Top Video Game Companies Won't Stop Talking About 'Games As A Service'

There was once a time when video game developers would make a game, release it, and then move onto the next big thing. That time has long since passed. These days, you're more likely to see a new Metroid than you are to buy an AAA game that's never updated, patched or enhanced in some way. Today's big video games aren't products — they're services.

That isn't a new buzzword — "games as service" has been floating around for many years now — but these days, we're seeing big publishers embrace it in a way they haven't before. Developers are looking at ways to make money off games for as long as possible, through downloadable content, cosmetic microtransactions and good-old fashioned loot boxes. For example, here's Square Enix in a financial presentation last week:

Titles that have become global hits recently have tended to be offered via the "Games as a Service" model, and we believe this is going to be the mainstream model for gaming in the future. In developing future titles, we will approach game design with a mind to generate recurring revenue streams.

Square's most successful recent game, Final Fantasy 15, has become a service thanks to patches, downloadable content and Gladiolus's abs. (There's also plenty more en route.) Though the publisher is looking to sell developer io Interactive, whose most recent Hitman was an episodic (and critically acclaimed) "service game", Square appears to be preparing for a future in which games change constantly.

And here's Ubisoft boss Yves Guillemot, speaking during a financial call earlier this month:

We are transforming our games from standalone offline products into service-based platforms where we can continually interact with and entertain our players.

Adds Ubisoft chief financial officer Alain Martinez:

The philosophy of all the games that we make is to be able to justify and to bring live operations for a long life, as long as we think it fits the game. What we said is clearly considering the fiscal year '19 [April 2018-March 2019]. We feel comfortable that instead of the 17 per cent recurring players' investment that we had initially anticipated, we feel that we now can cater for plus over 25 per cent of our revenue coming from that. That will come from all the games more or less, but that will also include Assassin's Creed. I hope that answer your question.

Electronic Arts, too, has embraced the idea that video games should never stop getting new stuff — at least until their sequels come out. From Star Wars Battlefront to FIFA to BioWare's soon-to-be-announced new IP, almost all of EA's upcoming games are designed to keep making money for months and even years after they launch.

Here's EA CEO Andrew Wilson, speaking during this month's earnings call:

Games as a service are reshaping our industry, and EA is positioned to lead. Our investment in an EA digital platform that connects players across games, franchise and devices also provides more data from our games than ever before. With the data and capabilities of our platform, we're able to do things differently, move faster, and innovate for our player communities. Amazingly creative games combined with services like Ultimate Team, our Battlefield network, multiplatform experiences and subscription programs like EA Access are the future of this industry. With every player that joins our games, every game session, and every engagement in our live services, we are adding strength to EA's Player Network.

Although other big publishers, like Activision-Blizzard and Take-Two, didn't explicitly mention "games as service" on their May earnings calls, their strategies are similar, from Hearthstone to GTA Online.

This big shift was always inevitable. The video game industry is littered with the corpses of game studios that took the fire-and-forget approach, and for developers, the best lessons are often learned once you've already shipped. Just look at the likes of Blizzard's Diablo 3 and Ubisoft's Rainbow Six Siege for evidence that games can get so much better once they have been out in the wild for a while. The most lucrative AAA games in recent memory include Destiny, Overwatch, Mario Kart 8 and many others with long, sprawling lifespans. The most lucrative indie games of late look similar, from Minecraft to Ark: Survival Evolved. Even games that are traditionally centred on single-player modes, such as Assassin's Creed and Red Dead Redemption, which have dabbled in multiplayer but earned accolades for their campaigns, will likely have large "service" components when we next see them.

This may be good news for video game fans who want to get as much as possible out of the games they buy. With developers spending more time investing in games post-launch to ensure those games are making as much money as possible, it's more likely we'll see stories like Destiny, in which a game is fine-tuned and tweaked and changed to the point where it becomes unrecognisable from the product we saw at launch, often for the best.

