“Games as a Service” refers to games that have some sort of ongoing component past their release, either through updates or other online features. There are plenty of good reasons for it, such as allowing a game to be free-to-play or keeping interest up, but generally Games as a Service is a trend to be wary of, since it is ultimately the opposite of games as a product – games that players can buy and own for themselves. In 2019, Games as a Service hit a worrying high, and that’s a problem.
The most obvious example of Games as a Service is multiplayer online games. Games like Fortnite and Overwatch continued to have large followings, despite some hiccups. All of these games rely on updates to avoid repetitiveness, and fund those updates with microtransactions and battle passes.
Of course, this is to be expected for Battle Royale games and team-based multiplayer titles. There’s practically no way to avoid this type of game using the Games as a Service model. But what about single-player games? Death Stranding was one of the biggest games of the year. It is primarily a single-player game, but has a heavy emphasis on online connections that populate the single-player world. Theoretically, the game can be played offline, but it will be severely impacted, encouraging players to stay connected. This shifts the business model of the game from something that players can take home and play to a service that relies on servers and online infrastructure in order to properly enjoy it.
Of course, it would be a mistake to talk about Games as a Service without mentioning the notorious Fallout 76. While its predecessor Fallout 4 had some Games as a Service features through the Creation Club, it remained a complete game offline. Fallout 76 took the whole game online, creating a multiplayer experience rather than a single-player story. In 2019 it continued the trend, announcing the Wastelanders expansion that will add NPCs to the game. The Games as a Service model allows this; rather than being forced to release a finalized game, developers can add fairly important elements (like characters) after the fact. Fallout 76’s “Fallout 1st” subscription only highlights the problems of Games as a Service. It offers a paid subscription on top of a AAA game price, purely because the game is designed to be a service and not a product.
There is hope. Obsidian’s The Outer Worlds is a purely offline single-player story-based game. It’s a game that players can play whenever they want, regardless of internet connection. And what’s best is that in 10 years after all the hype has died down, they’ll still be able to play it in the exact same way as the first time they picked it up. Death Stranding and Fallout 76? Maybe not.
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