Are All Long-Term Multiplayer games/Games as Service Games Doomed in the Long Run?

I played a lot of overwatch when I got my PS4 over a year ago. I really enjoyed it. And, listening to old podcasts I’m reminded of how enthusiastic people were about it. Now, I talk to my “Overwatch” friends and they lament how the game is balanced and how there’s too many characters and how things don’t feel fresh or distinguished anymore.

In the end, the fact that the game continues for an extended period of time, inevitably leading to a mediocre period or possible end, overshadows the great beginning and moments for them.

Unlike many games in the past, there’s no clear end or defined boundaries of current games, especially multiplayer ones. This means things can’t satisfactorily end, and instead usually extend until no one wants it.

Overwatch, Apex and even PUBG were loved at moments, but have faced criticism because they have to continue. Our evaluation of them considers not just the base or initial phases, but everything that occurred.

Is that fair? Should we keep in mind the core of the game, when we look retrospectively? When we look back 10 years from now, will we recognize the quality of any games like Overwatch in Heyday, or will lackluster updates obscure our vision?

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My gut feeling on the question asked in the topic title is yes.

Considering how I look back on PAYDAY 2, GTA Online, and Overwatch, I generally I end up letting the poor taste in my mouth left by a game define the entirety of the experience when I look back. I can think about the moments I enjoyed, but it’s always with an asterisk that eventually they took the game that created that moment and changed into something I had no interest in playing anymore.

Is that fair? I can’t say for sure. Probably not. But there are also games I don’t play anymore like Warframe that I look back on much more fondly and would instantly recommend it to anyone that asked me if they should play it, even if I no longer play it myself. I couldn’t tell what difference had me looking back on Warframe with rose colored lense, but PAYDAY 2 in disgust, but my guess is the nature and intent of how a game changes plays into how I look back on it and how I evaluate it now. PAYDAY 2’s changes were aimed at getting the playerbase to spend more money, Overwatch’s changes aimed at making the game into a competitive sport. Warframe’s changes were additional systems that were more complex than I was interested in, but seemed aimed at providing more goals for the players to set for themselves.

As with everything around these questions what distinguishes looking back at a GaaS game fondly vs not as fondly remains a mystery, but I do feel this is a question worth exploring!

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So you’re pretty much saying it already, but for me, the clear answer is yes.

This is because the “games-as-a-service” model is inherently unstable.

Every update or addition to a new game opens up the possibility for the game to crash and burn. Granted, this doesn’t happen particularly often unless the changes are really drastic. If you don’t, there is a constant expectation that new content needs to be coming in for the game to be “alive”. But there’s only so much you can add to a game without destroying it, and people will get bored with it no matter what.

Meanwhile, I’d ask you to look at some of the longest lasting competitive games you know of. Quake, Melee, Starcraft. Now look at even older games: Chess, Go. These games aren’t being updated constantly, but people are still playing them. The games-as-a-service model is evidently not required for a long lifespan.

I remember I was talking to some people during a downtime in class about Minecraft. I was saying that, while it gets a bad rap, it’s a pretty sweet game. Someone said, “It’s fun for the first few hundred or a thousand hours, but it gets kind of boring after that without mods.” And my response was just like… why the fuck do you need a game that lasts for that long??? I do not understand this desire to make every game a “forever game”. I am happy with all the time I spent in PUBG and Overwatch, for very different reasons respectively. I got what I wanted out of them, and don’t feel the need to return. Why is that a failure of a game?

So, yeah. The framework is doomed. But those games can be fun anyway.

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i dont know where this fits into all of this, but i played some Team Fortress 2 with some folks in the discord last night for the first time in, maybe 5 years? and honestly that game still goes. it was genuinely surprising how, in spite of the grotesque assemblage of elements grafted on to make more money, and in spite of my distance and ability to better observe how weird and bad that is now, the “game” part of the game is still remarkably fun to me.

but i also would never in a million years recommend it to someone unfamiliar with it, because of all those additional layers. so to your first question, probably yes.

