I jump in. Even then I’ve been burned. Going with my gut tends to be okay too, it really depends on the title.

    I’m happy with Destiny 2 at this point, and I got the base game for free, the first two expansions and forsaken for half off, so I spent under $60 for the whole experience. Sometimes waiting is the best thing, and I’m hoping the same goes for Anthem down the line.

    I’m okay with playing a game solo if it’s good.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, it’s become way easier for me to be patient too. It might be due to wisdom of age (at least I hope so 🙂 ), but mainly it’s because recent years’ events have taught me not to believe anything I see and hear about a game until people I trust have actually played it. It’s pretty sad really.

      I’m with you on Anthem. Hopefully the game will still get to a point where it’s really good, then I’ll have no reservations to buy and play it. The big question is how long that might take though, and if anyone, myself included, will still be interested in the game at that point.

      Like

  2. The problem is people who actually play the games vs those who write about them. I’ll take your list:

    Anthem 85 hours played
    Battlefield V 120 hours played
    Andromeda 150 hours played.

    All launch day, all fun, all had more content then I could get through at launch in 30-40 hours. All had enough to keep me playing.

    I felt like I got value and a half from all of those.

    Monster Hunter World I bought for 79.99 and played 2 hours. Just 2.

    The Witcher three I got 4 hours out of.

    Both of those games are highly reviewed and won many awards, yet I clearly had way more time, fun and enjoyment from three on your “not done” list.

    The trouble is the Reddit’s, and game news outlets, all jumping on the story that gets the most clicks, and gets the most income.

    (I’m not playing Anthem right now, to be transparent. The Insider story makes it hard for me to log in. But I still feel like I already got my values worth and then some. AND, even better, if they fix it I can always go back ,(no paid DLC or expansions).

    Same with Battlefield V

    Not so with Andromeda. The story, the side quests, are done. BUT I would pay $80 for a sequel tomorrow!)

    I like the live service model because it’s easy to walk away and come back to as the service changes. As long as there is enough there on day one to keep me busy, it’s a good model. I believe developers can then improve based on what is happening in the game from the players and grow it better than I’d they guessed what players would like once they hit 60 hours in.

    I’m not alone here, go read the Reddit LOW-SODIUM ANTHEM with lots of players still along for the ride.

    Couple live service with all access subscriptions and there is great value for gamers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sorry I have to disagree, but this seems more like a matter of personal taste to me than one of not knowing what one’s talking about.

      You might not have enjoyed Witcher 3 and MHW, but the way I see it that doesn’t change the fact that they are objectively speaking great games – if you like the type of game in general, that is.

      I’m happy for you that you got a lot of enjoyment out of some of the games I mentioned, I really am. Still, my opinion stands that those shouldn’t have been released in the state they were in at the time, and looking at the user scores on metacritic the majority of folks seems to agree with me (for once).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Be careful about meta critic. A lot of it for Andromeda (anyway) was review bombs (scores of zero and 1) against it because of the diversity involved. That was part of my point – the media touch points people are forming their opinions on are largely based on third party revenue (you tube influencers, etc.).

        Look at Borderlands 3 getting bad reviews already because of Epic store exclusivity.

        Nothing was wrong with Andromeda at launch outside of facial animations and an average story line. Battlefield V had a ton of content at launch and keeps adding (for free). It also got review bombed over having women soldiers as an available focus.

        Anthem had and has problems, and is the one of the three you mentioned that supports your theory – But is was still a ton of fun to play. The real problems only show up at end game Legendary hunting, which should take the average gamer 60+ hours to get to. Heck, if you get 100 hours our of any game you are well ahead.

        I agree personal opinion comes into play. Seems the loudest personal opinions can shape the general consensus (and the most extreme opinions get the most clicks and income). That’s where the slippery slope is.

        You said it yourself, you didn’t play them. You might have found enjoyment in any or all of them as well.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That’s true, I indeed might have.

        My intention was never to bash the games themselves or the hard working ground-level developers anyway. Sorry if it came across that way.

        My point is that decision makers in game development currently make bad decisions all the time, decisions that make the games objectively worse than they could have been. Mostly due to a desire to milk as much money from players as possible (I think we can all agree here, no?), sometimes due to incompetence or whatever you want to call it.

        It’s a trend that we, who love and are passionate about our games, shouldn’t just tolerate and accept as the ‘new normal’. We need to fight this.

        Just my opinion, obviously.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Gamers (for some, odd reason) put game developers and companies on a pedestal. It’s a bad industry in many ways. The only, single sole purpose of any big publically traded company is to earn as much income as possible for as little expense as possible. That’s it! The only things that stops that cycle is competition and consumer choice. Both are bad examples in gaming industry best practices and what gamers will buy (and for how much)

        So I do agree with you there!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. You’re right, the gaming industry isn’t the only one mainly focused on satisfying shareholders, it’s how things are in today’s world.

        On the consumer end games are still a passion thing though. When I buy a new vacuum cleaner or whatever, and I find that it’s not good enough for its price tag, I’ll be disappointed, but I probably won’t write rage-filled posts on reddit about it. Games are more than just a product, even if the execs don’t (and probably can’t) see it that way.

        There’s another thing that bugs me. Games are monetized harder and more predatory than most other businesses. When I buy a box of dust bags for my new vacuum cleaner I know exactly how many bags are in there. If they handled it like the gaming industry does I might find that there’s only one bag in the box, or even none at all, just a scrap of paper saying ‘better luck next time’.

        Like

  3. There is no weapon behind a pay wall in Destiny. But the grind for weaps is real and if you aren’t skilled in PvP there are some unattainable weaps. Yet these same weapons are allowed in the quick play PvP modes that all players play in yet some of these weaps are only attainable in the competitive PvP matches.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s