Some gamers are beginning to question the value of live service games and what they offer. People are calling for more support for titles like Apex Legends and Black Ops 4. Whilst others are struggling to figure out what is going on with the likes of Anthem. Since the birth of Xbox Live, post-launch content has been a prominent feature in games. But this generation has seen the delivery method change somewhat. Content that used to be released in an expansion or map pack has now been converted to the widely used “battle pass”. This is a new way of delivering a stream of content to keep players engaged. But are we getting an equal amount of substantial updates? And is it dangerous to rely this much on post-game support?
Apex Legends‘ Season One Battle Pass launched to little fanfare. The pass contained an underwhelming set of customization options in comparison to the offerings from Fortnite and Blackout. The pass did contain a new character, which due to the way Apex’s “legends” work is substantially more appealing than what a skin from those two games would offer. Even then, players were soon to dismiss that for what the pass didn’t offer; enough cosmetic items.
The free-to-play launch of Apex Legends captivated an audience three months ago, with a new spin on the battle royale formula that certainly made it stand out from its competition. The way the Legends work together along with the abilities each provides, gave the game an intricate level of teamwork which is still intact today. That core idea built on the combat mechanics of Titanfall to create something special. I stand by the fact that Apex Legends could receive no further updates and be enjoyable for years to come.
Of course, not all live service games fly out of the gate as well as Apex Legends did. Some releases fall far below that quality level. Destiny took a year to improve the end game experience for long term players, and the 2nd instalment followed a similar pattern. The Division didn’t hit all the notes players wanted until the 2nd game launched earlier this year which introduced a more compelling end game structure with raids. Both The Division and Destiny have arguably developed into what the community requested. This process took them quite a while (along with a few expansions) to get there, though.
At this point, I have to bring Anthem to the table. BioWare’s latest effort had years of hype behind it and failed to deliver on most of what players were expecting. Little of BioWare’s storytelling prowess from Mass Effect was on display and Anthem failed to deliver on basic features players have come to expect from a “looter shooter”. The most glaring issue is the lack of rewarding loot. Although the broken up world structure and egregious load times didn’t help. Innumerable amounts of bugs were also present at launch, some of which have still not been fixed. In fact, these bugs fixes are now taking priority over the content “roadmap”. So many of these games rely on this content to become feature complete and satisfying to play, which sadly I just can’t see happening with Anthem.
Here lies the problem, what happens when a live service game fails to deliver at launch? Not only that but it never develops into something great after release? Anthem‘s steep fall from grace should be a stark reminder that not every game can release in a barebones state. At some point, games must be held accountable for not launching as a functioning release. While most have managed to inject some life after the fact, the more games that try to emulate this model, the more games that are likely to fail in doing so. A “games as a service” model is trendy right now in the industry. But Anthem should be a warning to developers, publishers and fans alike; the core game has to be good.
During the last generation; “tacked on” multiplayer was the trend. Following Call of Duty‘s massive success, it seemed like every shooter and action game had to follow its model. Campaigns were crafted but a good amount of focus, manpower and resources were also poured into making sure the multiplayer kept people engaged.
This model saw plenty of hits and misses, for sure. However, game quality and polish were still present and releases felt finished. Games like Spec Ops: The Line and Medal of Honor did have lacklustre copycat online modes added on. Having said that, their story campaigns were still great from start to finish. On top of that, once DLC came after launch, the quality of content within matched the price tag asked for. The move to a stream of content has put even more focus on what happens after launch. The fate of a game can now lie in its DLC plan.
Great story campaigns don’t describe Anthem, or even Destiny before The Taken King expansion launched. Both games featured campaigns that lacked meaningful stories, characters and questlines. They substituted them for an ongoing content model that didn’t always work out. The solid core of Destiny meant that expansions could improve the game, but anyone going out and picking up a base copy is still going to experience that barebones, Year One version. Even worse, anyone that picks up Anthem right now is walking into an unfinished mess.
Accepting that games now release unfinished to be fixed later is creating a toxic relationship between developers and players. Some teams are being overworked to deliver enough content, whilst others are trying to get away with releasing as little as possible. The whole process is creating a lack of trust toward developers and publishers. Games like Apex Legends and Destiny will survive in one form or another, as the core gameplay loop is satisfying enough to keep people around. However, release something like Anthem in the state it launched in and we will begin to realize that not all live service games can be saved, and most should avoid the model entirely.