Games-as-a-Service Does Disservice to Gamers

An always-online, microtransaction-driven, free-to-play future will lead to an unimpressive diversity of disposable experiences.

Electronic Arts COO Peter Moore believes that a decade from now, all games will use a free-to-play business model. It's a logical continuation of EA's recent approach to treat games as a service. No longer is the interaction between the purchaser and the publisher limited to a single transaction in a retail store. Now that purchase is only the beginning of a longer relationship, one that involves online communities, downloadable content, mobile apps, and micropayments.

Will your favorite games fit neatly into Battlefield Heroes' free-to-play model?

Before the Internet, the industry looked at games as traditional products, physical things that customers would purchase for $50. Once the game was sold, that was the end of the transaction; enjoy your game, see you next sequel. The publisher could impact your experience with it no more than IKEA can make its book cases suddenly capable of surviving a move from one corner of the room to another. But with high-speed online inching closer to a ubiquitous asset that all customers are assumed to have, the perception of games is shifting from a product to a service.

Clearly, there are benefits to this. Online multiplayer modes are richer and more streamlined than ever before. Bugs and exploits can be fixed with patches. New modes and features can be added with regular updates. User-generated content can be shared with others, fostering communities around all manner of games.

But a lot of the drawbacks are just as clear. The games-as-a-service approach has introduced the hobby to gold farming, criminal fraud, bait-and-switch practices, absurd DLC schemes, games that ship in an incomplete state, and games that will someday cease to exist.

It's no wonder publishers still love the idea, because it gives them an unprecedented level of control over the player experience, for better or worse. It lets them monitor multiplayer matches to make sure no one is using cheats or playing with a pirated copy. It lets them turn their most devoted customers into cash cows, milking them for far more than the $50 they would have been limited to in the past. It could let them eliminate secondhand console game sales the same way they did with PC titles. On top of all that, games-as-a-service gives the publisher a plug it can pull when it decides the cost of keeping the servers up and running outstrips its desire to stay in the remaining players' good graces. This makes the games ultimately disposable, while making the publishers utterly indispensable and inseparable from the games they sell.

Drawbacks aside, there can be no argument that there is a place for the games-as-a-service approach. But in the gaming industry Moore is foreseeing, games-as-a-service is the only approach. That's a problem, because there are plenty of games that don't lend themselves to an always-online, multi-screen, free-to-play experience. Free-to-play games work because a minority of the player base foots the bill for everyone, whether they play a lot or a little. In theory it's a system of proportionate payment, where those deriving the most enjoyment from the game are likely to be spending the most money, while those who play for five minutes and get bored of it won't have been made to spend $50 to find out it's not their cup of tea.

Actual promotional screenshot of FIFA 13.

In practice, the free-to-play approach inextricably links the business model with the game design. The foremost concern when making a free-to-play game must be how it will make its money back. That can be accomplished in a number of ways (League of Legends does it quite differently than CityVille, for instance), but it ultimately puts financial consideration ahead of the creative aspiration. Personally, I'd rather have the Shigeru Miyamotos of the world choose games based on what they're inspired to create, not on which projects they think can be adapted to a viable business model to maximize average revenue per paying user.

For an example of how having a business model artificially limits the variety of games, take a look at arcades. In order to make their money back, arcade games needed to keep gamers plugging in quarters every few minutes. At their height, arcades featured a wide variety of games, but they were pretty much all built on short play sessions and steep difficulty. If all games were arcade games, how would we have ever wound up with Shadow of the Colossus, Final Fantasy VII, or The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim? Could we ever lose ourselves in experiences like those if we needed to keep feeding in EA Fun Bucks paid for with Facebook Credits in order to progress?

While Moore's prediction is almost certainly erroneous in its absolute terms (there's no reason for the burgeoning indie scene to pursue free-to-play exclusively), it may be uncomfortably accurate when it comes to the big-budget games market. And if it is, we'll be left with the most high-profile game developers in the world facing a bankruptcy of their choosing, be it creative or financial.

