Do you remember when video game announcements were fun? I have found myself watching new game announcements closely, looking for signs that this game is using a “freemium”; or paying to win model that has lots of microtransactions added (sometimes in addition to a purchase price), or a live service slip – a-thon designed to revive content for years and suck players into buying replacement boxes or battle cards.
It’s exhausting. after the news for PC games and games on Xbox, PlayStation and Switch is now a minefield for revenue generation. There are still some high-profile titles that want to stick to the classic formula, pay once and get the whole experience. The Last of Us 2 on PlayStation 4, is a good example. But they are exempt.
More often than not, I see something that at first looks promising, like Marvels Avengers, only to realize in the months between the announcement and the release that this is another live service. A game that publishers want to build once and then update with small versions and try to get you to pay a little extra for it every time. They come in different flavors now, but all with the same goal: minimize the relationship between development costs and earned long tails. An infinite L-curve is the desired result.
So to categorize these emotions, I have developed what I call the five stages of video game announcing grief. No, it’s not original. I do not even claim that it is helpful. But on the principle that a burden is shared, a burden is halved, I have decided to share it with you.
No need to thank me.
Step one: Tension
What is it? A new game in your favorite series? Maybe a new intellectual property from a developer you’ve loved for years? Or just a new one that looks cool and interesting, a game that is different and captivating in an exciting way?
It may be a new one Fall out game! Or a revived classic Call of Duty: Modern Warfare or Crash Team Racing! It could be something from a legendary developer, introduced in a breathless revelation as an indisputable milestone for a generation, like Biowares
Wonderful! The video game industry needs innovation, as both PC and console gamers crave novelty (or at least claim to do so). Of course, this exciting new announcement – perhaps at E3, or GDC, or a smaller event like a Nintendo Direct – means that you have something nice to look forward to while playing your favorite games for the third or fourth time.
Step two: Suspicion
But wait. There is something ominous in the air. Why does the developer claim that they will support this game for ten years or more? Even most of the best multiplayer games do not last that long when it comes to active development. Why would a gaming company even want to do the same game for a decade anyway?
Then you see it. Focus on multiplayer or co-op in a game that doesn’t really need it. A new format – say, a persistent online world that Fallout 76 or a shooter-looter where you are expected to grind with a party. A system of online competition is injected into a game about history – capturing and fighting Tolkien’s forces as if they were Pokémon, for example. What does that do, and why does it appear so prominent in this game announcement?
Why is everything quantified, with RPG style progression in a game series that used to rely on more pure action? What about lots and lots of cosmetics, divided into a dozen different subcategories, including things like interface adjustments and hats that only other players ever see? Why has this sports franchise that has been going on for decades suddenly turned into a management simulator where you have to buy your players with fake money using game currency (bought with real money) that feels suspicious as a game?
Why does this game suddenly seem less like the game it should be, and more like … well, more like any other game bar game coming out of the AAA industry?
Step three: Anger
Money. The answer is almost exclusively money.
Assassin’s Creed Transformed from an action game with instant kills into an action RPG with upgrades and bullet enemies. Fallout 76 tried to turn a series of famous dedicated single-player games – where loneliness was part of the game’s very attitude – into a blank map for online multiplayer and a recurring fee. Bioware shifted from making engaging single-player games to building an obvious and unattractive clone of Fate. All in service to chase a “live” model that needs players to pay over and over again to get the latest piece content. After all, a similar structure has worked in mobile gaming for several years.
That’s why so many games now have one Fortnite-style battle cards, where an infinity of quantified prey can be obtained more efficiently with ten dollars every two months? These systems are even injected into older (but still popular) games, such as Rocket league.
Game developers and publishers have seen some examples of success in established mega-games –Fortnite, FIFA, Overwatch, DOTA, Destiny—And tried to apply the same patterns and formulas to more or less every game. Even games that have no real company that accommodates them, like Grand Theft Auto or Ghost Recon.
If that does not make you angry, you are either too young to remember when this was not the status quo, or you are rich enough that buying your games in pieces for several years at a time is not something that affects your budget. . In either case, publishers absolutely love you.
Step four: disappointment
Ten years ago, a game like Marvels Avengers would come out and be more or less complete, possibly with a DLC package added a month or two later. Once the game was completed, perhaps ported to another game console or PC or repackaged in a Game of the Year Edition, the developers would move on. Maybe they should make a sequel or apply what they had learned to something new.
It would not come out with years and years of character upgrades planned, each attached to a $ 10 battle card to unlock all the extra goodies. It would not be built as a conceptual framework on which more content would later be nailed, as Anthem or develop. That would not be the toughest hint of an interactive medium asking you to buy the rest of it in pieces. It would not be designed as an interactive roadmap for profit instead of experience.
It would just be a game. A game that you paid for and then played and then finished with – or not, if you really wanted to dig into it. But the choice was made by the player, not by a management that demanded that their company build the next sensation of billions of dollars by resurrecting the last corpse.
Step five: Departure
We’re in the era of the live service game, friends. There are, of course, exceptions to this, mainly from smaller developers and indies (with some happy exceptions like The ghost of Tsushima). But for any game big enough to be advertised during an NFL broadcast, you can expect to pay sixty (or seventy) dollars for a rather extra experience, hacked so you can pay for the rest of the pieces one at a time.
It was not always like this, no, but there is no indication that the trend will reverse anytime soon. A generation of mobile players are now old enough to afford and enjoy richer games (both literally and figuratively) on PCs and consoles. The idea of paying small sums of money for the kind of rewards that used to be built into games has been cemented in the minds of many players. Players who paid an extra dollar to unlock some lives Candy cross the last decade sees no fundamental problem in paying another ten dollars to get a “battle card” now.
That’s not all – if you clicked on this article, it’s probably not you. But it’s a big enough piece of gamers that publishers are completely frothy to get those potential dollars, and build games with $ 100 million budgets around them. After seeing what happened Fallout 76and even Fallout 4 to some extent I look forward to hearing more about The Elder Scrolls VI with equal parts expectation and fear.
I’m waiting for the other shoe to fall on TESV6.
There are still plenty of indie games that are a complete experience, right out of the box, and remain so. You can find dozens of them released every year. And they’s great, especially if you’re not the type of gamer who longs for the great shiny 3D action experience. But any game that gets big enough will be looked for by someone bigger – which Microsoft devoured Minecraft, which Epic devoured Rocket league.
The usual abstinence at this time is “vote with your wallet.” But to be honest, it’s not really a solution. Enough people have been conditioned to continue paying for games so that it simply will not change soon. Not all live service games that swing for the fence of infinite profit will succeed. But enough of them will be successful, to a sufficient degree, that this pattern will remain etched in the industry for many years to come.
This is the industry we live in. You can try to avoid it and even succeed for a while. But eventually it will claim your favorite franchise or developer and throw it on the live service network. Your choices are to pay tithing (and keep paying and paying) or find something else to play. Again.