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.

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.

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?”

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?