‘GAMES as a Service’ is, essentially, the idea for a game that is constantly updated with new content, patches, loot-boxes and other things post-release in order to keep people buying things for the game. This is opposed to releasing a game and then the developer moves on, with the occasional patch or expansion pack/DLC in the year of its release. It’s a concept that has been around for a while – one could argue MMORPGS are the original ‘Games as a Service’ – but over the last couple of years it has really reared its head in more traditional fare. And this rise has me quite worried for the future of single-player video games because, quite simply, GaaS (as I will shorten it to) make an absolute ton of money for the most part.
As reported by GamesIndustry.biz, GaaS has “tripled the industry’s value” since more and more games are adopting this method. As a follow-up, Kotaku collated a collection of quotes from Ubisoft, E.A. and Square Enix and they all said that they are going to develop games that are constantly changing in order to keep them fresh and entertaining for the end-user – whilst, of course, making lots of money through micro-transactions and loot-boxes. Ubisoft’s president Yves Guillimot even goes so far as to say that “We are transforming our games from standalone offline products into service-based platforms” which certainly doesn’t necessarily bode well for Beyond Good & Evil 2. Take 2 and Activision are also treating their games as a service; just look at Grand Theft Auto: Online or Overwatch. The idea has certainly captured the imagination and wallets of all the big publishers, that is for sure.
I don’t begrudge publishers and their desire to make money, it is a business after all. But it makes me nervous for the fate of more traditional Single Player games. Why would a video publisher publish a game that, when released, is played for six to fifteen hours and returned/sold upon completion when they could make games that make money for years? It doesn’t make business sense, at least, not any more. Hell, Square Enix made Final Fantasy XV a GaaS. An ostensibly single-player series has been turned into a service. Whether the actual game has suffered because of this design choice is something we’ll have to see when Dan Abbott plays it.
As far as I can work out, almost every GaaS shares a similar design structure. There are those games that are multiplayer-only or multiplayer-focused, like Overwatch or Rainbow Six: Siege, where it sort of makes sense for it to grow and change as time goes by in order to keep players interested. Although I find it pretty egregious that you have to pay for the base game, why not make it free to play like DOTA 2 or Hearthstone? But I digress. The other types are the open-world games with a strong online component: Destiny 2, Bioware’s upcoming game Anthem, the aforementioned Final Fantasy XV, Ghost Recon: Wildlands and The Division. These are games that meld online and offline together and inundate the player with loot-boxes, micro-translations and chunks of DLC. It is these games that worry me most. They are all so roughly similar to one another and come across as super bland. I’ve never been a particularly big fan of open-world games, admittedly, and so for almost every game turning into that just makes me shudder.
So what can be done about all this? Well…nothing really. Money is louder than words, after all. Unless gamers stop buying micro-transactions, nothing is going to change. But it isn’t all doom and gloom. I feel like the Single Player torch will be kept alight and held aloft by the independent developers. They will be smaller in scope and perhaps not have the graphical fidelity of the Single Player games of today, but I am sure they will tell interesting stories as is so often the case with Independent games. Just look at Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, developed and published by mid-tier developer Ninja Theory (they of the DMC: Devil May Cry and Enslaved: Odyssey to the West fame). It is a true single player game about mental health in a pseudo-viking setting and it looks incredible, even if the game-mechanics aren’t supposedly the best. It is these types of developer, along with the ever smaller ones, that hopefully will keep making Single Player games – so long as people buy them.
Perhaps I am being a pessimist. A lot of people thought every game was going to be a motion-controlled nightmare or all the publishers were going to migrate to mobile platforms not too long ago, and neither of those happened. Plus, just because a game is a service, it doesn’t stop it from being bad. I own Rainbow Six: Siege and I enjoy it a great deal. Maybe a publisher will find a middle-ground between a strong single player story focused game that is also a service. I would say that Final Fantasy XV is that, but I have heard very mixed things. The future does look grim for the games industry – and the world as a whole – but I remain optimistic. Maybe the quality of the games will get to such a level where it won’t even matter that they are also a service.