What Anthem Tells us About the Future of Games-as-a-Service

There’s plenty of news to comment on today. It seems like today was a crazy day of non-stop news. Don’t believe me?

Needless to say, today was a CRAZY day for reporting. So much happened and it definitely feels like it’s all over the place. Friday is usually the day where you dump your stories as most people don’t read it as they typically are wrapping up their work weeks, spend more time with families, and get out of the house. Something tells me this was not one of those days.

However, my thoughts today have gone towards the launch of a new video game, Anthem, developed by the creators at Bioware and produced by Electronic Arts. While not nearly on the same reporting level, we have to respect and understand the fact that the video game industry is a MASSIVE industry that in 2017 topped $100 billion dollars in revenue. More and more, that industry is being dominated by games that you play with others. Games such as Fortnite has really cornered the market with it’s free-to-play battle royale system that brings in revenue with microtransactions where you can buy cosmetics and dance moves. You might think this is small business. You would be wrong. Fortnite made $2.5 billion in 2018. Yes, that’s a B for billion.

So, when a game like Anthem, described as an online multiplayer action role-playing game where players assume the role of a Freelancer, one in a group of people who leave their civilization to explore the surrounding landscape (thank you Wikipedia for that succinct description). Anthem is just the latest in a long line of games such as Destiny, The Division, Rainbow Six, etc. A game that is designed to be continually providing updates that enhance and extend the experience from the days of your traditional $60 one and done purchase. That’s not to say there aren’t other games with the same idea such as the Assassin’s Creed series that typically release multiple expansions tied in with the same game, but you usually are buying a season pass and they aren’t geared towards experiences with others like Anthem is.

There’s been much made about Anthem since the launch of the game. Reviews are coming in that tell a story of a fairly average game with many bugs that some have appeared to been fixed with a day-one patch. Or not. Apparently the game doesn’t give a great guide on how to actually play the game. That would seem to be a problem to me. My focus is more around the idea that Games-as-a-Service are inherently flawed ideas that sound good in practice, but require much more development time and patience from publishers that they haven’t been interested in providing.

There is a rift in the gaming world between these GaaS experiences versus single player experiences. Even EA has come out and said as much. Of course, when you look at the 2018 best selling games list, there leaves some doubt to that thought. On the top twenty list, you have games such as Red Dead Redemption 2, Marvel’s Spider-Man, Far Cry 5, God of War, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, Monster Hunter: World. That’s six games in the top 10 alone. So obviously, fake news. People want single player experiences, they are loving them, and they are craving them.

The problem is that a publisher like EA has difficulty extracting the kind of money they want. When the GaaS portion of their business has grown some $80 billion in recent years, it’s hard to deny that. Except these publishers continue to shoot themselves in the foot each time they launch one of these games.

If you figure the typical single player experience takes anywhere from 2-5 years and costs hundred of millions of dollars to complete in some instances (Red Dead Redemption 2 was reported to cost $265 million to make), then it stands to reason you need twice as long and just as much money if not more to create a seemingly endless universe that people want to immerse themselves within. If it takes that long and that much to create a finite experience, you need just as much and usually a lot more to create an infinite experience.

The problem with that is these publishers are not willing to put the time and effort into doing so. So instead, you end up with half baked games that are asking more of their gamers and players than they are of themselves. These games are ambitious in design and have been falling fall short, leaving many gamers burned and turned off of the experience, blasting the company for selling something that just simply isn’t ready for the primetime.

So what does this tell us? It tells us that publishers see the gold mine and in usual human standards, they want to put in as little as possible to reap the most possible. We also know these types of games aren’t going to end and within a year’s time, there will be people have poured hundreds of hours into a game like Anthem. It will be interesting to see how many people continue to pour time into a game like Destiny 2 with Anthem out. There’s plenty to be said about oversaturation of this particular market as you have to wonder how many users can truly pour that kind of time into these types of games and if developers truly want to devote their creative energies into those kinds of games.

Anthem will eventually be very successful. People have talked about how fun the game can be and the potential that is apparent. The question becomes is if this is truly the feature of gaming or a flawed market that developers/publishers find lucrative, but aren’t really ready to devote the immense resources to be on the level of some of the truly stunning single player games we saw this year alone. Time will tell, but something tells me the idea that ‘single player games are dying’ will continue to be proven untrue in the years ahead.

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