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IMO what kept that and similar games going is user made content.

To keep a game alive you don’t need new mechanics or changes to existing mechanics but adding new levels certainly never hurts.

Vanilla TTT is not a great game, the basic CSS maps are boring. What is great is a group of players molding the base game into something that fits their style and part of that is knowing about every 4 months someone in the community puts out a great new map to play on.

There’s also ways to add new game mechanics without breaking what’s there.

TF2 for example has added new side mechanics but the core is still there and it’s a good core. Overwatch for how much it learned from TF2 never learned that you do not touch core mechanics. A returning player can always play Heavy and their default load out is still functionally the exact same as it was the day the game came out.

Honestly the only reason I stopped playing tf2 was because the cosmetic focus became way too much.

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I think the common thread between all the competitive games that survive is:

  1. Divorcing the game from the publisher/developer’s continual influence and control.

and

  1. Preserving the ability to play different eras of a game.

And you know what is good at doing both of these things? Nearly every fighting game in existence. All of them have a community still around them. Yes, even the bad ones (sometimes especially the bad ones!). Why? Because the entire genre was built around local play on a machine not directly controlled by the publisher/developer: arcade machines and pre-internet consoles. Which means that every fighting game is expected to run local multiplayer and (given the limitations of online play and the precision needed in the genre), online play will always be inferior to offline. And with competition in the genre being primarily offline, there is no impending server shutdown that will yank the game from players.

As for the preservation, it was easy until recently as every version of the game were distinct products. While decried by many as being nickled and dimed, it effectively was the same practice as the “seasonal” content that is the norm now, but with a preserved copy of each season which allowed multiple “scenes” to form around each version of the game over time.

But that’s starting to change. There are different scenes for every version of Street Fighter II, III, and IV (hell, even the 3DS version of IV has its own small scene), but only the current patch for V. And if Capcom does not provide a way to switch between the base game, season 1, 2, 2.5, 3, 3.5, and 4 in the next few years, then only the most recent version of the game will be accessible (and whatever version are printed on discs, though even those are not perfect considering they would be missing day 1 patches).

But I’m getting off topic here.

The answer to the question is Yes. Definitely. Absolutely.

Because developers/publishers of multiplayer games today don’t care about either of those keys to keeping a game alive. Instead, they just run the old MMO playbook: always only support the new shiny thing, let the old stuff decay like an abandoned amusement park, and when the money starts drying up, pull the plug.

Any online game with no support for private servers are at the mercy of the developer/publisher for keeping a game alive (or a dedicated group of people reverse engineering a way to have them, but we saw the problems with that recently). I have very little hope that this is changing without some major overhauling of either how copyright works or how online infrastructure in games work.

And preservation of each version? Out the window. MMO’s were built on incremental, sometimes even more frequent than weekly changes. How do you preserve the “experience” of playing x era of a game when it was changed three days later? Blizzard is struggling hard with that answer when it comes to launching classic servers of World of Warcraft and little has been done to design game content around this problem in the 16 years since its launch. Hell, Apex has been out for 3 months and there are already 4 major updates I can think of that changed the way the game played.

And really the only thing we can do to change either of these is complain. The developers/publishers of each game are the only ones with the power (legally) to provide either.

So for the foreseeable future, if you want to play an online game, better be there early and often. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some Vampire Savior to play.

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So I recently stopped playing Fortnite after playing it regularly for over a year.

There has been a lot of stuff that has influenced my decision, but overall, the one main factor is that Epic wants to stay at the top by “keeping the game fresh.” So you get content updates every two weeks, plus in game events that happen (at the expense of having their employees in a never ending cycle of crunch). You now have a game that at one point, felt great. Super balanced and fun to play with a lot of memorable moments. Now it’s just empty, the fun is gone, and the game is unbalanced. Epic keeps releasing new weapons and items that either break the game or get ignored.

