Games as Services Are Changing the Way We Interact With Video Games

Turns out the Netflix for video games is just video games.

Opinion by Matt Kim, .

I like to think the rise of games as services is one of those monkey paw situations. We asked ourselves, "What if the games we enjoyed never ended?" And just like that, games as services became the buzziest business model in the games industry. Unfortunately, with every video game and entertainment company racing to become my next all-important obsession, I feel my personal connection to the medium changing.

Games as service titles are typically defined as video games which have the infrastructure to support live updates. Like Overwatch or Grand Theft Auto Online, developers can push out content for a single game years after it first comes out. While it gives companies more opportunities to earn money from players, it also threatens to redefine video games–particularly Triple–A games-forever.

Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn

As Square Enix laid out yesterday, the Japanese company is looking into more "games as service" type business models, claiming that the era of single-player games is over. From an economic standpoint, the games as service models are popular for two reasons: 1.) video game companies can continue to generate revenue and player interest from a single game and 2.) players get more content for their dollars.

Service games are part of an overarching plan to have us and the media we consume become symbiotic. It's nice to have so many of the games we purchase continuously deliver new content, but like an anti-Coolio I look at my life and realize I have too many things. It's frankly exhausting keeping up with this trend of investing in games without any clearly defined end.

Take games like Destiny 2 and Overwatch, two games I enjoy immensely. I love the creative community that has gathered around these two popular service games–games I expect to play and write about for years to come. But I also treat these games differently than I do my single-player experiences. If the latter feel like personal projects, service games like Destiny 2 and Overwatch are like Netflix.

Destiny 2

Each month there's some new content to check out or character to play and I'll binge on the experience. But like Netflix asking me if I'm still there after so many episodes, I sit back and wonder if I'm really there in the moment or if I'm just binging to prepare for the next season of content.

Multiplayer games are perfect for the games as service model because if you and your friends are both intertwined in its systems, the better chance it has at becoming the Next Big Thing™. If a single IP can generate an infinite amount of content, all the better for your company. It's also good for us in the media, who can find new ways to mine ideas and stories from a single game we know everyone loves. But what do we lose in the process?

Remember when you could just hide away for a weekend and finish a game? For the longest part of my gaming career that's how I've played games. I ignored online multiplayer games, preferring to spend hours on a single-player story, looking for something new to fall in love with. Finishing a game is a personal experience. While I won't deny that there's value in having a shared gaming experience with players online, or binge gaming sessions, my best memories of games will always be with the hours poured into a single story experience. Like crying after beating Silent Hill 2, or crying after beating Cave Story, or crying after playing Nier: Automata... You get the picture.

Silent Hill 2

I obsess over Overwatch and PUBG, but I love Silent Hill 2 and Cave Story. Those are games I can revisit after years apart and remember who I was when I first played them. I remember how I felt when I finished. Because like all good things, they end. I felt some personal accomplishment from complete a game. It's funny how much has changed since the days of tacked on multiplayer modes. In the future, there may be tacked on single-player modes.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun recently dissected the dual life of Team Fortress 2 and how the console version of the game remains perfect while years of updates to the PC version turned the latter into a shadow of its former self. RPS writes of the different trajectories of the PC and Orange Box console versions:

"Like the unaging [Dorian] Gray, the blemish-free vanilla version continued to exist, trapped in amber on PlayStation 3s and Xbox 360s that have—like the story's titular picture—now been hidden away in attics. It's still there, if you know where to find it, but nobody bothers to. Meanwhile, the gnarled, twisted, changed version walks the internet, scaring past friends with his vastly different visage and new free-to-play form."

It's a great observation that captures my feeling towards service games. Games like Overwatch or PUBG change, and will continue to change. Eventually, the game you once knew won't be there. Some service games are already way different than when they first released. Single-player experiences remain static. Like a book you re-read when you're older, the text is the same even if the meaning you take away from it changes. Silent Hill 2 will always read like Silent Hill 2, but who knows how some new game will play in a year?

Team Fortress 2

I'm not suggesting games like Overwatch or Destiny would be better as single-player experiences. They're designed specifically for multiplayer and to provide further updates and expansions. What I am saying is that as these experiences and services become the norm, and big release games start adopting a more service-forward approach to design, we won't interact with games the same way we used to. In some ways we already don't. Games will take months and years to complete a cycle and sometimes they risk becoming a version of the game we never asked for.

