Massive Online Games
The PS3 and Xbox 360 era was the first real push into online gaming and services. It was the testing grounds for online gaming and downloadable games. New features were introduced such as cloud saving, online matches, party chat, downloadable content, patches, achievements/trophies, and the first inklings of social media interactions. The PS4 and Xbox One generation may be the last of its kind considering we are now moving towards half-step upgrades like the PS4 Pro and the Xbox One X. Many people will agree that massive online worlds have been one of the defining aspects of gaming this generation. Some games no longer just need your day one purchase to be profitable. Profit now comes through year round content in order to keep the player and the community engaged, thus making money by keeping players hooked. The rise of DLC, micro-transactions, and loot boxes have made this a sustainable model for some games. Some argue that having online features jammed into every game is unnecessary, while other people argue that its an essential component in order to succeed in today’s gaming landscape. I want to examine some Pro’s and Con’s about these always ‘Online’ games.
The games that I consider are along this category are Destiny, Hearthstone, Rocket League, Minecraft, MOBAs, The Division, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Final Fantasy 14, Ark: Survival Evolved, Street Fighter V, Pokemon Go, Overwatch, Diablo 3, Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2, Halo 5, Grand Theft Auto Online, Warframe and various other games. These are all massive games that depend on a good online player base and see themselves as a service. Of course this is not the whole list but a small sampling. These games provide a service and playground for those willing to invest significant amounts of time or money.
Shared online games come in all shapes and sizes but are similar due to the fact of requiring a community of dedicated players for support. The sense of community and finding like minded players is made easier with social media and community tools/fans sites. Games like Destiny fostered a positive community with several of fans and clan sites. Minecraft is also another phenomenon that has spawned several YouTube channels, servers, and a reddit community with almost 1/2 a million members. Several games like Hearthstone and The Division requires the community to be engage not only with the game but with each other as well. Many fans have meet life long friends through various social media spaces or community events that celebrate their affection of their favorite game. Video gaming has only gotten more popular and nerd culture is now considered mainstream. It has created this age in which nerds, geeks, gamers, and anyone can enjoy being in a community without being ostracized. eSports also helped elevate the notion of competitive communities that cheering for their favorite teams/players at big venues around the world. The sense of community is real this time around because of online connectivity and social media, the PS4 and Xbox One were built with this in mind and have added more community features as well.
Post game content has never been stronger than it is now! Whether paid or free, online games that act as a service need to provide engaging content in order to keep its player base sustained. Games like Hearthstone and Destiny are designed to provide free updates that changes or adds new content. Minecraft, Rocket League, and most MOBAs provide several free updates knowing that they will make money through the back end by loot boxes, skins, and micro-transactions. Overwatch adds brand new heroes, game modes, and maps all free of charge with constant updates. Pokemon Go improved its Gym Battles, added several new Pokemon, and developed brand new features for its community. There is always new content that is being worked on that keeps players constantly playing their favorite online massive games and new updates can often bring back lapse players. This method is not new and many of the moves being done are reminiscent of MMORPGs like World of Warcraft. Except now it can stem into almost any genre and there are new ways for monetization. Some games have road maps and post-release content schedules for the year! GTA Online is constantly adding brand new content because it is a money machine; Rockstar reported a revenue earning for GTA Online around $700 million! A lot of the games I mentioned can be constantly played on the daily basis and there is always something new coming down the pipeline. Why? because this is a viable business model, the money is good, and console and PC players are willing to spend cash unlike the whales for smartphone games. I’ve bought several packs of Hearthstone cards and Overwatch loot boxes, I bought all of Destiny’s DLC but never spent a dime on Halo 5’s REQ Packs or DLC characters for Street Fighter V. It all comes down to which games you want to invest in and what games appeal to your taste. You don’t have to spend any money on a game if you don’t want to but if you feel like spending $20 on a free game you’ve spent 100 hours playing then why not?
