Games as a Service

My thoughts on the now-widespread business model and its effect on story and narrative


Ever since the release of the first Destiny game in 2014, I have had a mixed experience with the idea of games as a service. For those unaware, games as a service differ from their more traditional counterparts as rather than buying a completed game at release, you essentially ‘buy in’ to the game. The first portion of which, the portion you purchased at your retailer, forms the base of the game that will eventually come to fruition. You start with a base, then over time the developers dribble more content into the experience via small to large expansion packs and free updates.

Now you may be thinking “but that sounds like a lot of games today, for years the concept of DLC has existed”. And you’re right, but the difference is that with the old style of DLC additions, you would start with a completed game with the full experience and the DLC would be released to enhance the experience, sating any hunger the player may have for more content from this game. Whereas the games as a service model you have the base, not the completed game. The completed game is fed to you over time.

Initially, I was onboard with this idea for some IPs. Obviously, your more traditional story based, action set piece type of games a la Uncharted, God of War and Mass Effect to name a few, this model wouldn’t really work as the idea of drip feeding a compelling story via DLC packs and free updates over the course of around 3 years would just be daft. However, I could see it working in multiplayer games with a story element. MMOs have been the quintessential platform for games as a service. World of Warcraft has championed this idea for nearly 15 years. It worked in WoW as each pack had its own compelling story line and introduced new characters, expanded on existing characters, gameplay mechanics and in-game items. When the concept for the quasi-MMO genre started to become a possibility with the announcement of Destiny, I thought this idea could work there too. However, I was naïve. As I soon found out, it appeared the use of the Games as a Service model was used as a crutch to circumvent the need to develop a proper story for the players within the game itself. Instead opting for players having to work out the world and story for themselves by leaving the game and looking at the Grimoire Cards on Bungie.net which would give you tidbits of information for you to work out the story for themselves.

As Angry Joe once said in his review of Destiny “If I am forced to leave the game to understand what is going on, then that aspect of your game has failed”.

Unfortunately, this trend didn’t seem to end with the first Destiny. The Division released in 2016 and suffered from similar shortcomings, though the story and world weren’t as unique as Destiny’s so it wasn’t as much of a train wreck in the story department as there was barely one to begin with.

Destiny 2 tried to address the grievances people had with the storytelling aspect of the series and included a more fleshed out story. This was certainly an uptick in terms of story telling in these Games as a Service type games. You could follow the story and what was going on purely from what was presented to you in game and the story had a conclusion. Not a great conclusion, but a conclusion, nonetheless. Hopefully, indicating that Bungie had taken note from Blizzard and understood that by continuing a story over multiple expansion passes and updates wouldn’t work or provide a satisfactory experience to the player.

Then Anthem arrived and reinforced my belief that the issue with Games as a Service is the story telling aspect. Anthem had seemingly copied Destiny (2014) and hadn’t adjusted for the improvements made by Bungie for the release of Destiny 2. Hurling exposition at you and all manner of words that mean nothing to you: “Freelancer”, “Cenotaph”, “The Dominion”, “Javelin”, “Cypher” etc. Requiring you to spend time reading up on this stuff on the Wikipedia site before even booting up the game.

Overall, though over the past 5 years developers have been able to make story in Games as a Service passable, they always end up falling short. When you have a game that is guaranteed to have a continuation either in the form of a large-scale expansion pack or even a sequel, there isn’t the urgency or passion put into the game by the Developers or writers to include a great story in the game. Before when a game was released, the developers and writers would try to put both a great story and gameplay into it to convince enough people to buy it, so that they could make a sequel. However, with Games as a Service, I believe it acts in part like a license for the writers to say “Eh, we’ll include this part in the next game/pack or just throw it onto the wiki” as they know they’ll have another shot at telling you more about the world later on anyway. This ultimately leads to an unsatisfactory experience that does not sate the need for a fleshed-out story.