Deep systems keep games alive longer than battle passes
We refer to the wrong games as "Forever-Games."Over the past decade, a trend has emerged in triple-A video games where publishers strive for games th...
We refer to the wrong games as "Forever-Games."
Over the past decade, a trend has emerged in triple-A video games where publishers strive for games that players keep coming back to. The idea of a game that can be endlessly updated with new content was not new. Blizzard has been regularly updating World of Warcraft since 2004, and it wasn't even the first major MMO. However, the success of Destiny, which combined MMO-style continuous content updates and coveted loot items with accessible FPS mechanics, convinced many industry players that attempting to turn every major game into an MMO was the safest path to success.
Nine years after the launch of Destiny, we have seen most of its imitators fail. Sometimes they had a rocky start (Fallout 76), sometimes they had a great initial launch but lacked enough content to ensure long-term success (The Division 2), and sometimes it was a combination of both (Anthem).
Even companies that traditionally developed single-player games began offering games as a service. Crystal Dynamics, the team behind the Tomb Raider games, developed Marvel's Avengers. WB Montreal, known for Batman: Arkham Origins, developed Gotham Knights. Arkane, known for immersive sims like Prey and Dishonored, ventured into the multiplayer realm with Redfall. And Rocksteady, the team behind the Batman: Arkham trilogy, will continue these games soon with Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League, a loot shooter. Fallout 76 has become successful over time, but it took a while to get there. Kill the Justice League could prove to be good, but Rocksteady's decision to delay the game for a year after its planned 2023 release due to a negative reaction to its gameplay debut does not bode well.
Even worse, these games have done the opposite of what they were supposed to do - which is to be played forever. Marvel's Avengers and Anthem are no longer online, but players can always return to Tomb Raider and the Mass Effect trilogy. At this point, it seems clear that GaaS (Games as a Service) is not the right approach in most cases. Players have limited time for games in their lives, and when they find one that they and their friends enjoy, they tend to stick with it. It's a crowded market, and Destiny 2, Final Fantasy 14, Fortnite, Apex Legends, and many others are vying for attention.
Players tend to approach single-player games differently. Since they require a limited time commitment to complete instead of an ongoing obligation, players can pick up a single-player game, complete the campaign, and then move on - all without long-term impact on their regular multiplayer sessions. And the type of single-player game that tends to have a long lifespan is those that reward experimentation.
I'm talking about games that allow for rich systemic interactions and/or have hidden depths that players will be unaware of during their initial playthrough. Articles like "Players are just now discovering X in Game X" are still being written about this type of game years after its original release. This includes games like Skyrim and Breath of the Wild/Tears of the Kingdom, but also games like Crusader Kings 3 and Dwarf Fortress. These are games with robust systems that both support the player and can generate chaos at the same time.
The biggest successes this year are largely exactly this type of game. On Twitter, viral videos showcasing Starfield's impressive ability to simultaneously simulate the physics of thousands of objects have become popular multiple times in the weeks since its release. Articles about the intricate entanglements made possible by romantic options in Baldur's Gate 3, such as a five-person sex scene, are frequently written about, as well as the ability to do everyday things like stacking crates to jump to otherwise inaccessible areas. Players of Tears of the Kingdom have built absurd aircraft that could launch drones to eliminate Bokoblins with extreme precision, and they have also discovered that the game's crystalline peaks can be used for making music.
These games allow people to tell their friends stories about events they often didn't experience during their own playthroughs. Their systems generate word-of-mouth and continue to do so years after their release. It may not be as obviously profitable as a season pass or in-game shop, but it is a proven method to give a game longevity. Players will still be playing Skyrim long after most live-service games have disappeared.