Written By

Discussion

0 comments
Prometheus
Prometheus

The new Sim City brought me here. Such a spot on article.

chrismeyer34
chrismeyer34

well...im not big on buying a game ,then having to buy maps or weapons and all...im kinda old school if you will, i believe stuff like that should be earned, not bought...imagine the sense of achievement you feel when you fought your butt off and won a really cool upgrade or new weapon...now try to imagine the sense of boredom you get with same said items that you went and used you cc to get and played with it over and over...see what i mean...ive come across a lot of cc gamers and quite frankly i have found them to lack in gamer skill due to the fact that they went and spent ALLLLLL that money for these items and cant do much with them...i kinda see that as cheating if you will because there was no skill or effort used to acquire them...micro-transactions in my opinion has turned the gaming community ( dare i say it ) into less skilled gamers and more into cc dummies that want to brag about how cool they are because they just used mommy and daddy's cc to buy new stuff for their game...its kinda sad to see gaming going into this direction but as long as gamers continue to fall for this kind of stuff then micro-transactions will flourish...and not to mention not EVERYONE has the kind of cash to throw around on dlc's and what have you all the time...thats why i was so happy when fallout 3 goty came out...all the dlc stuff was included in the game...i think those kinds of games should be on the shelves...just my opinion though

scratchisme
scratchisme

I like the F2P model, but I hate when you buy a full price game and there are micro-transactions. That's crap. 

Maizel
Maizel

I haven;t found a free to play game that I think is excellent.  There are some okay ones,  but that's it as far as I have seen.If alll games go free to play,  it's likely I'll stop gaming.  

MooncalfReviews
MooncalfReviews

'Thank you for choosing Die Hard 9. This movie was free! Please pay $9.95 to unlock any scenes starring Bruce Willis, and a further $5.95 if you want him to be wearing a santa outfit throughout. Please connect to the internet in order to validate the DVD's authenticity, and play the movie. Remember: lending this movie to your friends, or having friends or family members in the room when you play this movie is a federal offence. You can purchase additional viewing liscenses at the EA:Theatre store, online.'

Breyant
Breyant

I'm all for the publishers and developers getting a larger share of the profits than GameStop. I very rarely buy games used and if I do, it's a game I never would have bought new anyway.

 

But this is ridiculous. I don't want disposable games that I'll have to continually pay for. I like paying my money and OWNING the game, not worrying that 5 years down the line, I'll never be able to play it again since they killed the required servers. I still play my PS1 games when nostalgia kicks in...

wizzzer_thy_133
wizzzer_thy_133

Am i the only one who thinks that game should be both a good product and a good service? look at Blizzards previous game, Starcraft 2. other than it's 60$ initial price, there is nothing else to pay but the product was both extremely well polished from the ground up and the service- which was constant support, patching, new cotent and leagues - the service was even better than with some pay 2 win games.

multiplayer games can absolutely be succesful, cost effective and evolving if their developers take the time to develop a hell of an awesome genuine product and than never negleck it and continue to support it, which in term would be the service.

 

HappyBB
HappyBB

It will really be a sad story if games are turning to the free-to-play and micro-transaction model.  If games are like that in the future, I will refuse to play them, just I really hate playing Glu Mobile's games!

fishless
fishless

Just as a wall should separate editorial from advertising in written media, a wall between design and monetization should be maintained.

 

Why? Because unethical things start to happen when that separation doesn't exist.

fishless
fishless

I see no reason to disagree with anything written down in this article. Well thought out Brendan.

 

Xenrathe
Xenrathe

Hits the nail on the head with: "...but it ultimately puts financial consideration ahead of the creative aspiration."

 

I've long argued that cash shop or cash shop elements (e.g. Diablo 3's RMAH) represents a fundamental conflict of interest for the developer.  Do they design the best game they can or do they purposefully insert annoyances, artificial barriers in order to then sell the remedy for cash?

 

Sadly the latter is nearly always true, which is why I am getting to the point where I don't even bother with F2P games, don't even look at them.

 

nechiken
nechiken

I don't like playing F2P games because I know that I'm going to constantly have microtransactions  shoved down my throat. It can be really distracting and irritating to be pestered by constant messages telling me to spend X dollars to have more fun.

feleas
feleas

the title of this article: yes, yes, and a thousand times yes. there's a reason why free-to-play games are free.

J_Dangerously
J_Dangerously

No matter how popular Games As a Service gets, there will always be a market for DRM free games that require no internet connection, and there will always be alternatives to Peter Moore and EA.  

