Games as services seems to be becoming the prevailing thought process when making a new game. But for something to be classified as a ‘service’, it has to in some way ‘serve’ the person who owns the product that’s giving that service. And that just isn’t happening at all. The way the industry is moving currently, we’re being asked to pay for games upfront before the quality of said product has been ascertained, and then that product doesn’t even provide a quality service after we own it. This isn’t a ‘service’, but a gamble. A bad one at that. This is why I only have a few developers I trust to make quality content, and a few of them that I certainly don’t. Seems fairly straight forward when I lay it out like that.
Corporate behemoths like EA and Microsoft have been an ever growing presence, growing alongside the popularity of video games as they have become more and more profitable. The irony of course is that games have become popular because of fan loyalty and quality games being sold, and yet now-a-days it seems that both of these facts are not taken into consideration when producing new content, or at least in the mainstream market.
This is the biggest reason why I don’t really engage with mainstream games. Every so often something huge like Final Fantasy XV or Wolfenstein will come along that catches my attention but these are very much the exceptions to the rule. I have no desire to play Assassin’s Creed or Call of Duty, Battlefront II or Destiny 2 because they don’t feel like completed experiences. These games sell themselves on their popularity alone, rather than becoming popular due to what they have on offer, which seems to be rather backward.
My taste is certainly an acquired one and so I often look out for unique experiences in the gaming world, rather than the same old thing on a constant loop. Games like the weird and wonderful The Norwood Suite or the oppressive and unsettling Inside are titles that leave marks behind after they have been played. They are titles that inspire thought and debate about why they were made, or what their purpose is, and most importantly utilize the fact they are video games in order to better tell their story, rather than attempt to copy Hollywood and be held back by game mechanics and poor writing.
To add insult to injury in regards to my last point, many popular games are now selling micro-transactions, loot boxes and other miscellaneous DLC in order to better profit from their games, rather than learning lessons from the indie market. Instead of attempting to engage their audiences and win acclaim for their development team (akin to a trusted author or artist) they simply hide behind the popularity of their name and brand. The sad truth is that it works, as time and again the bestselling titles are often those with a staggering level of mediocrity embedded in their design. Yet from an outsider’s perspective these games must appear as the best the medium has to offer if looking at sales figures alone.
I believe that a good gaming experience is one that you simply have to share with your friends or fellow players, it is a moment of brilliance or an incredibly well created atmosphere. For me this comes from games like the aforementioned The Norwood Suite or others such as The Fall, Titan Souls, Binding of Issac, Cuphead, Darkest Dungeon and Battle Brothers to name but a tiny few of my favorites. These games shine to me because they offer experiences like no other, they punish you but offer you fulfillment in return, and for what its worth they do not demand micro-transactions in order to enjoy the game in its entirety. They simply contain a fully fledged game that leaves you satisfied and wanting more of the developers work or waiting for another installment.
Effectively, the current commodification of game time, games as services, and the rise of micro-transactions and loot boxes, has led to a disconnect between artist and audience. People rarely think about those developers who make up EA Sports or even DICE when a new EA game is released or announced, instead the company and its marketing team is what takes center stage. The games do not speak for themselves, the talking heads, models and glorified cheerleaders do it instead and frankly the whole experience of watching E3, PAX or the like just makes me feel nauseous, not inspired. Men and women who are designed to make us fork over our cash in bundles are of course happy to treat us like rock-stars by plying us with buzzwords and well-polished trailers, the whole phoned in display is anything but thrilling but instead an exercise in non-gamers trying their best to appeal to gamers for profit. How about simply showing me the game and why you made it beyond simply looking to quickly extract as much money as possible for the least amount of effort or skill?
As said before, it takes a lot for me these days to get truly excited for a game. Sure enough as a Star Wars fan and a fan of high fantasy, certain things will strike a cord with me easier than others will. A labor of love is something truly special to behold in the gaming industry, when it seemed the promise of computer gaming in the internet age would offer infinite indie darlings instead we see ourselves swamped with the deluge of Steam Direct garbage or the same sandbox titles ad infinitum.
I understand that games need to make a good profit to continue to be made to a good standard. It seems however that the idea of what constitutes a good level of profit differs wildly depending upon the company asked, and so we exist in a marketplace where a game can make a decent profit and still be considered a failure if it doesn’t make as much money as something like GTA V. The utter ridiculousness of this belief is baffling. However, I feel that this belief is what has led to our current predicament with micro-transactions. Companies are not searching for the next big hit, but instead the next money-making craze. Within that particular search is the desire to make a memorable and satisfying gaming experience has been shunned in favour of games as services to a greater and greater degree as time has gone on.
So I stand by my conviction that gaming must focus on great experiences rather than becoming frivolous services. As seen with the recent backlash against Battlefront II and Destiny 2 the marketplace is becoming more and more despondent in its response to the implementation of monetization in mainstream full-priced titles. And that anger does not seem to be going anywhere. Games need to stand on their own merits rather than previous popularity, as if goodwill earned is somehow squandered – by implementation of bad business tactics for example – the game will inevitably fail or not live up to expectations. Our expectations aren’t that hard to meet; just make us games we want to play that work on day one! Not games that expect us to fund bug fixes through novelty costume packs!