There have been several criticisms about the direction of the video gaming industry as of late, especially regarding where AAA games are going.
One is about the increasing prevalence of microtransactions and DLC, an ongoing trend throughout this generation. Despite several complaints and editorials from the press and other blogs (like this one!) about how bad a deal they can be, developers haven’t stopped including them. They’ve made it clear that video games no longer really cost $60, and publishers chose this method to help them recoup ever-increasing budgets.
The second big issue ties into the first, as microtransactions and DLC have been a significant part of games as a service, titles perpetually updated with more content over a long time. While there’s no problem with them ostensibly, there’s fear they could eventually overtake single-player experiences, and that anyone who likes single-player titles with no strings attached could soon have less options. The trend became noticeable when EA cancelled the single-player Ragtag Star Wars game last year, and closed the developer working on it. There’s a good chance the new Star Wars project being developed with its assets will be a live service game, since EA wants it to be a title players return to over a good amount of time.
If you’re in the audience that isn’t a fan of the above two features, you won’t like the plans publishers have for the future.
Companies are currently providing financial results that detail how well (or not well) the last year was for them, including insight on how online-centric money-making features have worked out for them. As you might have guessed, they’re doing incredibly well. Activision, for instance, confirmed they made $7.16 billion throughout the fiscal year. Of that amount, $4 billion was made from microtransactions, over half their revenue. As the VG247 article mentioned: Though it was initially suspected that the better chunk of that came from Candy Crush Saga and other titles from developer King, since Activision owns them now, King as a whole accounts for only $2 billion in revenue. This means most of it came from in-game purchases from their console and PC games.
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard a company gush about how good microtransaction sales are, as similar reports have been provided in previous years. But there were far more written editorials and YouTube videos in the last year that warned players against spending too much money on them. It’s unfortunately apparent that they didn’t have much of an effect. There’s also realistic fear that they’ve been normalized, after several celebrated how Rare’s Sea of Thieves will only have microtransactions instead of loot boxes. We shouldn’t give up the fight, but it’s tough to maintain it with odds like this.
Live service games are also doing well, as shown in excruciating detail through a series of PowerPoint slides in Ubisoft’s financial report. For example, one slide claims that money made on the average type of game they previously released only made 13 percent of first year’s amount in the second year on the market. A live service game, however, makes 52 percent of the amount it made from the first year in its second year, thanks to players spending money on DLC expansions and microtransactions to play the games longer.
They provided another slide further detailing how the company has changed their approach to game development, all with marketing lingo. It includes how they’ve gone from a “Hit-Driven and Cyclical Business” to a “Recurring Revenue Business,” a little odd given how this live service game trend, too, could be cyclical. It also claims their games have gone from “Developer-Centric” to “Player-Centric,” which presumably hammers home their narrative of giving the player plenty of content in individual games over time instead of constantly making sequels.
Live service games have slowly-but-surely taken over Ubisoft’s entire lineup, and they hardly make anything else. The company is currently supporting Rainbow Six Siege (released in December 2015), Tom Clancy’s The Division (released in March 2016), For Honor (released in February 2017), Ghost Recon Wildlands (released in March 2017), and Assassin’s Creed Origins (released in October 2017). While four of those are multiplayer games, note that Origins has a single-player focus, meaning games like it and the upcoming Far Cry 5 will have live service elements despite otherwise being solo experiences. Ubisoft said all their upcoming big-budget games will have these elements, something many only imagined would happen if Vivendi took them over. Ironically, they didn’t need their help.
They’re not making smaller experiences like Child of Light or the Rayman platformers anywhere near the rate they used to, though more collaborations like Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle could come. Given the plans Ubisoft has laid out, this trend won’t be stopping anytime soon.
In fact, look forward to other large publishers like Activision and EA continuing this trend, too. This isn’t surprising in Activision’s case, since they’ve been nearly multiplayer-exclusive for years, though they still plan to release yearly Call of Duty installments. But it’s still a little jarring to see with EA, given how they used to make a healthy amount of single-player focused titles along with their multiplayer offerings. Whether titles like the next Dragon Age game will have a single-player focus like Assassin’s Creed Origins above remains to be seen.
If you’re a fan of single-player games with no strings attached, hopefully you enjoy low-to-mid budget games. Otherwise, the future will not be rosy.