Tallwhitemocha
Tallwhitemocha

I wonder if we-the gaming community-will just accept the micro-transaction model like we've accepted change up til' now in the gaming industry? Or, will we start pushing back against the giant publishers by migrating to the indie seen in large numbers? Either way the next few years will be interesting.

UnwantedSpam
UnwantedSpam

Welp, time to go piss on Peter Moore. I have yet to find a free to play game that was actually enjoyable, and if more games go this way, then I may actually stop "buying" games for a while, until they pull the stick outta their asses.

Unholy123
Unholy123

Good article, Would we have the same type of elder scroll games or GTA if had been built around the microtransaction idea? not really it be pretty annoying if I buy GTA then while I play it over 85% is locked until I pay 99 cents to use that car or that gun ect ect. Nickle and diming your consumer to death will kill your business EA it works for awhile but eventually everyones tits start to hurt when you never let go.

GIJames248
GIJames248

Great article, and I am so glad for Steam and over online initiatives that have made indie development viable and commercially sustainable because I do agree that we are seeing Blizzard, EA, Ubi, and just about everyone going the route of compromised gameplay, creativity, and consumer relationships for the sake of price gouging.

WhiteIce89
WhiteIce89

While this is worrisome, there will always be a market for indie games. Even more so if free-to-play becomes the prevalent business model.

SpookyJack
SpookyJack

Bioshock: Infinite, Metro: Last Light and a couple of hidden gems here & there and that's it, I'm done with gaming.

mischiefmeerkat
mischiefmeerkat

Here's the kinda thing I would do then. Offer a "full game" package that gives you everything within the game for like 50 bucks.

 

then you pay one price for a full game

820west
820west

If we are all flamed about this topic and the way game companies are handling there games and DLC, why not just stop buying the game until they come out with the ultimate edition that has all the extra content. 

i know a lot of us cant wait but it can show the game companies that we still have the power not them.

 

elrise
elrise

thank god nintendo has a stubborn old school approach to business, the still see games as a product not a service

nyran125
nyran125

the day a game like Amnesia or STALKER or Bioshock or MAss Effect style games(and its getting there now) doesnt get made for the single player experience, will be the day i stop buying future games and just stick with 1990-2012 games and console emulators.

 

I think whats going to happen is your going to see better and better and better indie or indenpendant develepers really shine through and make great games just without the AAA graphics, but good enough graphics. While the AAA publishers will just make the same sht over and over and over again with great graphics.

 

My EA library has practically stopped to a crawl and looking at DEAD SPACE 3 (it snow got  aroll system and a stupid cover system now) or Dragon Age 2 . My EA library will just dwindle further. I look at NBA 2K12 for my sports games now. Im hoping KONAMI is going to come back and give FIFA a run for thier money one of these days again. Once 2K gets the NFL license back , i dont even know why ill even look at EA games again. ARMA 2 is already my go to open warfare game over Battlefield. Firaxes is making the next X-COM not EA. Creative assembly and Blizzard make the best rts games.

 

I look at EA origin, its overpriced, theres literally only 5 games worth buying there. I look at other publisher catalogues and they are filled with awesome games. 

kkushalbeatzz
kkushalbeatzz

If Free-to-Play means that all games will be as good as Battlefield Heroes and mean that we do not need to shell out cash to actually stand a chance in the games, then sure. But since such a thing will never happen, Free-to-Play would be a terrible idea. Also, there is no way to implement it into single player experiences.

Sergeant_
Sergeant_

"before the Internet, the industry looked at games as traditional products, physical things that customers would purchase for $50. Once the game was sold, that was the end of the transaction; enjoy your game, see you next sequel."  How I miss those days...

Sagacious_Tien
Sagacious_Tien

I agree. If a game is free to play, I find it disposable. There are heaps of free 2 play online games, and yet I will always return to the paid ones, assured that Im getting a richer service. Even with the advent of freemium, there is a line for me where Im either paying for a product or Im not.

chimpdaddy
chimpdaddy

i do really like when EA comes out with stuff about services and not games......

 

why i hear you ask, simple

 

when Bioware comes out with cr*p like "artistic integrity"TM LOL and the company who OWNS Bioware who are a division of EA blows the whole art argument out the water as its a "business" or "service", i don't know if any of you so called "gamers" out there realise but EA wants to take of the shroud of "oh its just games" and compete with the car sector, the house sector and so forth to claim being a successful business.

