A major trend to emerge in video gaming is how more games are being treated as a service. Whether it’s through eSports or continually adding content through free updates, premium DLC and season passes, the life of a game can be significantly extended when it is treated as a service.
Peter Warman, CEO at Newzoo, told [a]listdaily that “season passes tie players to the game longer by forcing them to make an initial investment.” He then followed-up by saying, “console developers are slowly breaking away from the traditional ‘pay once and you’re in’ model, though it’s proving to be slow going. Many console players have reacted negatively to the development of these models, due to their familiarity and satisfaction with the pre-existing model.”
So, it is becoming clear that publishers and developers need to find ways to maintain player engagement over the long-term, and in some cases almost indefinitely, in order for their games to survive in an increasingly service-driven market.
Nielsen’s director of games, Nicole Pike, believes that it’s a matter of timing. “One of the most important aspects to me is not only about understanding consumers’ wants and needs for games, but making sure the timing for that is right,” she told [a]listdaily. “I think timing is the biggest thing. It’s very hard for publishers offer up content to a diverse group of gamers within their fan base. Not all games are created equal, and not everyone is playing the same game. They (players) have different ability levels and different drivers and needs for why they play the game and what content they want. One of the big mistakes that can be made with that type of model is not having content out soon enough for early adopters because they’re the ones who are playing, buying more content, buying it earlier, and (most importantly) telling other people about it. So, if you don’t satisfy them with the content that they need, upfront and early, then you’re going to lose that recommending opportunity.”
Part of treating a game as a service is having a strong plan at launch. “‘Games as a service’ means having a plan when you launch your game and, even more importantly, being ready to make changes to your plan after you launch,” said Marcel Kuhn, associate producer for Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 at EA PopCap Games. “You can fine-tune your Live Service Plan by having open betas and looking at what other games are doing, however having your community play the final game and provide you with feedback is by far the best way to adjust the plan in a meaningful way.”
With high-profile games such as Tom Clancy’s The Division, Rainbow Six Siege and The Crew, Ubisoft has been steadily releasing live service games to engage its fan base. When asked about what treating a game as a service meant, Ubisoft’s vice president of live operations, Anne Blondel-Jouin, said: “Games as a service, or live games, refer to games that offer an evolving long-term, entertaining experience for our players. They often have a focus on online competitive multiplayer experiences such as Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege but they can also include other types of game experiences like The Crew. ‘Live’ refers to all the activities and interactions created for the game community including pre- and post-launch as well as regular updates, new content, and events both in-game and out-of-game, etc. throughout the game’s lifespan.”
Blondel-Jouin also expressed that the key to maintaining a game over and extended period of time is get feedback from the dedicated community. This is a strategy that is echoed by many developers that are looking to develop and grow a game as a service.
Hi-Rez Studios, makers of the hit free-to-play eSports games Smite and Paladins, is well versed in maintaining long-term engagement. The company’s co-founder and COO, Todd Harris, had this to say about what having a game as a service means:
“Number one, it (games as a service) means that you’re never done. Release is the starting line, not the finish line, and that’s a key part of it. It also means that the more community-driven your development approach can be, the better. The way we (Hi-Rez Studios) approach games as a service is to try to be transparent to the community about what we’re thinking and also take their feedback. It also means trying to be always on. You’re minimizing downtime, so there are a lot of technical and operational challenges that come along with that. That’s an area that we’ve continued to improve, as we have multiple games.”
Last year, icejam launched a game called Qurius (pronounced “curious”) for mobile devices, and introduced the term “connected reality” into gaming in doing so. In using real-time weather to determine the player’s experience, the game takes engagement with the real world to a new level. But, in order to grow, the company must continually engage with its expanding community and adjust its plans accordingly. When asked about what treating Qurius as a service meant, the company’s CEO, Stuart Duncan, told [a]listdaily that, “it’s kind of the premise from where you start. We consider the last two years of Qurius development to be the starting line. Once we deliver it, then we can have that interaction with a customer on a real-time basis. Anytime you’re having a real-time interaction with a customer, you’re providing a service. We take a customer service approach and try to make sure that everyone coming in to this [game] world has a great time and get the value for any dollar they may spend. With that regard, many features will be enhanced or brought into the experience and ones that aren’t working will be removed. It’ll be a constant tuning of the game.”
Meridith Braun, VP of publishing at Digital Extremes (makers of the free-to-play action game Warframe) explained how a constant feedback loop with the community was critical to a game’s long-term success.
“It’s like any other great service that you participate in as a consumer,” said Braun. “Games as a service is constant attention to the players—making sure that you’re making something great for them while giving them the attention that they need and expect. It’s also working with them to continually evolve the game over time. If you don’t pay attention to those things, you’re going to die off very quickly.”
Todd Harris will be speaking at [a]list summit on 2/16/17. Go to alistsummit.com for more info.