27th Aug2020

Is Ninth-Gen the ‘Games as a Service’ Generation?

by James Smith

Games as a Service (GaaS), has been a hotly debated topic within gaming spheres for years. When properly implemented, the idea can be embraced and even celebrated. When poorly applied, GaaS services frustrate, with some arguing they can ruin the overall experience. So why is it that the next generation of systems appears to be leaning into moving some of their premier properties into a GaaS model, and what benefits and shortcomings might this model imply?

The Winds of Change

The primary reason that pushes many developers and publishers into GaaS titles is that of cost. Creating AAA titles today is an extremely expensive pursuit, where the return of investment is difficult to guarantee on a traditional sales model. GaaS aim to drive continual payment from customers, with the argument being that this doesn’t just cover base costs, but can also fund additional ongoing content.
There is a debate here as to whether or not the higher cost of game development is entirely self-inflicted or in any way justified, but the result remains the same. Combined with the longer turn-around time per game, and financially it can make sense for companies to push for a GaaS for better returns. 

For a Better Experience

When done properly, there are aspects of GaaS that are inarguably positive. One of the most crucial of these is that many GaaS entries are low cost or even free to play. This gives players on tight budget hours of free enjoyment, and the flexible nature of GaaS payment means that if players do want to spend, they can generally put down exactly how much or little they want.

In this way, they operate similarly to existing entertainment systems like YouTube, or even online casino games. For example, we could look at the new online casinos. For these websites, players are free to claim hundreds in bonus’s, or just put down a few pounds for a couple of quick spins. While not the totality of the experience, choice in these systems is enormously important, and clearly this a lesson that many video game developers are embracing equally.

Benefits might also be found in terms of fixing a poor initial effort. Consider the game of Destiny 2 as an example. Originally, the launch state of this game was not especially well received. Issues regarding loot and level systems were common, though these were fixed as dedicated players continued to push for fixes and changes. Compare this to something like Batman: Arkham Knight, which had its developer abandon fixing the game once they lost the financial incentive to do so. 

Of course, in the Destiny 2 situation, you could argue that the initial problems were born from GaaS implementation, but the eventual repairs still bear mention. In more drastic cases, as with Final Fantasy 14’s A Realm Reborn, a complete teardown and relaunch of the game was made possible by similar initial coverage. As a result, FF14 went from one of the most poorly received MMORPGs of all time to one of the best.

Dragging Gaas Down

One of the most consistent complaints levied against GaaS games is that they can withhold basic content behind nebulous future promises. Too often today, games release in what is essentially a beta state, as was perfectly demonstrated by Bioware’s Anthem.

Many of the players who bought into this Anthem promise found themselves later betrayed as the company abandoned its roadmap when the game failed to perform. Rather than taking the Destiny route, Bioware cut and ran, with some claims that they will investigate and fix the game at, again, some nebulous future date.

Finally, there is an issue where players can feel like a long-standing game series’ vision can be betrayed by converting it to a GaaS model. Ghost Recon Breakpoint is perhaps the most recently indicative of this, with many long-time fans bilking at how generic the once very deliberate gameplay became.

As with any type of media project, there is no simple answer as to whether GaaS titles are good or bad. Rather, it depends on the developer and the publisher, their visions for the game, and the passions of the people who work on the project. With upcoming games like Halo Infinite aiming the GaaS sphere, all we can hope for is that companies learn from the lessons of others, and don’t take them Anthem route of attempting to reinvent the wheel.

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