As the games-as-a-service model continues to grow, how well developers deliver on the “service” portion of that system – how quickly and capably you respond to player feedback ranging from feature development to core technical issues – seems to be as important as the actual game itself. The goal, after all, is to keep players coming back for months and years on end. So I want to talk a little bit about making the game your players want.
No Man’s Sky was a big story in July for its sweeping “NEXT” update, and what helped make the scale of that news beat possible were the smaller updates over the past two years building up to it: a long, steady process of quietly listening and delivering on the features players felt they had been promised. Even before The Culling 2 launched and quickly imploded, the team might have sooner observed the growing sentiment against its changes to the original Culling as “too much too fast.” Launching something big – a major, game-changing patch or full-fledged sequel – is often the most surefire way to grab the press’s attention, but it’s the smaller, less immediately visible work before and after that can determine whether your roadmap is properly calibrated to the community’s wants and expectations.
Does this mean devs cease to lack ownership over their designs when games become services? That’s hard to answer. But more practically, that vision needs to be flexible enough to gel with the realities of running a service to customers. And especially in highly crowded or competitive genres, players have more freedom than ever to find and move over to something that delivers what they’re looking for. Among the many factors for Fortnite’s success, Epic’s ability to update and troubleshoot consistently on things the community pays attention to compared to its battle royale competitors has been critical.
But that isn’t to say making the game your players want means you have to make the game everyone wants (which is of course impossible). Warframe is definitely a game with a very specific vision, and with an architecture that can be somewhat mystifying for newcomers, it’s not for everyone. But it delivers for enough players to reach a successful critical mass of player engagement and stability, and so far that’s been enough to thrive. Games-as-a-service means products with mediocre or even disappointing launches can adapt and hang on long enough to grow into outright hits; it also means those with great potential can flounder after failing to iterate and update effectively.