A few weeks ago, it was revealed that Ubisoft would be planning to move towards releasing fewer titles and placing greater focus on those that they do actually choose to release. The decision comes after the company noticed stronger second year sales numbers in titles that made use of the games-as-a-service model and thus were provided with strong post-release support, such as Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege and Tom Clancy’s The Division.
Over the last few months, a lot has been said about the growing popularity of the games-as-a-service model among a vast number of publishers/developers within the gaming industry, with many consumers having come to associate the model with microtransactions and everything else that is wrong with the industry.
Despite this, some consumers have greeted Ubisoft’s decision to focus on releasing fewer titles with longer lifespans through the use of the games-as-a-service model as a positive transition to the company’s previous business model.
This contradictory reaction to the general perception of the games-as-a-service model has had many thinking about the controversial business model and how the usage thereof may positively or negatively affect the consumer.
So, what exactly are the advantages and disadvantages of the games-as-a-service model?
Advantages of the Games-As-A-Service Model
Probably, the most obvious advantage of the games-as-a-service model (for both publisher/developers and consumers) is the model’s potential to increase the lifespan of the title in question for an indefinite amount of time.
For the publisher/developer of a title, it means higher sales numbers both in terms of copies of the title in question and microtransactions, whereas for consumers it means not having to purchase new video games as frequently.
For example, Rainbow Six Siege was released in 2015 and was recently reported to maintain an active player base of over 25 million across the three platforms it is available on. As no sequel to the title has been released in the past two and a half years, players who have grown to enjoy the tactical shooter experience the series provides have been forced to invest in Rainbow Six Siege to get the most recently available experience. This action helps in maintaining the title’s large player base for at least some time by ensuring that it is not segmented.
Contrast this example with the Call of Duty series, which receives new entries each year, effectively dividing each title’s player base. Many players have stated that the reasoning behind buying each newly released title is to migrate to the experience where the player base is largest, which is often located at the most recent release. The game-as-a-service model eliminates the need to buy new titles within a series frequently because they are quite simply not available.
In order for a title to maintain a long lifespan, it is imperative for the publisher/developer to keep working at making the game as captivating as possible even as it ages. This is often done by releasing several content updates for the title that continually enhances the overall gameplay experience.
Continuing with the Rainbow Six Siege example, Ubisoft is consistently releasing new content updates for the title. At the moment, the Outbreak event is due to begin soon and will introduce an entirely new gameplay aspect to the title through adding a sort of “zombie” outbreak element to an experience that traditionally offer players the chance to emulate tactical law enforcement operations.
Whether or not the gameplay experience offered through the event will actually be worthwhile still remains to be seen. However, it must be stated that the interest generated by creating this new event is enough to keep players logging in to the game for at least some amount of time.
An added potential benefit related to the games-as-a-service model and content updates can be gained when such updates are made freely available to players. As stated previously, a segmented player base harms a title’s longevity thus if all players are able to access new content, more players will choose to remain active.
Then, it is also important to note that the model does also allow for greater interaction between publishers/developers and consumers, meaning greater potential for reaction from publishers/developers on the basis of feedback. If players find issue with certain gameplay elements, they are able to share these grievances with publishers/developers, who will then be able to address said issues appropriately. This should theoretically ultimately lead to the creation of a better overall gameplay experience over time.
Disadvantages of the Games-As-A-Service Model
The largest overarching concern which most seem to take with the games-as-a-service model in any game is the fact that most titles that make use of the model generally do tend to implement some sort of microtransaction scheme.
Quite simply, if publishers plan to reduce the number of titles they plan to release over a period of time, they will try to recoup these losses in another manner, which will most likely be through the implementation of a microtransaction system within a specific title. This system could have an aggressive or passive impact on the player’s overall gameplay experience.
While many are willing to forgive free titles of any nature for making use of microtransaction systems, the same cannot really be said for titles (particularly, those of the Triple A variety) which require players to pay a premium in order to first gain access to the experience, especially if that microtransaction system is integral to progressing within in the game or tries to take advantage of vulnerable consumers.
Star Wars Battlefront 2 is perhaps a very good example of a game that initially demonstrated some of the benefits granted to consumers through the games-as-a-service business model in that there is no season pass for the title and DLC is free to all players (thereby preventing future segmentation of the player base), but these benefits were later nullified when publishers, EA, attempted to introduce an aggressive pay-to-win loot box microtransaction system within the game.
Some have argued that if the type of microtransaction system employed in a fully-priced title is passive in nature (it only allows players to buy cosmetic upgrades), it is not worthy of complaint it does not interfere with the gameplay experience. However, this is not a universally shared opinion.
Then, there’s also the belief that making microtransactions available within a title ultimately cheapens the player’s overall experience of the game as it allows some players to purchase high-value items at any stage thus depriving the player of the feelings of accomplishment or meaning that may have been derived from their efforts to gain that item. This in turn supposedly results in a lesser gameplay experience for the individual.
It is obviously up to each individual on their own to decide whether or not purchasing microtransactions to speed up game development destroys the game experience. (Quite honestly, I do believe that if a player chooses to speed up their progress within a game through the use of microtransactions, they were probably not going to play the game long enough to unlock high-value items anyway.)
Some players also think that the games-as-a service model is destroying single-player game development as it is easier for publishers/developers to implement profitable microtransactions systems within multiplayer titles as well as increase their active lifespan.
This notion is somewhat debatable as it has been proven time and again that single-player gaming is not dying; multiplayer gaming is just significantly more popular at the moment. The last year has also proven that there are even ways to implement loot box microtransaction systems within popular single-player titles if publishers are ardent enough.
So, Is The Games-As-A Service Model Bad For Consumers?
As previously mentioned, there are many positive for both publishers/developers to be gained from making use of the games-as-a-service model. It is how a publisher/developer may choose to implement the model and a specific player’s personal standpoints that ultimately determine whether a title is consumer friendly or not.
Within the current landscape of the gaming industry, it will be interesting to see how the growing popularity of the games-as-a-service model will develop and how it will be implemented in future.
But, what do you think? Is the games-as-a-service model good or bad for gaming? Perhaps, it’s both? Please share your thoughts in the comments down below.