Games-as-a-service-style games are increasing in popularity nowadays. It’s a viable economic strategy. Maybe it’s shooting for the whole “e-Sports” thing. And maybe it’s not a game billed as a “service”, but it experiences a long lifespan due to developer involvement and an active player-base. These kinds of games often experience rolling updates and content additions. A lot of the time, these updates are quality-of-life fixes, balancing, or new added
But every once in a while, an update comes around. An update that ruins everything. Supposedly.
Tell me if this sounds familiar:
A game has an active player-base and regular updates. An update comes along, perhaps along with a DLC, that substantially revamps the game’s systems. Soon, you start seeing reviews pop up (read: Steam reviews) filled with intense, frustrated responses, before eventually petering out a month or two later.
“This update killed the game.”
“One of my favorite games until this update.”
“The game I knew and loved is gone.”
Eventually, these responses die down. But as an outside observer, it’s hard to tell: did that update ruin the game? Are those people never going to play it again? Or was it just a fearful response to change?
In your experience, what have these updates meant? Are they actually something that ruins the game? Have you ever fallen off of a game because of one bad update? Alternatively, how often are these things blow out of proportion? Have you ever sweetened on an update over time?
P.S.: The thing that made me think of this was the recent Stellaris update!
Oh man, yes. Team Fortress 2. The matchmaking update. I had played that game religiously for 2-3 years before that update (this is end-of-high school, early-college me). It was easily my favorite multiplayer game, and had something like 7 or 8 times my next-most played game on Steam (I think it has somewhere between 450-500 hours). I tried to play it a couple of times after the update (this was in 2016) and then have rarely opened it since.
It didn’t ruin the game—saying so would be incredibly selfish. But it ditched the thing that I kept going back to that game for, which was the absolute freedom it gave players to move in and out of servers and matches and find either serious games, a playground for messing around, or something (and usually it was something) in between. It added a much more rigid structure to joining matches and made the game feel much more serious, which a) removed the things I’d enjoyed about it and b) made it feel much more like Overwatch, which had just come out. And both at the time and to this day it feels to me like Overwatch does all the gameplay stuff that that update tried to integrate into TF2 a lot better than TF2, because it was built with those components in mind.
I do miss old Team Fortress 2 a lot, but whenever I check back (maybe once every four months or so, just to see), it’s just not there anymore. I’m glad that that game still has the vast majority of its community, and that they adapted to those changes and seemingly loved them a lot. But it’s just not for me in the way that it used to be.
the stellaris update is weird cuz i like it more till i have more then a few planets then its just way to much
Oh my god I was just writing about the same thing. Thank you for wording much better than I could have.
I always hated the idea of queuing in games even though I know it’s been the norm for multiplayer games. But It just felt too ceremonious for a goofy game like TF2. I honestly think I would still be playing it if that update never took place.
When Blizzard both ended the pro scene and said that they were removing resources from Heroes of the Storm development team in the same blog post the game died that day for me.
I think this is an interesting example because the issue seems to be less with the actual game mechanics and just… how the game is framed. Like, there was still a server browser and all that, right? But the feeling of how entering a game was framed changed how the whole experience felt.
There was still a server browser, but they took all the vanilla Valve-run servers offline (to use for the new “casual” mode), which were the vast majority of what I’d played on. And while there had once been a really thriving range of commumity servers, most of the ones that remained at that point (largely because Valve’s own servers has supplanted them) were running mods or experimental gamemodes. And even if they were running vanilla TF2, they’d only have one of the game’s billion different maps, and I often went into a play session thinking “alright, I want to play a few rounds on Lakeside, or Nucleus, or Doublecross,” so that option was basically gone if I didn’t want to go through the queueing system, where the atmosphere felt very different. So it wasn’t really just framing—it had removed the ability to find exactly the type of match I wanted, or to switch out of one of I didn’t want to stay.
Side note: I think there’s an interesting and valuable conversation to be had about archival here. As in, regardless of quality, when a developer has the control to change all instances of the game, they can essentially erase a version of a game from the public sphere. Which sucks? This was a really big conversation when Blizzard was shutting down Vanilla World of Warcraft fan servers. I earnestly feel that there should be better access to older builds, both from a player perspective and an archival perspective.
Paradox actually seems pretty good about this, at least with Stellaris, and seems to be allowing players to opt back into old versions of the game by entering a code (which @giggz might be interested in!), which I think is a perfectly fine solution, thought a little out of the way. Sure, online games might not be able provide servers, but it’s valuable to see old versions of games and how the mechanics/etc. have changed!
Archival is important! Waaah!
I agree with everything about Team Fortress 2, here. It’s my favourite competitive multiplayer game deep in my heart and in my memory but the Matchmaking stuff really did kill it for me.