When games don't leave us, they reject a chance to be remembered. They exist now, in constant conversation. Overwatch won't be forgotten anytime soon because it is here now and always. You can't say, "Remember when we..." with your friends on Destiny 2 because you're focused on saying "I can't wait until we..." when the next expansion or raid drops.

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Comments 12

  • Avatar for nimzy #1 nimzy 6 months ago
    The TF2 example reminds me of a common complaint among video game historians and archivists: "it was hosted on a server!"

    Games as a service poses a challenge to archivists that previously was limited to games like MMORPGs that required active developer-owned servers to function: what happens when those servers go away? We risk losing an entire generation of games to the ether when the servers are shut down.
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  • Avatar for KaiserWarrior #2 KaiserWarrior 6 months ago
    Games-as-a-service? Fine, if a bit irksome.

    Games-as-a-thinly-veiled-way-to-skirt-gambling-laws? Now there we have a problem. And unfortunately, this represents the bulk of the current and upcoming examples of this trend.

    That being said though, I don't agree with that final paragraph. WoW is a video game that released in 2004 and is still receiving regular updates to this day, in 2017. Thirteen years on and the game is absolutely nothing like what it was when it released, and there are plenty of people that say "remember when we..." regarding the early days of WoW. Otherwise, the whole Nostalrius kerfluffle would never have happened. Much like growing up, very few of these long-lived games have a single, definitive point at which you can say "The old X ended, and the new X began", but there is absolutely a perceptible change over time where you're no longer playing the game you signed on for, the one you liked.

    And ultimately, that's where the stopping point is. There's no defined Final Boss, no set point at which the credits roll (unless you're Final Fantasy XIV, anyway). You just play the game until you're done with it. Until you finally get bored and don't feel like playing it anymore, or until it changes beyond the point at which you are no longer enjoying it, no longer playing the original game you wanted to play, and you move on. You put it down, and you don't go back.

    In the end, people still play Counter Strike 1.6. They still speed run Super Metroid. If the future of video games is a bleak, corporate-greed-driven hellscape where all games have fee-to-pay "content" schemes thrown onto them and require server logins even for whatever meager single-player portion exists, I'll simply walk away from it and go back into the fertile green fields of the last 30-odd years of video games, and I encourage other people to do the same.

    You have not played every great video game out there. You likely will not play every legitimately good video game, even if you really try. You simply cannot play every video game that is worth playing, not to any appreciable depth. There's so much out there that you haven't seen. You can ride out the Dark Ages of Video Games, until the Pay Forever model eventually collapses under the weight of its own obscene greed, and the market re-adjusts towards a sustainable model of quality products. It happened before, it will happen again, and things will get better as they did last time.
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  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #3 SatelliteOfLove 6 months ago
    You can play many single-player games back to back.

    You really can only play one GAAS at a time, unless you live on-line or some such.

    It's one of the restricting things that worries me about this, as the Overwatch vs. all those Hero Shooter roadkills red-ass beatdown will attest to
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  • Avatar for NateDizzy #4 NateDizzy 6 months ago
    it also threatens to redefine video games–particularly Triple–A games-forever.

    I don't know if it threatens to redefine video games as a whole, but Triple-A games (and those who love them) are clearly f***ed. Long live Single/Double-A and Indie Games!
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  • Avatar for MetManMas #5 MetManMas 6 months ago
    Honestly, I don't buy Games As Services being the future of gaming. Maybe it's the forseeable future of AAA gaming, since those games are ludicrously expensive to produce, but there's only so much space in the market for things that people subscribe to and play for years on end.

    Maybe they'll be more on the lower budget or indie side, but no matter what the big boys say single player games are still gonna be around. After all, they're gonna need something to fall back on when or if their latest GAS out the ass falls through and stinks up the place
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #6 VotesForCows 6 months ago
    @KaiserWarrior I was thinking the same. There are fewer and fewer games coming out that I'm interested in, but I don't have to look very far to find lists upon lists of incredible games from years past that I've never tried. Enough for a lifetime, certainly.
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  • Avatar for Jonnyboy407 #7 Jonnyboy407 6 months ago
    I think there's room enough in the world for both. We'll eventually find the right balance. Might be turbulent at times; but, much like life, art finds a way.
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  • Avatar for Talraen #8 Talraen 6 months ago
    I think the entire premise (or at least the customer side of the premise) is fundamentally flawed. Players may technically "get more content for their dollars," but that statement is problematic for two reasons. First, doing the same thing over and over to see a number go up barely qualifies as "content," and second, it's assuming "dollars" are the only cost here. My time, and that of many working adults, is more valuable than my money. As hobbies go, video games are relatively cheap. Getting 20 hours of solid entertainment for sixty bucks is a great deal. Getting 1000 hours of 20 hours of entertainment stretched out to fifty times its original length, all for free, is actually a terrible deal. Because I'm essentially wasting 980 hours. I'd rather have the hours than the sixty bucks.Edited September 2017 by Talraen
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  • Avatar for Wellman2nd #9 Wellman2nd 6 months ago
    The problem with the industry going for Games as service is just like the Free to play mobile trend that they said would over take the industry years ago. The suits don't know where to draw the line.

