When I think of games that have a wealth of content squeezed into them, Destiny and Grand Theft Auto Online quickly come to my mind. Between cycling events like Iron Banner or Heists, regular content drops, and season pass expansions, these games have built a solid foundation to keep players coming back. At what point, however, would it be better to use the new ideas, weapons, storylines, and gameplay elements to create an entirely new game? Would both developers and gamers benefit more from a game that gets additions semi-annually, or would it be better to focus their attention on future games?
Many gamers are understandably vocal about not wanting to spend $60 on the next iteration of the same gameplay they had in their hands last year. According to publishers, $30 for a season pass every few months is a good compromise. This allows you to keep playing a game at your own pace, and even gives you a re-entry point to jump back in after you’ve moved on. Grand Theft Auto V demonstrated this by giving fans enough time to beat the main story and most side quests, and then launching Grand Theft Auto Online. This strategy allowed Rockstar to utilize the hype they built to bring in a flood of returning fans, without exhausting their audience’s excitement by waiting too long. Gamers were told that the release of Grand Theft Auto Online was delayed to continue polishing the gameplay and look for bugs (which were numerous on launch and in the weeks following). Was it actually delayed to improve the game, or was this part of Rockstar‘s strategy to bring gamers back?
An additional benefit of not prioritizing a sequel over sizable content is that creating season passes give the developer a chance to experiment with new narratives and help improve a somewhat lackluster single-player campaign. The developer can also introduce new weapons, vehicles, or armor/apparel that they’ve seen will fit their audience’s general playstyle. As a result, rebalancing and improvements to the game feel like they are actually conceived based on player feedback. This contrasts with annualized franchises like Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty, in which some mechanics are deemed to be improvements without as much active analysis of player patterns and habits, game exploits, and player aspirations for future interactions with the game and its world. This isn’t to say that developers can’t pay attention to these aspects of a game and make improvements, it’s just easier to fine-tune and perfect game systems in a real-time setting.
On the other hand, games might benefit the most from not building a base that hosts long-term content updates. With Destiny, for example, we saw a major return of year-one players with the release of both The Dark Below and House of Wolves. When The Taken King was released, there were a ton of gamers who had never played Destiny and were able to easily pick it up: there was still a lot of love from past players and also a large amount of interest from others. During this time frame, the interest level would have been at a great point for Bungie to release a sequel. This would have enabled them to improve on the aspects that they weren’t able to dedicate as much time to beforehand. They might have delivered a deeper and richer main story, improved their game engine to make it look and perform better (not that it doesn’t look or play good already), or introduced more of the universe and its characters without having to stay within the boundaries of the first game. With Destiny 2, we could potentially have the entire stretch of Jupiter to Pluto, or beyond, to base a story, factions, and conflicts in.
Another advantage would be games taking up less space on our console’s hard drive. Destiny‘s base game alone needs 18 GB, but if you own all of the expansions that increases to around 60 GB. Many other games have similar space requirements, and I’m sure we will see Tom Clancy’s The Division, Elder Scrolls Online, and future MMO style games taking up the bulk of our console’s storage space since additional content is all digitally stored.
What about games still in development? Should developers initially be pushing as much content as they can, or should they release the game and use player feedback to add content or work on a sequel? Several past Kickstarter games have been cancelled because the developer wants to add a bulk of content to a game, when they need to release it to bring in revenue for future development of that game or its sequel(s). Would these (mostly indie) developers be more successful and have happier fans if their games were released with a higher quality of important content, as opposed to a large quantity of content that players could potentially dislike? Once developers know what players like, they can improve their development roadmap and decide when to add content, or when to create a sequel.
It’s hard to say definitively if games should have a shelf-life, and be replaced with sequels after a certain amount of time, and it’s going to depend on each game individually. It could very well be time for Destiny to receive its sequel instead of additional content, whereas games like Tom Clancy’s The Division still have enough unexplored lore, enemies, and story possibilities to be around for a while. However, when will The Division run out of things that only a single game in a franchise can present gamers? When should Ubisoft and Bungie consider creating new games entirely? With the use of player feedback, fans will have an indirect role in making that decision.
With E3 quickly approaching, it’s probable that we will hear more about the future of these (and other) franchises. So what do you think? Is it time to update, or are today’s games built strong enough to stick around for a while? Let me know in the comments!