My only thing to add is that it basically eliminated any sense of server community I ever felt. I used to play pretty frequently on a handful of a servers, so much so that my username was recognized and because of server based ranking systems showing time played, server points, etc people knew who you were. For the most part, my interactions were friendly (all the servers I played on had pretty strict rules based around banning people for racism, sexism, any bigotry, which actually wasn’t that difficult to find when the player counts were high. I know this was hardly universal on pub servers.) and while I never formed any real-life relationships that way I always found a place I could have fun socially, which was extremely important for me as someone who doesn’t do well in a lot of social situations, and finds it especially difficult to communicate in high pressure situations that games like R6: Siege provide, for example.
The current model of multiplayer being so focused on strict, e-sports like competition on all levels has completely ruined that for me, personally.
Yall should have seen the Valve Dedicated Server Mailing List following that update. People were super upset because it immediately began to tank server populations and it only got worse from there when Valve started adding stipulations that let your server show up in the matchmaking que. You had to run a completely vanilla server which meant that all of a sudden very few servers wanted to run custom maps because they depended on the matchmaking to keep them filled up.
It really bums me out because you can look at that and how CSGO handled it and realize that in reality people would rather immediately get in a match then spend 2 minutes picking out a server that sounds fun or picking one to always go to and be part of a community.
WoW is a huge one for me, too. I don’t think that game has been “ruined”. I played it recently and still think it’s fun, but being able to go back and just… look at Burning Crusade or Lich King era WoW would be (selfishly) a treat and is also something I think is important for game historians and archivists.
I used to play an assload of Payday 2. This is a game that sustained its creators by releasing several DLCs a year. At the time of me writing this there are 50 DLCs available on Steam. Most of the community was pretty on board to buy them because they knew they were supporting the ongoing development of this game and it’s announced sequel.
Then they announced crates and keys.
To be clear I am not 100% opposed to crates and keys but I felt (and a lot of the community too) felt this was a really cynical double dip. The Payday 2 subreddit fucking imploded overnight. There was definitely some uncritical rage or what have you.
The developers have since bought back the rights to the game from the publisher (or something like that, I’m not a lawyer) and no new keys or crates that required microtransactions have been implemented since. I haven’t gone back to the game though, I’m not entirely sure why.
I’m not sure this is in the ballpark of what you’re asking for, but the only thing that really comes to mind is an update to Halo 2 that fixed an exploit where you could somehow combine the reticle of the rocket launcher and the dash/lunge of the plasma sword to fly through the air and get to unreachable locations in maps. Back then it wasn’t a given that your console was online, so I distinctly remember the exploit lived on in a portion of my friends’ Xboxes because they just never hooked it up to the internet.
I guess this happened to Overwatch for me, but it’s not entirely because of an update. At some point in the past few years I paid off my student loans. Then my mouse broke and I went to the store to get a new one. I came home with a PS4 Pro (which costs less than 1 student loan payment). In the month or so after than they wildly changed CTF, the only mode I played, and announced changes for Mercy & D.Va, two of my five most played characters. I didn’t want to have to relearn everything, so I haven’t played it since.
I feel like star wars galaxies NGE has to be the gold standard for this. Nothing like logging in and your character doesn’t exist because that class doesn’t exist any more, please start over from scratch.
I had sorta dropped off when Roadhog was nerfed/changed and I don’t know if I’ve meaningfully returned since.
Maaaan, way to bring up trauma that I’ve worked through and forgotten about.
Star Wars Galaxies was truly a bird too special and unique for this world.
This happened in Runescape in 2007 in two different ways:
The Wilderness was one of the core pieces of the game from its inception as the only place where you could PvP. The game had developed a really robust community around clans and large scale sometimes hours-long PvP clan wars that could only take place in the wildy. It’s important to note that when you die in Runescape you drop all but your 3 most valuable items, and if you attacked someone first in the Wilderness you would be marked by a skull and you would drop them all.
The player-driven Runescape economy also worked in an interestingly inverted way. Leveling up your skills involved a huge amount of grind and tens of thousands of consumable items that could only be harvested one at a time. For that reason, players were willing to pay a premium for large stacks of consumables. The more you were selling at once, the more you could charge per item. This allowed for the incredibly profitable business venture of Merchanting - buying low and selling high. Specifically (for me at least) this meant buying lots of small stacks of items for cheap and then selling them all at once for a huge profit.
Runescape also had a huge real-world item selling problem. After years of trying to mitigate it, they finally decided to introduce two sweeping changes to the game. One: very strict restrictions on unbalanced trades. This would stop sellers from being able to deliver purchased gold via trade because they’d have to receive equivalent value in return. This also destroyed merchanting, which was many people’s primary income. Two: they removed the PvP wilderness, replacing it with two contained arenas, one for dedicated PvP combat and one for Clan Wars. It’s entirely possible that those could have been adequate replacements but, if I remember correctly, this came as a complete surprise to players and was met with pretty much universal outrage. Even if it still technically met player’s needs, the original spirit of the thing was lost, and that’s all that mattered.
As someone who’s planning to study digital archival next year, thanks for bringing this up! The thing that always gets me is how do you preserve something like fortnite. It’s a huge cultural phenomena that people will probably want to study. But there are so many seasons, and the experience of play is reliant on having 99 other people…I don’t know. (Plus, how do you even get a copy of source code legally to put in libraries or museums or whatnot)