    I mean, there is a difference with offering additional content on game centered around a particular play style via DLC and just trying to stick on features to a game no one wants or needs. Not every genre, franchise or game has what the audience that want such a model nor do they have the built in 'hook' to sustain it. It is not that there is no value in such a model, but when you have suits talking like this sort of thing should become the norm, that is bothersome.

    Also lets be real, most of the big sports game publishers would rather keep selling you iterative games at full price yearly then just release DLC at presumably a lower price.
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  • Avatar for eathdemon #10 eathdemon 6 months ago
    I think sp games have a place, just not in the way they use to.for $60 sp games to be a thing, you need a play space, a city, planet,wastlelamd, jungle ect, to add new story content in for dlc. the most costly/time consuming part of a game, buy order of magnitude, is art. if you have a common play space, with limited new areas, you can reduce the cost of content by 70%+ percent.
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  • Avatar for PlatypusPlatoon #11 PlatypusPlatoon 6 months ago
    @SatelliteOfLove Completely agree! These games are more like self-contained, all-encompassing hobbies, compared to "traditional" one-and-done video games. I think there's a time and a place for both to co-exist, but anytime you get heavily into an online, competitive game, it demands that you devote most - or all - of your free time to it. While there are some games that are well worth the effort and time required, sometimes all you want to do is kick back, relax, and not have to deal with anyone else.
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  • Avatar for discohospital #12 discohospital 6 months ago
    Thanks for writing this. There are some great perspectives here in the comments as well. I was beginning to think I was the only one, etc etc.

    The “c’mon, all of your friends are doing it!” business model has never really clicked for me. In theory, I’d love to have games I’d enjoy playing with my friends (and I used to - back when that meant lugging my Saturn or Dreamcast around and hooking it up to the TV in a friend’s basement), but these open-ended/indefinite experiences that keep beckoning players back with no promise of closure or willingly letting go (until they’ve squeezed every last drop out of themselves and their players) have always been sort of daunting to me, on one hand, and on another off-putting, like a habit I’d rather not pick up.

    In terms of personal experiences, I tried FFXI, and then FFXIV after it was… uh, renovated, years after, and in both cases I hit a wall right where the game won’t allow you to advance without teaming up with other players. I even like the idea of an MMO and always have, but in practice I start to have trouble when there’s no way to proceed without depending on others. The Souls multiplayer model (not to mention its business model for post-release content, which I find fair and tasteful, for lack of a better term) is much more in line with my gaming tendencies - I can ask for help or help others if I choose, or there might be an occasional human opponent, but I’m in full control of the variables surrounding this. There is of course an end to the game proper, and it’s by no means impossible to reach on one’s own - and yet the multiplayer continues to be a major draw and key to the series’ popularity, all while leaving the single player experience of primary importance and relatively untouched. I wish more games found success with a similar approach.

    As some posters above alluded to, I think the hope for “games as we’ve known them”, or traditional games that are primarily single-player experiences, or what have you, lies in that nebulous and sometimes mercurial yet somehow almost always resilient, dependable, and committed space between indie and AAA. Honestly, I’m not sure if there’s a proper term which encompasses everything in that space - B games, A games, AA games... Really, I'm not even sure I know what, if anything, fits neatly into any one of those (the latter two seeming to me a bit makeshift and difficult to pin down). (And is there B plus? A minus? A for effort?) But I'm pretty sure I know in most cases what I don't associate with AAA development and business practices, and what generally doesn't qualify as indie. Perhaps if it was easier to talk about the space that exists between indie and AAA, and to collectively identify what kind of and which games might belong there, it would appear more salient, or its importance would be more readily acknowledged in discussions about the state of the industry such as this one.Edited September 2017 by discohospital
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