But it's bad news for one other big video game company that reported earnings this month, one that relies on an ecosystem in which we all buy games and then trade them for new ones when we're done...

GameStop stock image via Nasdaq.com


Comments

    Does that mean they will have to adhere to the same standards as other products and/or services?

    You know, not releasing stuff that is completely useless and broken at launch?

      I believe so.

      I think we should have roped the industry in line with practical consumer standards long ago.

    Perfect example of large industry players manipulating things so they are supplying what they want, while making us feel happy we are getting it.

    Confused.

    A more-than-decent game that was put out and then constantly found itself charting in the best-sellers week on week was once known as 'evergreen'.

    http://www.igea.net/ - compare the top tens of platforms like 3DS or Wii U (a bloody launch game is listed) with the Xbone's - nothing more than nine months old.

    Now you're telling me it's as if Australian games retail logic doesn't matter anymore?

    Shock.........er........

    While I agree that Games as a Service is a loathsome term, the end result is exactly what 'video game fans' ie consumers have said they wanted and let their money do the talking for all these years, since Xbox Live was conceived and now PSN and Steam rule the roost.

    You only have yourselves to blame. The console makers (ie, the platform holders) have been radically dis-empowered for years now, and it's the Bethesda's, EA's, etc that rule the roost.

    Happy to champion the comparatively different philosophies that the likes of Nintendo or Good Old Games (ie CD Projekt Red, that is, the Witcher 3 dev) wish to put forward, because I am happy to put my money where my mouth is and support a different way to support this medium.

      I'm not convinced that 'fans', the kinds of people who visit enthusiast sites like Kotaku, are the ones driving the market.

    The issues I have with this is...

    The model is being used to drip feed content and lock content of a game begund arbitrary timers so they can sell DLC.

    So what that Hitman was the one game that did it right, guess what, they are being sold off. So how is ganrs as a service that is well recieved going to work in the future. . Its not, probably Hitman didnt nickle and dime every player for each update.

    Telltale being doing it for years but they dont reinvest in a new engine and story development has erroded to quick time events of no consequences... buyers got so frustrated they refuse to buy them until all episodes are released.

    Does this mean we get return on investing in a service... like better services, open access to content, a multiplayer game that can sustain a community over time rather tban de-evolve into a pocket of a few thousand hackers who insult your parentage cause you not good enough, but tell you to "get good" as they vote kick you out of a game... how do you get goid if the game is unplayable for new people. Why buy DLC for a multiplayer game that wint last 3 months.

    Games as a service... needs a lot more work on their end including developing and continuing to develop AAA titles that are not broken or buggy or a rip off... players will spend money on DLC if you build quality, Blizzard has proven this for a decade.

    Surprised not to see Xbox highlighted here. It has led the way of games-as-a-service, seemingly out of sheer necessity as it hemorrhages users to Sony. From my perspective, it's worked well! It's driven some innovation in terms of offering a more open gaming social network and the roadmap is great for consumers. Once everybody moves away from their default 'I hate Microsoft' stance, I hope that things like Game Pass and Xbox on Windows 10 make Xbox far more recognisable as a service, rather than a console (in my mind it already is).

    Sorry for the mini-shill (Turns Fanboi knob back down to 5)

    With help of a metaphors of building a house

    What games as a service should be:

    You buy a house then after living in it for a while enjoying yourself, you buy an extension and add it on to the house, meby after that you'll get a swimming pool etc.

    What I fear it will become:

    you get three rooms and no roof. You might be able to buy a kitchen if the three rooms design sells very well. And if you're really really lucky you might even get a toilet. Oh and your house needs to be wired to the internet at all times or it will automatically eject you and lock you out.

      Also look how well episodic content worked for hitman.....

      Oh and the toilet costs a fee to use.

    Games as a service would be fine - as long as you're not being slugged for the full price of the game upfront AND have to pay the ongoing "service" fee. If I wanted that, I'd play a subscription MMO, and I don't want to play a bloody subscription MMO.

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