Game developers and publishers respond to player complaints at a much faster rate and remedy the situation with urgency. Each game depends on its online infrastructure so its up the developers to maintain that environment. They work as fast as possible to fix any issues, bugs, or exploits before the games’ reputation or image gets tarnished. The community is vocal about things that are wrong in the game or exploits/glitches. The response time to push patches out and the communication from game developers can sometimes be truly impressive. Single player games don’t always get the same service as urgently since they already have your money. Massive online games need to resolve any issues as quickly as possible in order to keep the cash flow going. Game developers are keen to listen to its player base more than ever before, which leads to positive changes in the game and the community around it. Game developers can engage players in positive(and toxic) feedback through various sources like Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and their own forums.
Constant Game Balance/Flux:
Your favorite online game could change soo dramatically that it no longer appeals to you or your community. Destiny at launch versus Destiny: The Taken King are almost completely different games. Sure they are not THAT insanely different but some players prefer certain aspects of the game and may drop off if the game feels too different. The Division’s end game became a nightmare grind that several people stopped playing it once those players reached level 30. New updates have made the game much more enjoyable but it was too late. Hearthstone’s new card packs and Adventures are always in a constant flux between players who demand change and those who think the game is great in its current state. Several players prefer how Hearthstone was during its launch year. The game’s competitive and casual scene changes constantly for better or worse. The game can’t cater to everyone, but in many ways it needs to. High ranking players help grow the scene to attract new players but the game’s balance suffers when trying to make both groups happy. Some games add new and better features but those new features and changes can alienate players who love the game in its current state. There is a group of 150,000 who prefer vanilla WoW before expansions dramatically changed the game, they tried to relive those glory days but were shut down. It’s almost a Catch-22, all these games need to provide something new and exciting to play but without changing the game. Some players would rather move to another game than if they believe that their current game no longer appeals because of constant game changes.
No Internet? No Game:
In my article about an All Digital Future, I mentioned that:
The current infrastructure simply isn’t ready to handle the amount of data needed to support an all digital gaming console, at least not right now. Games have only gotten bigger with 40+ gig downloads and 10+ gig patches on release day. Internet providers adopted the data plans of smart phones by placing data caps on household internet. Most internet providers will throttle downloads and not deliver the speeds customer are paying for; especially when they know they’re the only ISP in the area.
Massive online games are completely reliant on being online at all times thus leading to down times to apply new patches, server maintenance, and other fixes. If servers go down, no one can play. If servers are overtaxed, then they shut down and no one can play. These online games are susceptible to DDoS attacks which results in time and money lost. Not everyone has a stable online connection and about 47 million Americans don’t have internet at all! There is an untapped player base that would love to join these games but the infrastructure for good high-speed internet just ins’t there yet. Massive online games, like Destiny, will eventually have to shut down one day and all that progress collecting gear/heroes/cards/etc. vanishes along with the game. This is a major drawback when comparing to games that have some online functionality but aren’t completely reliant on having servers.
Time and Toxicity:
How often have you played a game that requires a huge amount of time to gather resources, gold, or etc. just to keep up and not fall behind. Often enough it becomes less fun and more of a chore to make sure you do your daily quests or the daily grind to make sure you don’t fall behind too much. Players often complain about having to maintain a certain level of play in order to keep up with those who have way more time. Massive online games are great for the young who have a small amount of cash but plenty of time, but the time commitment becomes a drag for older players. Not all games are treated equal, Overwatch will have weekly loot boxes instead of daily ones and games like The Division have changed the gameplay to allow lapse players to quickly rise back to tip top shape.
The more popular a game is, the bigger the player base, and the more toxicity it will gain as time goes on. Almost no online game is immune to having a small but loud player base who want the game to cater to them. Players who play massive online games that are competitive will often experience toxicity on the daily basis. This level of toxicity may deter new players from fully enjoying everything a game like League of Legends or Overwatch may have to offer. Destiny would make changes to PVP that would anger both the PVPers and the PVE players! I can understand why players get frustrated or angry when other players don’t perform to their liking; no one wants to lose and everyone wants to win. Often times I would hear friends playing the latest Call of Duty only to curse the heavens about how bad their team is, these same friends however still come back day after day even with the frustrations. There needs to be a big push to foster better sportsmanship and de-emphasize the need to win; having fun and enjoying the game is better than staying toxic.
What do you think of these massive online worlds? Let us know on our various social media networks or message me on twitter!