Games As A Sevice – The Future Of Games?

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As technology has advanced, a lot of games have moved away from simply creating a product, selling it and then making extra content to be sold for it in batches. Being able to regularly update games via downloadable patches has meant that titles can now have a lifespan long beyond traditional game releases.

This means that older games like Overwatch (2016), Rainbow Six Siege (2015), For Honor (2017) and Battlefield V (2018) can have very high engagement rates and keep players coming back to discover new content, whether it’s new maps, characters or game modes.

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But as a large amount of titles look to move towards becoming what is known in the industry as ‘Games As A Service’ (GAAS from here onwards), what benefits – and drawbacks, are there for gamers?

One of the biggest positive effects of this trend is the fact that it can really help keep games fresher for longer. Take Overwatch as an example. In the old days, a character based Mega Drive game like Eternal Champions would release and if the characters were unbalanced or disliked you were stuck with the game as it was. Now if a character isn’t being used because people feel they are ineffective (Symmetra in Overwatch, for example) the developers can tweak the character to make them better or, as in the case of Symmetra, completely rework her ability toolset. This allows the game to evolve, rather than being stuck in a static state.

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These changes can help mould the game around the desires of the players. Although it must be said, depending on the game this could also be a negative because pandering to your audience doesn’t always bring the best results.

Something else that often gets raised when talking about GAAS is the ability to bounce back from a rocky release window. As a developer if you continue to support and tweak your title following a negative or disappointing release you can still find an audience. Rainbow Six Siege and For Honor are both great examples of this, titles that struggled at release but have gone on to be very successful and popular titles. On a personal level I started playing Rainbow Six Siege TWO YEARS after it released!

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Another reason people sometimes like GAAS is that you often feel you are getting a lot more value for your money. That depends on the game though, as if you’ve played full price for something you might feel the value proposition is less than a free to play game that gets constant updates.

Which brings us onto the negative aspects. The first of which is the flip side of the final positive point – sometimes GAAS can feel like a complete rip off. If you’ve paid ¬£50 for a game there is an expectation that extra content will arrive without further cost but that often isn’t the case, especially with games that feature microtransactions, even ones just for cosmetic goods. This also plays into the Loot Box conversation and whether blind boxes are ever a good thing. I don’t mind them as a mechanic in games if I can also use in-game (earned) currency to unlock the same items. I do find them a bit sleazy if they are the only mechanic to unlock items.

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Another issue is regarding the care of workers and the people making the game. The more updates and changes the developers have to make, the harder and quicker people are expected to work. This has recently led to a series of articles about the poor work environments on some games:

The developers of the game Cuphead¬†have also announced they are delaying new content exactly for this reason. Although it isn’t a GAAS, I still think this is great. It also leads us to the question of whether a GAAS will ever be truly finished? And if that even matters any more?

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The most valid criticism I’ve heard was actually around the game Overwatch. It was recently leaked that the game will be moving to a 2-2-2 locked format. Currently there are 30 characters formed into three ‘classes’: Damage, Tank and Support. At the moment you can play any characters you want – 6 Supports? No problem (although you’ll likely lose the game). The developers feel that having 2 characters of each class will better balance matches and gameplay.

As someone who plays the game a lot this makes sense to me, a balanced team is more likely to get results and probably has a higher chance of playing closer, enjoyable matches. But where this is a problem (along with the point I made earlier about tweaking and changing characters) is that the game can feel very different and might end up completely unrecognisable to the one you bought at launch and had enjoyed up until the changes. Perhaps you had a favourite character and now, months or years later, they now don’t match your playstyle and have completely different moves and abilities – I can imagine it would be really disappointing.

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So there are definitely positives and negatives to Games As A Service. Most of my experiences so far have been good but I can certainly see why some people might have reservations about them. I think my biggest concern is that every title might try to be a GAAS which would leave gamers worse off both financially and in terms of the actual time we get to play games.

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