Recently in the gaming world the phrase “games as a service” has been popping up quite frequently. The easiest way to understand said phrase is that the release of a game is merely the beginning and over time it will be changed and tinkered with based on a variety of factors such as community feedback or the intents of the developers. A good example of this can be found in the game Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege which released a few years ago but is still continuously updated in order to keep players engaged in the long-term. Although this is a more stable and less expensive form, things can get out of hand quite quickly as seen through Grand Theft Auto V which is an immensely popular game that continues to be updated four years after released. The problem with these updates is that they cost the player even more money to access on top of already paying for the base game and generating money within the single-player campaign can be an extremely tedious and slow process when trying to add it all up to the cost of all the additional content available now. So, this editorial will look into games as a service and how it might change the way gamers access their content.
Just two months prior to the publishing of this editorial the president of Square Enix, Yosuke Matsuda, heroically declared, “Gone are the days in which single-player games were of primary status and multiplayer games secondary…lately, multiplayer games have taken the lead, and it is standard for games to be designed for long-term play.” This is no doubt in reference to the success of Final Fantasy XV which has moved on, nay, evolved past the standard “Final Fantasy” formula of being released as a single game free of downloadable content (DLC) and season passes. Instead, Final Fantasy XV released for the price of $60 and was paired with a season pass upon for the low price of $25. This season pass included Holiday Pack +, Booster Pack +, Episode Gladiolus, Episode Ignis, Episode Prompto, and Multiplayer Expansion: Comrades. The first two parts of the DLC offer non-essential in-game items including a ticket to a carnival which was only open for a little over a month (although the Carnival Passport item necessary to visit this carnival was also accessible through the free Holiday Pack). Though the rest of the DLC is three single-player campaigns focusing on the characters of Final Fantasy XV and their actions which ran concurrently with the base game’s plot along with a multiplayer expansion which requires PlayStation Plus/Xbox Live Gold. These pieces of DLC, when combined with the upcoming pocket edition of the game and the VR fishing campaign, ensure that Final Fantasy XV will live on far beyond its initial release in November of 2016. This fits in line with a statement from a Square Enix financial presentation which said that “In developing future titles, we will approach game design with a mind to generate recurring revenue streams.” This statement alone is a troubling prospect as most people would instead hope that developers would approach game design with a mindset of wanting to make good games that would then hopefully be rewarded with high sales numbers. No doubt, the upcoming remake of Final Fantasy VII will take a turn towards being a “service” rather than a game thanks to Square Enix’s plans.
Use the most recent release of Hitman as an example, while the game itself received positive reviews over time players were less than enthused to find out that the game was being released in an episodic manner. While this is generally viewed as being acceptable for the interactive stories that Telltale Games continues to publish many were displeased to find out that the latest installment in the “Hitman” franchise would be released in stages with about a month between each episode. Not only this, but Hitman also implemented the system of Elusive Targets which are special timed missions that cannot be replayed once they are over, the only exception being the re-release of these missions in celebration of the Game of the Year edition which was released just a few weeks ago. While it is often acceptable to have timed events in online multiplayer games players saw it as being frustrating that a single-player campaign released episodically would have content that could only be accessed for a week or two. This means that if the developers, IO Interactive are to be believed, future players who pick up the game will be unable to access certain missions once their re-release period is over. The fact that someone could purchase a single-player offline video game and be unable to access specific content just a few months after its release is an extremely unsettling one and could potentially mark a grim future for the gaming industry as a whole. Though, in the months since the initial release of Hitman IO Interactive has become an independent developer with full control over the IP so only time will tell whether or not they will release the next installment in the “Hitman” franchise episodically or not. Offline single-player video games can be just as rewarding and exhilarating for the player as an online multiplayer game and there is no reason that the two can not co-exist aside from the greed of wanting more and more money from one product. Video games are sliding down a slope filled with DLC that is either unnecessary or filled with important story elements which have been seemingly removed from the game as a subtle way to make more money. Either this, or microtransactions and loot boxes where weapons and cosmetic boxes are locked away from the base game no matter how much one players or their skill level.
So, what does this mean exactly for the future of gaming? Obviously, nothing is set in stone but as time progresses more companies are commenting on the popularity of games as a service rather than as standalone products. Many are justifiably upset at the prospects that a game they purchase one day will be severely lacking in content the next after the release of an extensive amount of DLC. Meaning that a video game originally released for the price of $60 will decrease in price over time as it becomes a sort of entry-way into the game’s ecosystem while the DLC will pile on and has the potential to eventually overtake the game in cost. This is not a new development though, games like Fallout 4 and Batman: Arkham Knight rapidly decrease in price after their initial release and are then “reinforced” with DLC packs months and months after the game’s initial release. While DLC does not have to be greedy and can theoretically offer additional content separated from the base game’s story for a small fee, more often than not developers use it as a means to squeeze even more money out of a pre-existing game. Games as a service are not much more than an upgraded form of this greed and it it is ultimately up to gamers to decide whether or not to continue rewarding games that implement these practices.
So that is it for this week’s editorial from your friendly neighborhood Adeki. How do you feel about the industry’s push towards games as a service? Are you concerned with future video game purchases due to unfair business practices? Whatever the case may be, make sure to leave a comment below and let us know what you think!