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GaaS – The “Only” Way Forward

GaaS – The “Only” Way Forward - Article

by Mark Nielsen , posted on 05 April 2024 / 4,143 Views

Warner Bros., Ubisoft, Sony... there's no shortage of companies declaring their love for, and intention to pursue, the Live Service or “GaaS” (Games as a service) format these days. The idea is simple: rather than releasing a game as a one and done deal - where you finish it, sell it, and then move on to the next one - you instead opt to make the title an evolving experience, a “service”, that gets continuously updated with new content for years after its initial release, to drive lasting player engagement and lasting revenue through the monetization of this new content.

It's not hard to see why companies feel drawn towards this format. Not only is continued support of an existing title a simpler task than starting from scratch with a new one every few years, it also has the potential to become many times more profitable; a fact both players and companies are continuously reminded of whenever we see games like Fortnite top both the revenue and playtime charts for the umpteenth year in a row. A recent report showed that 60 % of all playtime on PC and consoles last year was spent in games at least six years old, the biggest of which were all GaaS titles.

Another reason why GaaS is increasingly being viewed as the “future” of gaming by certain publishers is the recently growing notion that profit margins on traditional AAA games are too small. This is a topic that could be worthy of article in its own right (along with many other potential solutions), but here I will pose only one question: compared to what? While market and shareholder interest certainly complicate things; at least theoretically, simply making a profit should be viewed as a success in its own right, and even traditional games provide a continuous revenue stream as long as they're still on sale. The problem is that moderate success is rarely viewed as success in the business world, and as long as companies know there’s a bigger pie out there (in this case the GaaS pie, of questionable taste), they’re going to want a piece of it.

This should not be taken as a complete renunciation of the GaaS format, however; I myself have put hundreds of hours into games like World of WarCraft & Hearthstone and greatly enjoyed them. There definitely is a place for GaaS titles in gaming, that place just isn’t everywhere & all the time. The model of continuously evolving and adding to a title can sound appealing on paper, but only if it works for the game in question and isn’t just a way to force in an abundance of microtransaction to (theoretically) increase profits. And the reality that so rarely gets brought up is that that increase is far from guaranteed. Even speaking purely commercially, for every GaaS success story there is also another failure.

Marvel’s Avengers, CrossfireX, Anthem, all high budget titles intended for enduring player commitment and success but which instead struggled right out the gate and eventually had to be shut down. The direst of all cases was perhaps Babylon’s Fall, which despite coming from the usually lauded developer PlatinumGames, barely managed to top 1,000 concurrent players on Steam at its absolute peak and had to shut down after less than a year. And the trend might be getting worse. Even just a few months into this year we’ve seen multiple examples of poorly received GaaS titles likely to fall to the same fate, such as Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League, Foamstars, and Skull & Bones.

For traditional games with a finite amount of content and (usually) a beginning and end, players can sit down and experience that game whenever, whether it’s on launch day or 10 years later, but GaaS titles are generally speaking social experiences that live and die by their player base. This is what gives them tremendous potential if one takes of; a chain-reaction of people convincing their friends to play, who in turn convince their friends to play. But the opposite holds just as true. If a GaaS title starts to lose steam or gets off to a weak start from the get-go, it loses a lot of its appeal, and the player base will stagnate or dwindle. This becomes a death-spiral which, unless something major is done from the developer’s side, will only continue until eventually support becomes pointless and it will shut down all together. And that is one of the biggest issues with GaaS releases. With traditional games, even a commercial failure can end up having value to some players for years to come, but a failed GaaS titles is a lose-lose for everyone.