 

this mean the so called people who claim "oh look at those entitled babies crying" this makes you look silly as any analogy to other "services" can be called true like, you dont buy a car and then expect to buy extra for the steering wheel. EA and say Honda are business and provide a service. you dont see Honda screwing you over as much as EA and so EA needs to be held accountable.

 

i love it as EA can then be made responsible for their failures and false advertising.

J4m3sR4n0r72
J4m3sR4n0r72

I want all you gamers to go to the window, open the window, stick you head out and yell out at the top of your lungs "I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANY MORE!!!!"

Dazza102
Dazza102

Well... this has been educational and everything but lets part ways with that old ea sports saying...

 

GTFO of my building.

killman961
killman961

 @Maizel well its not that F2P titles are horrible, its just that the developers do not have alot of money for more and better stuff for their games. You can get a GREAT F2P game if its made my a huge company, for example, crytek and their new F2P game Warface. It looks like a game that you would pay $60 for but its free. Its the budget of gaming that keeps small teams from making a game that looks like a AAA title

MooncalfReviews
MooncalfReviews

Please switch on your Kenict 5.5 motion sensor camera in order to validate that you are the only person in the room. Scanning optical patterns for viewing license records...

Dragazzo
Dragazzo

@wizzzer_thy_133 True, and when these new models settle in people will be more aware of how they're spending their money, even with all the temptation of "free to play this, free to play that". So games suitable for f2p will be f2p, and games suitable for one-pay will be that. Because that will be a viable business model, since ppl will be willing to pay for it. I THINK ;)

mooncrosser
mooncrosser

 @HappyBB Even if you don't like it, it's more profitable for the developers that way, so it's the only future possible.

Angel_Grigorov
Angel_Grigorov

 @Xenrathe the RMAH is also the reason the game's Always-online bullshit in sngle player. Unfortunately the more people play Diablo 3 the more clear it is. Every single thing in this game gravitates around the RMAH and the 15% cut from the transactions Blizzard gets. It is not fun when it is not a game but a business model.

Dragazzo
Dragazzo

@nechiken this. And that's why games where the creative comes first will undoubtedly always have the potential to generate great revenue. The customer is always king. If f2p means cash before creativity, then it can never kill everything else. Or at least i certainly do hope so.

GymFox
GymFox

 @Tallwhitemocha Amen! I have almost completely stepped away from big-budget productions and have delved deep into the Indie scene. I have to admit I haven't been this happy as a gamer in maybe 10 years or so.Super Meatboy, FEZ, Tiny and Big, Braid, Trine, Machinarium, Cave Story, Limbo, Goo, BTB, etc... have been some of the most rewarding and enticing experiences I have seen in years. We-the-gamers must push back, and support small, highly creative IPs. EA needs to just go **** themselves for driving the anti-consumer gaming market. 

GriffinBalls
GriffinBalls

LOL. What you mean the way its always been until F2P models came in?

Dragazzo
Dragazzo

@elrise Agreed. Just wish they wouldn't be stuck in the 90's with their creativity too. (Motion control aside. Since it was fun for about five minutes.)

Dragazzo
Dragazzo

@TriumphantToad Your reaction, and that of every1 else here, means it can't happen. Or does it? At least there will always be a market for true creativity.

820west
820west

 @Sergeant_ 

I agree with you on those terms. i also miss those days.

kkushalbeatzz
kkushalbeatzz

 @lizzardman666 Yes, but only because you don't have to shell out cash to be good at the game. So it is ACTUALLY Free-to-Play, not just a glorified demo.

ggregd
ggregd

 @mooncrosser

 When everyone tries to get into whatever is currently the most profitable business competition increases, proces drop, and it isn't the most profitable business any more.  The market works both ways.

820west
820west

 @mrboone01 I am glad to hear that many people are thinking ahead. But if they really want to bust sales at lunch. why not add thoes that pre-order the game gets all the present and fuchure DLC for free.

that would be a deal.

Angel_Grigorov
Angel_Grigorov

 @mrboone01 Don't forget that when you spend money/gold in the auction house to cranck up your character in order to even play the Inferno dificulty you can basically die from internet or server instability and lose your character and investment in an instant. That I call raping the most dedicated of players WTF!