Today I will be adding some new flavor to the topic “Where is Gaming headed in 2014”. The goal will be to arrive at new solutions to capture player’s interest and also have a retained and profitable way of monetizing post-launch player creativity and attachment.
Quick summary: Next gen consoles are gaining a foothold and PCs are becoming more capable with the advents of low-level API technologies now included in Mantle and DX12. Big free-to-play franchises are expanding from PC to consoles, Steam is hitting the living room with Big Picture mode and Single Player experiences are merging with Multiplayer. Early Access platforms and Virtual Reality is gaining popularity, but what about the Cloud?
My additions: The recent years had some of the most troubled launches we’ve seen, notably from Battlefield 4, Assassin’s Creed Unity, Watch_Dogs, Sim City 4 and ESO. Even conflicts between releasing a working product, and pirates making them playable. We still have conflicts between cinematic linear experiences, and dynamic endgames, and we are unsure whether people will pick up a new game if they still play the old ones. Publishers are resisting to let players drive bottom-up attachment processes in gaming.
Death by design: Cutting certain corners is extremely important when dealing with large scale productions if you expect to deliver a game 1 year before it is likely polished enough. You are also expected to make each new game address the flaws of the previous, even to the point where you put in 2-3 sources of frustration just to have something to “fix” later on. All this backed up by research that points to players becoming emotional and vulnerable, more likely to play or take new risks when they’re frustrated and rewards are occasional. Games and movies are designed like cliffhangers to open up doors to the next experience and they leave us with unfulfillment, as the purchases become more like renting the game. We can no longer have great experiences unless the playerbase or our internet is active.
Early access models: Steam is using Greenlight as an official way to test and rank early access games in a controlled environment, with some additional layers of Steam Curators. Meanwhile, larger publishers are using “Betas” as quick stress tests for finalized designs. If the main purpose of your “Beta” is to stress your infrastructure rather than your design, you are losing out on customer consent incentives that otherwise fuel a free PR machine. If you are using a finalized design model, you will have to rely on paying for your own PR machine, as well as being liable when people call you out on misguided trailers and hype. Other early access models incorporate both design and stress tests, such as Battlefield 4 CTE (Community Test Environment). This is a way for premium members to access development builds and forums for organized discussion and immediate design feedback. It also drives sales of the Premium Season Pass and lets you level up an alternate soldier. It is also a collaborative effort to improve / optimize the Frostbite 3 engine for other games.
Always on DRM: CD Project RED is now taking the lead in how consumer friendly new AAA open world games can be. They are offering a huge game without any additional DRM that might prevent you from playing your game during internet outages. They are also offering a wide variety of 16 free DLC content drops for all player who buy the game, you don’t even have to pre-order or get the deluxe edition to get this DLC content. Other publishers insist on making buggy, unstable and overhyped AAA games with a myriad of frustration solving microtransactions, brand looping service signups and companion apps. And yes, I am looking at you Assassin’s Creed Unity, maybe you should have put more effort into the storyline, snappier controls and a way to promote your third China DLC with a stunning co-op multiplayer skin for Shao Jun. You had female animations for that trailer! On top of this, Uplay and its DRM seem unable to cope with any new AAA game release. At least Steam is connecting you with friends and deals, and EA Origin has digital refunds.
Next gen experiences: What happens to games that are taking advantage of the new console systems and services in 2014? Not that much, because of multiplatform parity. Destiny went for a dull last-gen-compatible design that quickly incentivised game exploits. Watch_Dogs got accused for limiting on-disc PC features to make consoles look equal. Free-to-play games such as Blacklight: Retribution seem to have gone quite unnoticed, even as Warframe and Planetside 2 try to advance towards the couch shooter fanbase. What happened to cloud computing for Xbox One, what is it used for? It can, in theory, pre-calculate physics events in shared environments using a local server, but is it used? What happened to the share function of Playstation 4, are friends helping one another? We’ve also seen the commander implementation in Battlefield 4, but the experience is severely limited and does not scale well with player size, or when a commander leaves. The CPU flaws of the PS4 might bottleneck it later on, just as the Xbox One GPU does. Kinect reserved resources are being claimed for other things, and barely sells anymore. And at the same time, Battlefield 4 and its CTE has problems evolving onto the next gen consoles due to embarrassingly slow certification processes with dated bandwidth limits.
Social progression design: Even though games quickly run out of replayability or ways to find novelty in actual game mechanics, social progression is always something that can keep players exploring, once gameplay options have become limited. We see this online as different forms of speed running, competition, leaderboards, role playing and fan fiction. Our attachment to games late in their life cycle are often based on social progression and immersion, something that is built by bottom-up meaning making in creative communities. Publishers would rather have us squirm towards a more recent game at a higher price tag, and don’t really plan out ways to make profits out of creative processes built on nostalgia. Enabling players to exchange and realize their social progression ideas in-game is really helpful and enables publishers to reach more customers with adverts for similar products. One of the worst cases of social progression design was Crysis 3, which used very old progression models from COD4 without social features. The game died before DLC one. Games that lived past their expectation thrive however, such as Minecraft and Diablo 2.
Creative retainment: As I explained in my earlier post about Co-Creation in Gaming, people get more attached to experiences they can influence, and draw their friends to it. We become proud of the things we create or aquire, and defend it as a part of ourselves. One way to make gamers more invested in their games is to let them add or modify things in the game. It could be anything from custom textures, to gameplay tweaks or new maps. Publishers have a tendency to keep their engine tools “safe” from exploitation by keeping them in-house, where they can profit from selling DLC, or selling their engine technologies to others. Why go through so much work, just to limit your profits to what you can create? Why not sit on your ass, while thousands of players generate passive profit, within limits? Sure, Battlefield 4 servers are quite tweakable, but once you meddle with any predefined standard, your server traffic will vanish and your server fee loses all of its previous value. Instead players have to buy and mimic the publisher’s official servers to reclaim the traffic. Games such as Little Big Planet 3 instead offer a Netflix-like novel experience platform, where players can browse genres of player created content and rate or modify it at will.
Monetizing modding: Do I have your attention now? There are actually ways of making a profit out of this co-creation phenomenon, something even Valve or Skyrim hasn’t been able to realize yet, despite having some of the most played and modded games out there. As we’ve seen with the rise of platforms such as Kickstarter, Humble Bundle, Bandcamp and others, some people are willing to pay more for something, if they can pay less than they expected and still be able to donate a percentage directly to original content creators. People are happy when they can try novel experiences for free and donate through quality of life purchases. One perfect example of this is Path of Exile, by Grinding Gear Games. Their game is free, has depth, social progression and replayability, while having humane ways for people to fund to the developers and compete in new and exciting league races. Their content is made slowly by the developers however, and they are quite a small team. Imagine if Skyrim had a system where good modders could be funded directly through the distribution platforms of their work, and customers could rate content and donate both to developers and modders at a price point they are comfortable with. More $: More content. The developers and publishers would only have to manage the engine mod infrastructure and possibly ways to rent dedicated servers with decent traffic, or “officialize” good mods. That is what happened to Counter-Strike, Insurgency, DayZ, Team Fortress and DOTA.
Then how can we jump on this win-win money train: Consider hiring me @absol_89
and remember that these new concepts can also co-exist with developer published DLC!