Years ago I used to wake up at the crack of noon, grab myself a drink from the local convenience store, and binge the hell out of World of Warcraft (WoW). I’m not talking one or two hour sessions, I’m talking about days! I would play WoW like it was my job. I spent a good part of my 20’s leveling and getting raid ready, year after year. It wasn’t until the Cataclysm expansion released that my life in WoW became somewhat stagnant.
I can’t blame Blizzard at that time, but today I very well could say that thing. Cataclysm was just the start of the inevitable downfall of one of my most favorite (and most played) games of all time. How often I dream about going back to the game but I just cannot seem to attach myself to what is essentially an abusive relationship, especially the state that the game is in now.
Which is why some games have become somewhat of a savior for me. These games have been Destiny (1 and 2), The Division, and the soon to be released Anthem. The classification of these games have been bestowed upon with a name: Games as a Service.
Games as a Service games have the MMO genre at heart, but they aren’t exactly MMO’s. Usually it’s the itemization and RPG mechanics that MMO’s are based on, but everything else has been cut and released into the ocean like Florida will one day (hopefully we can save Disney world though).
These games are simple, have basic stories which can be beaten over a ten hour time period, and have a bunch of enemies to kill that will give you weapons to make you stronger. Keep this statement in the back of your head if only for a little bit.
But I must tell you something important. You might have heard that Games as a Service (GaS) name called something else. “Live Services” is another one; not to be confused with the online service called “Xbox Live.” And these games seem to share the most common name of genre: the looter shooter. Also Battle Royal games (Fortnite and recently Apex Legends) but we are not going to talk about those this time!
The basic idea is simple: get a weapon, go out, kill enemies, get rewarded with better gear, take on more powerful enemies. The game-play loop proves to be as efficient as the plot of every season of Dragon Ball Z. Yes, I went there. The basic idea is that you are slowly rewarded with something good enough to keep you playing but not something too powerful where being overpowered would be boring. That’s a literal law of Game Development, by the way. I’m not making that concept up. It’s the equivalent of running on a treadmill while food is on a table just out of arm’s reach, which is an okay concept. The problem is games would release with the cycle and that was it. But now monetization comes and it’s a different beast all together.
For example, Borderlands was a series that had the same aforementioned loop. It actually pulled off the loop quite well and even though it was a pure story from start to finish, it was a great game that you could play with friends if you wanted. Playing with others was not the absolute main focus though. The main focus was the multitude of RPG elements. Borderlands’ elements ranged from the assortment of guns you can grab, the talents you can pick, and the increase of stats as you became more powerful and badass. Borderlands was the game that came out of nowhere and captured our hearts and wallets. It also happened to inspire a bunch of games that just don’t pull that whole concept off as well as Borderlands did.
So why is that? I have my theories about it, one being that Gearbox Games just went out to make something so ridiculous that it drove Randy Pitchford to go literally crazy as he obtained more and more money. Somehow that ridiculousness was profitable and went on to inspire several more equally insane titles. Borderlands the pre-sequal is just the title of one of the games and it doesn’t make any sense but sure, name it that! Because the game has the same style of randomized humor as a Family Guy marathon.
My strong intuition feels that Gearbox went to make a game that was just fun to play. The core concepts of Borderlands is simple and easy to pick up and play. You don’t have to memorize a ton of lore. There aren’t loads of raids or dungeons to do. You didn’t have to keep up with content over the months. You also weren’t getting asked to spend your hard earned money on skins, materials, and what not. It was just a special little game with a silly story full of heart, and they made it with their audience in mind.
Nothing else really went ahead and decided to make a game for fans until Bungie/Massive/Blizzard’s idea of “fans” slowly morphed into “people that put up with our bullshit for longer than three months and don’t show any sign of leaving.”
I digress though. I loved the games, and in theory I should also love Destiny, The Division, and Anthem. Guess what, I do love those games. I love any game that has those similar features. And yes, I am well aware that I am leaving out Diablo from all of this because Diablo is in a pack of it’s own. That is a post for another day though.
The problem is that all of those games seem to have some shifty companies behind them, attempting to push their agenda (to make all of the money). Destiny had Activision behind them until somehow Bungie was able to break free from the grasp of Activision. Ubisoft has The Division by the balls so hard, and EA Games has Anthem. Each of those companies and games are live service/looter shooter games. Do you know how many of those titles came out on launch and were phenomenal almost immediately?
None of them.
Yes, none of those games worked right out the gate. Each one was a contrived disaster upon launch. Problems upon problems arose as tensions built between players and developers. An assortment of issues, technical and otherwise, branded each game a failure in the eyes of the people that played them. But then as time went on the games got better.
Destiny became better when The Taken King expansion came out a year later from Destiny’s initial release. Forsaken did the same thing for Destiny 2, which was plagued with more issues than Destiny 1. The Division didn’t have a crazy big expansion to deal with that made the game better. Right now we are seeing Bioware doing their best to increase the quality of life of Anthem.
Two days before launch, and we are to expect a 6 gigabyte patch for Anthem. This patch addresses a ton of issues that PC players and others who have EA Access on Xbox One, have been experiencing. Sorry Playstation 4 players, you got all that Destiny stuff way before anyone else, so you gotta sit this one out. Plus you got Spider-Man which was amazing so, yeah.
With so many issues and problems I am only left to think to myself: Maybe it’s us? But it can’t be, it has to be this damn concept of a live service! I don’t mean to make this some sort of far fetched Simpsons reference. I honestly am starting to think that the concept of having a live service game just isn’t going to work. Especially when the game will only be good a year from it’s launch.
To me, the idea of what these games are tickles every part of my fancy. They aren’t super involved. You don’t have to spend all of your time playing every second of the day. You don’t have to fight for materials, subscribe for months at a time, or ignore your wife as she nags you to take out the garbage. These games are like shot glasses filled with the strongest, most tasteful liquor you have ever experienced compared to the endless amount of Bud Lite that used to take over your Tuesday evenings. The problem is when you take these shots, you are rewarded with the most sour face and regret. Tons, and tons of regret. It’s a similar type of regret for when you drink cheap, watered down beer and wake up the next morning covered in Taco Bell.
I love these games each but that is also because I have a problem. That problem is that I am a grown-ass man and I know what I like. I’ll play the hell out of Anthem until The Division 2 comes out and I’ll play that too. I’ll continue the abusive relationship with those two games until some sort of major expansion for Destiny releases and I’ll be passed around between each game like the best bottle of schnapps at a corporate Christmas party.
I’ll read the complaints. I’ll nod my head at things that I didn’t really think about, and I’ll continue to state my opinion which has lately been: “I like this game and I think it is fun. Stop shitting on my fun please. Stop telling me that what I think is fun isn’t actually fun. You don’t get to decide that.”
The only thing that I can think of that can truly save this genre from collapsing in on itself is Borderlands 3. That is if Take 2 Interactive realizes that Red Dead Online isn’t taking off as well as they thought and they need to ruin something else in order to take their share of the millions being passed around. That and if Randy Pitchford actually decides to do something besides making shit games that no one really wants.