Their last big move, give players the ability to pick which gun that was removed to be bought back into the game. The Drum gun, a weapon that was vaulted a year ago due to it being very OP, made it’s way back in and the competitive scene is upset. The game is very different from the version I played a year ago.

I will say that the one thing that keeps a game going is it’s community. Y’all know I started playing Team Fortress 2 for Save Point. I decided to play it because I needed a spooky (but not too scary) game to play in the background while answering people’s questions, so I made a server with nothing but Scream Fortress maps. I instead discovered a pretty active community that still puts on tournaments today. I literally watched one yesterday and had a lot of fun. Of course, this game got put into Valve’s policy to let the community do all the heavy lifting (pay them Valve.) While I don’t think just handing off a game to the community is the right direction (Look at the Fortnite community voting to put in the most broken gun in the game.) I think there’s a balance on dev and community support that can make a game fun in the long run. And maybe don’t make your workplace a living hell of nightmare crunch.

But until we figure that out, games as a service is doomed in the long run.

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With any of these games, the ire over the minutiae of certain updates or changes just belies the fact that the underlying structure didn’t have that much staying power to begin with.

I don’t want to be the old man yelling about how new games are too simplistic, but there’s a growing homogeneity in the play styles of AAA games, and just piling on more stuff every month or two doesn’t change that fact.

I’m going to go against the grain and say that if the original everquest is still somehow releasing expansions after 20 years that not all of them are doomed. They aren’t going to run literally forever but no one actually expects that, not really.

First off, yes, not all games as service games from today will be gone in 20 years. Maybe Fortnite will be around having an Avengers 9 event. Who knows?

But I cannot disagree more with the second part. In 80 years (if we make it that long), why shouldn’t someone be able to play one of the most important games ever made? Sure, thinking there will still be new content coming out then is outrageous, but, like I said, divorce the game from the control and influence of the developer/publisher. Let the game be preserved as an important piece of the history of the games medium.

But that lack of preservation of this medium’s history is what makes “games as a service” so backwards, so sad, so… capitalist. The model only values a game as a revenue stream, not as a piece of an artistic medium.

I honestly do not think it is actually possible to preserve these games. World of Warcraft without the other people who play it is not World of Warcraft even if you just spin up a new instance of it that mirrors the live version. The bigger barrier to preserving everquest in 80 years will be finding other people who want to play a 100 year old mmo.

Comparing modern online games to games from 10 or 20 years ago becomes more meaningless with every passing day. Twenty years ago, there were a dozen or so major online games at most. The collective player base of every person who played an online game was a fraction of what it is today. Playing games online required a PC capable of playing games, and often also required the technical know-how to connect to a server in an arguably esoteric way. It was a much more enthusiast-minded crowd. The focal point of online gaming was very small and specific relative to today. It makes sense that games of that era - Quake, Everquest, War/Starcraft, etc. - were made to last so long by developers and players alike. Player bases had grown comfortable with them, and didn’t want to move on, partly because there were fewer things with player bases as large to move on to, and partly because they had worked relatively hard to have this play experience in the first place.

Today, there are literally thousands of online games, a number that grows by like 10 every week, and many multitudes more players. Online gaming is the social norm. It’s possible on virtually every major electronic device, which also now literally outnumber the worldwide human population. While there are games which have huge, dedicated player bases, the incentive to stay with a game has changed because players are no longer really limited to the one game that plays the way they like, as there are dozens of others and at least half of them have meaningfully-large player bases.

I just don’t think history has very much to teach us about where current online games will be at in 20 years. The reasons for keeping online games running have changed very dramatically, and some of those reasons just don’t apply to modern online games. Like, might you find a Fortnite reddit that is still running a pre-Crack in the Sky server with the Infinity Blade on it 10 or 20 years from now? I suppose, but I would bet a thousand dollars the server wouldn’t be full. There are just so, so, so many other games to play against many thousands of other players.

Im a dad now and I simply cant keep up, I find it so hard to invest some of the little time I have in a game that is going to be drastically changed the next time I log in.

‘Update apathy’ I like to call it.