An unpolished title, lack of end-game content, frequent patching and negative press: a recent trend in video games from the biggest publishers in the industry. “But it’s good now!” is the cry from gamers who have dedicated themselves to an arguably unfinished game for months, while developers have rushed to fix the issues and deliver promised content. This is the curse of games as a service (GaaS), which is designed to continuously monetise games long after the initial purchase.
We have reached what I see as the third version of the live service model, where the first originated with subscription-based MMOs like World of Warcraft. The introduction of smartphone apps moved us into version two with free-to-play games supported by microtransactions such as Candy Crush, and the MOBA craze on PC gave us League of Legends and Dota 2. Version three has been adopted recently by triple-A publishers recently and drops the free-to-play aspect, requiring a traditional payment upfront.
Destiny 2, Sea of Thieves and Fallout 76 are all examples of titles which have launched in a premature state with lofty promises and expensive advertising campaigns. There are of course exceptions such Tom Clancy’s The Division 2, which have avoided controversy – except for perhaps the publisher’s usual abundance of special edition releases. The Elder Scrolls Online also experienced a moderate reception when it released in 2014 with concerns over a lack of features, but this was soon resolved by dropping the subscription requirement.
Some games have reached the it’s-good-now point but it’s taken months of development, frustration, bad press and feedback from dedicated players to get there. This style of development could be confused for early access, usually reserved for smaller developers using crowdfunding to monetise the process, gather feedback and generate prolonged interest in their project. I can fully appreciate the sour feeling from gamers with high expectations that pay the full upfront price to a big publisher only to discover something half-finished.
Battlefront 2 took the hardest hit when introducing microtransactions in the form of loot boxes containing perks that provided advantages over players. The element of luck generated a heated discussion about such purchases being a form of gambling, and EA had no choice other than to revise their entire system. Microtransactions and loot boxes are a massive topic for another time, so let’s get back to some more live service examples.
Battlefield V took the approach due to feedback from players about the cost of the Premium Pass, essentially a season pass which introduced new maps and game modes that had the side-effect of splitting the player base into haves and have-nots. With Battlefield 1, it was common for these elements to have a distinct lack of players after a short period as not everyone was willing to pay for the title twice. With the live service approach, Battlefield V ditched the pass and promised new content monthly for free.
Unfortunately, the release was hit with controversy after a poorly-received teaser trailer and the embarrassing backlash from a minority of gamers about a female soldier pictured prominently on the box art. It has yet to recover from this bad start and patches often create more bugs than they fix. The recent release of its Firestorm battle royale mode has provided some refreshing gameplay, but is yet to motivate fans to return to the WW2 shooter.
The game most important to me, Fallout 76, has had the most difficult launch with a wealth of controversy. I thoroughly enjoyed Bethesda’s interpretation of the post-apocalyptic RPG classic thanks to the 1950s-style alternative future and the stories found only through exploration on computer terminals, along with unique locations around the game world. Even though the game was due to become a Rust-style online survival title, I was still thrilled to return to the Fallout universe.
Even with the all controversy, lack of non-player characters, player griefing, cheating and typical slew of infamous bugs, I’ve played the game consistently since launch. It has certainly been a tough experience to enjoy it while reading so much negativity in the press, but after six months I’m ready to say ‘It’s good now’ thanks to frequent patches and content releases. Unfortunately the gaming world has moved on however and the opportunity for Fallout 76 to win back gamers has long expired.
So is live service a good thing? There are definitely benefits from having a steady flow of new content, features, bug fixes and quality-of-life improvements thanks to publishers dedicating resource that traditionally moved onto a new project as soon as possible. But it’s the reliance on microtransactions for revenue and rushed titles that I believe doesn’t sit well with gamers. The demand for refunds and feeling of mistrust fuels the argument against live service.
My hope is that these failures are crucial lessons learnt by publishers who will ensure future releases deliver on their promises and win back our trust. Most gamers only have time to invest in one live service title at a time and the market has become saturated with looter-shooter Destiny-clones over the last year. Frequently rushing out unfinished games and expecting players to stick with them while they are fixed and polished isn’t really preferable to the incremental Call of Duty or FIFA annual releases.
I applaud Sony for sticking with the single-player format as it has provided us with some of the best gaming experiences this console generation from exclusives such as Detroit Become Human, Horizon Zero Dawn and God of War, and will likely continue this trend with The Last of Us 2. While they can be short lived experiences, I definitely prefer them to the live service model and hope that single-player lives on into the next console generation.
I’m interested to know your opinion: is this even something to even be concerned about? Should we simply continue to look for new gaming experiences and our next all-time favourite regardless of how it’s delivered? Am I just secretly reaching out to fellow Fallout 76 fans to confirm my feelings about the game? If it’s the latter then make yourself known in the comment section below!
Often found in front of YouTube watching videos of cats if not playing video games. Loves sprawling open-world games with a soft spot for the Fallout series.