We’ve all heard the buzz phrase, but what exactly does ‘game as a service’ mean? It’s a burgeoning trend whereby games, be they free-to-play or premium, are specifically designed around maintaining a devoted player base. That following will then, most likely, be asked (or required) to devote their time and money to this one monopolising title for the foreseeable future.
Are these screens from Anthem or Destiny? ... It's Anthem, but you probably couldn't tell.
My experience with service games extends to probably the model’s two most (in)famous perpetrators, Destiny and The Division, both of which I’ve actually quite enjoyed.
That isn’t because I love the grind, but because I treated them as disposable entertainment, engaging only with elements I felt like on the odd occasion I fancied.
Destiny may have been lacking in the story department, but Bungie’s solid gameplay and dry humour made up for that, allowing me to sink dozens of hours into the game without the pull of a traditional narrative to keep things moving.
I did much the same with The Division, though the atmosphere played a bigger part in bringing me back there. I enjoyed hunting down snippets of story away from campaign missions, which served to expand the in-game vision of the future by offering snapshots of life before, during and after its deadly outbreak.
I never touched the endgame for either, but I still feel like I got my money’s worth. I also don’t think the significant number of hours required to max out titles like Destiny or The Division is any worse than huge single-player games like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, which also want to monopolise your time.
Single-player games increasingly offer recurrent play and spending opportunities; does that put them in the same boat?
I'm not against paying for a promise; I can see the value of pre-order bonuses and season passes, and I've even seriously considered chipping in on a Kickstarter project on at least one occasion. It's the untrustworthiness of those making the promises which often turns me off. EA might say they have plans to support Anthem forever, or that they won't ruin Star Wars, but what reason do we have to believe them?
One solution would be to wait for a 'complete' release and buy into a product rather than a service, but that comes with its own downsides. You'll miss out on limited-time events, members of your friend group may have moved on, plus, even if they haven’t, the general player base is almost sure to have dwindled. The probability of these (and other) issues cropping up steadily grows closer to certain as more and more time passes.
As long as the price of the base game reflects the amount of content at launch, with every expansion following suit, I'm all for the concept. The problem is, outside of a select few free-to-play titles, that’s rarely the case.
Warframe is one of few service games to execute the model in pretty much unobjectionable fashion.
Short answer? It doesn't really work for me. One of the biggest things that makes games as a service work for publishers in particular is continued engagement, and, as far as that goes, I'm not the target consumer.
With news that The Division 2's physical sales are a mere 20% of its predecessor, there's a clear indication (amongst other factors) that the importance of getting involved at the ground floor is on the decline for titles focused around ongoing live experiences.
High profile games like No Man's Sky and Destiny have seen huge improvements in critical and audience reception since their launch, both proudly flying the “it’s good now” flag. The fact that publishers seem to rely on this gradual build is disconcerting, and audiences are beginning to not have the patience or faith in these titles as we're increasingly seeing first week sales miss expectations (Fallout 76).
The biggest problem for me is that I don't have enough free time in my week to give several hours a day or more to one game - let alone multiple - and when the initial experience is so underwhelming, why should I?
Despite positive press, sales figures seem to suggest that The Division 2 could be barren.
Does Destiny dominate your free time? Anthem annihilate your wallet? Whether that's the case or you think service games are a plague, be sure to let us know in the comments below.