Image Credit: Ubisoft
At first glance, the ‘games as service’ model seems like a good idea. Developers provide games for a reduced, or non-existent fee, with the understanding that players pick up the accelerating cost of continued development through microtransactions, DLCs, or subscription-based fees. In actual fact, the increasing trend of games being sold for their lifespan, not their initial offering, is an increasingly concerning trend in gaming. This practice has allowed games studios to get away with selling incomplete buggy products for full price: a ridiculous notion that wouldn't be allowed in any other creative industry.
This behaviour is replicated much more egregiously by larger developers: EA, for example, made the decision to ship blockbuster battle royale game Apex Legends far before the game client even ran properly on PC. Players of Apex were forced out of games, and then refused the chance to reconnect. Despite this, players actually praised EA for making the game free, proving that companies can get away with horrible business practices, as long as they’re willing to use the ‘games as a service’ model.
The practice would, of course, be unthinkable in other creative industries. Marvel has thankfully never shipped a movie with Downey Jr. still in his mo-cap suit, and Coldplay will no doubt ensure that they record their latest album with real instruments, rather than banging on the wall with a stick as a placeholder for a drum kit.
Thankfully, not all companies get away with leaving their product unfinished: it seems that, at least this year, they might be being taught a lesson. *Fallout 76 *has recently had to admit that its ‘FalloutFirst’ subscription service was a failure after dysfunctional servers and buggy items made the game waking nightmare for those wealthy enough to shell out for its $13 a month price. Fallout itself remains the worst example of the 'games as a service’ model, making players endure its bad textures and awful gameplay for months after its launch. The community reacted with extreme scepticism, and it may be possible that developers are learning that gameplay experiences like those in Fallout are unacceptable. Players are now voting with the one thing that matters to massive studios: their wallets. Fallout sales tanked compared to the last game.
Ubisoft’s lesson came a few months after Fallout, through the case of Ghost Recon:Wildlands. As one of the only big releases before the run-up to Christmas, the game should have been a slam dunk for its developers, Ubisoft Paris. In actual fact, the game was released as a buggy mess, with little narrative and many systems that were either unfinished, or clearly copied from better Ubisoft games, like Far Cry. That said, it seems that, for the first time, Ubisoft has admitted failure. Poor sales prompted Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot to apologise for the game’s lacklustre release, and note that his product had been “strongly rejected by a significant portion of the community."
The community was left to speculate whether Ghost Recon's failure was behind the publisher’s decision to hold back its other blockbusters this year. Does the delay of the new Watch Dogs,Rainbox Six, and Gods &Monstersindicate that Ubisoft has learnt its lesson, and is intending to release games with the polish we expect from large publishers? We must certainly hope so.