March 13, 2016
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As gamer, I have seen this interesting trend with a lot of publishers recently. Recently being a relative term because I’ve seen it in MMORPG’s and now in AAA publishers. Since I was about 14 years old, I’ve been going in and out of MMORPG’s. Most of these games usually have a client service, either a client maintained by the developer or a client server provided by a publisher. As I’ve seen recently this is spilling into games that do not necessarily be massively multiplayer.
To name a few services out there are some that have years of service with players; services such as Battle.net, Steam, and the defunct Gamespy. In the early 2010’s, we’ve seen new services setting up with EA and Ubisoft, Origin and Uplay respectively. Three months into 2016, I’m now seeing the master plan for this client service with Origin and Uplay; if not, services like them. As a long time user of Steam, there are are their differences with this client service.
The way I see it, Steam is a platform for publishers to reach out to a potential demographic for their game. With their features like Greenlight to support independent publishers, their early access and free to play listings have grown immensely. Compared to Origin and Uplay as of the moment contains the games their developers have created. There is no cross pollination; no games beside EA games on Origin, no games beside Ubisoft games on Uplay. Their properties are highly popular on the mainstream with Battlefield and Assassin’s Creed to name a couple, there is no incentive use of the service. While Steam has the opportunity to explore and group players together as a social network and if this is true, then likely the last remnant of a 90’s social network!
What is more interesting now is triple-A publishers are experimenting with client services. Specifically using the service as a DRM gate, the “always online” trend. As much as I’m all about fairness for online games especially in multiplayer games; in singleplayer games like Watch Dogs and Assassin’s Creed, you spend most of the time by yourself with no interaction from the online system. The only exception is just for small systems like achievements, rewards and (I would guess) DRM. Fairness for achievements and integrity to keep players to play a genuine copy of the game are honest motives for having games always online, however I am concerned for the offline brother and sisters who play games on dodgy connections. Where does it get to the point where being always online does hinder and alienate the target audience?
More interestingly as I ponder the future for these amazing titles as they embrace having multiplayer features, when does the product become a service? Publisher-only clients really gain an income from having microtransactions, the in-game items or rentals. The only problem I see is most of these titles are leaning towards a heavy price on a game and microtransactions post-purchase. The problem I see is the mainstream demographic and titles usually push for better sequels which usually includes and iteration of a more integrated client. I wouldn’t know for sure but as more and more games to seem to be priced at premium while churning out gimmicks like pre-order content and DLC. Especially with recent games, games seem to have fallen into the “Day 1 patch” curse where broken games are being updated upon release. It really begs the question if that 60 dollars is worth the the extra money and the fact you have to stay online with a chance of paying DLC to keep up with everyone else.