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What would a good “Games a Service” title look like?

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There seems to be a lot of discussion recently around the upcoming Avengers game and it's position as a "Games as a Service" (GaaS) game, with this being widely regarded as a negative aspect of the game.

Now, I've definitely seen a lot of breakdowns as to why a GaaS model is bad for this particular game and why they tend to be bad in general, but I have equally seen a lot of people using it as a buzzword to entirely dismiss this title and the concept out of hand.

So this got me thinking about previous methods that games, specifically online multiplayer games, used to monetise their games post-launch and what they tended to offer for this monetisation.

Some online multiplayer games, such as Call of Duty, used to sell map pack DLC after launch expanding the number of maps for players that wanted to pay for that content. This was generally considered a "Fair" way to monetise the games post-launch but had the massive problem of shattering the playerbase into smaller and more numerous groups with every DLC pack released, which hastened the demise of games as players struggled to find games.

In more recent times it has been, quite rightly, noticed by game makers that this practice, whilst not necessarily anti-consumer (selling more content is, after all, fair enough) it does limit its own effectiveness. I mean, who's going to buy DLC for a dead multiplayer game? So the majority of games moved away from this practice and moved towards providing additional content at "no additional charge" to prevent splitting their userbase and hopefully extending the tail of the game's popularity and profitability.

But the problem, for the game makers at least, is that they are not generating revenue from this additional content. So what to do? There have been multiple solutions to this and there is only 1 that doesn't seem to annoy at least some section of the gaming community. So here are a few, with example games (the examples won't necessarily be of multiplayer games, just games I can recall which have had substantial content updates that have adopted this monetisation model):

  • Don't monetise anything. Keeping the game updated and relevant builds a good brand which should lead to continued sales of the game. Example: No Man's Sky
  • Monetise progress (Pay-to-win). Provide items in the game that give a distinct gameplay advantage and can only be purchased with money. Example: Many mobile games (sorry, can't think of a console/pc example off the top of my head)
  • Monetise progress (Time savers). Provide a payment option for players to skip or accelerate any in-game progression systems. Example: Assassin's Creed Odyssey
  • Randomised cosmetic rewards (Loot boxes). Provide the option to blind-purchase random rewards such as skins or emotes. Example: Overwatch
  • Randomised gameplay rewards (Loot boxes). Provide the option to blind-purchase random gameplay upgrades such as stat boosts or new weapons. Example: Pre-backlash Star Wars Battlefront II
  • Monetise cosmetics. Directly sell items that confer no advantage but provide alternative looks, animations etc. Example: Titanfall 2
  • Battle pass. Sell access to a progression tree that allows players to unlock rewards as they play the game. These rewards can be cosmetic or game-affecting. Example: Fortnite

There are surely more, but let's not clog up the whole post with monetisation models. It should also be noted that all of those methods have 2 versions as well, real money and virtual currency which can also affect the "acceptability" of them. I have seen each of these methods derided and defended, except the first, and there are some valid points on each side for some of them, whilst some should just never be used.

So if you accept the premise that it can be fair to charge for additional content, such as maps etc, how should a developer go about monetising this in the absence of directly charging for it? What would a good/fair GaaS game look like?

If there is a game that already nails this then I'd love to know what it does well and why it doesn't seem to be setting an industry standard for GaaS. Feel free to reject my original premise as well if you have an alternative perspective.

Bonus questions:

  • Is monetisation always necessary for a GaaS game to succeed?
  • If monetisation is necessary, what is a fair way to go about it for all players?
  • Are we now in a position where monetisation is always going to be a case of "Trying to choose the lesser evil"?
  • Do new methods of monetisation help or hurt the creativity of game development and do the influence the quality of additional content that is now "free".

Thanks for any responses, would greatly appreciate and enjoy a good discussion on this topic.

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