Games as Service vs. Narrative Evolution

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Growing up playing video games in the 80s and early 90s, there were always two pillars in the world of home video games – console gaming and PC gaming. Over the last decade or so, a third pillar was added in the form of mobile gaming, and while I have remained a staunch console gamer in that time, I have never had any issues with the other platforms that make up the industry as a whole. Sure, PC gaming always felt like hard work and mobile gaming was often too simplistic to hold my interest in the long-term (I appreciate I am being somewhat reductive here), but I have always seen them as a natural extension of the industry as a whole.

This new fourth pillar though, well, that’s a different story. Games as service, rather than a unique platform to itself, is a design ethos that has bled into every facet of gaming. Sure, the extended support of video games can be a great thing (see Rainbow Six Siege et al) , but the current obsession with this trend could prove very dangerous for the industry as a whole. Despite the claims that single player games are dying, we have been treated to the likes of Breath of the Wild and God of War in the past 12 months, two of the best single player games of the past decade, but while I believe that single player games are in better health than many would have us believe, I do fear that the immense success of games such as Fortnite and PUBG could not only lead to a severe reduction in narrative evolution within the industry, but could also lead to a decrease in genre diversity in the same way that the success of super hero movies have arguably done for cinema.

The thing is, while there has been a homogenisation in cinematic releases thanks to the huge success of Marvel movies, something that has led to a rushed and often awkward move towards shared universes by other movie studios (something that is mercifully on the wane now), the effects on the video game industry could be potentially much more destructive. Perhaps the term ‘destructive’ is a tad strong, but in the world of cinema, despite Marvel and super hero movies in general dominating cinema screens, they are still managing to push the industry forward and, more importantly perhaps, are only 2 hours (ish) long. The point I am making is that, despite super hero movies being hugely popular, they, like all movies, are finite by their nature and have a defined beginning and end that leave plenty of time for people to experience other movies. That’s not necessarily true when it comes to video games.

Not only are games such as PUBG and Fortnite hugely popular, but they are also merciless and apparently, never-ending time sinks. Unlike Marvel movies for instance, if you’re playing Fortnite, there is every chance that is all you are playing, and with the emphasis firmly on the games as service aspect of the experience, these games are keen to ensure that remains the case for the foreseeable future. If vast swathes of gamers are only playing one game for months or even years on end (and that game is making huge amounts of money in the process), there will invariably be less of an appetite for not only single player games to be financed and supported, but games from just about any other genre too.

Of course, I don’t believe that single player or narratively driven games are ever going to disappear, but with the industries emphasis clearly moving towards a games as service model, there is every chance that this will stunt the growth of the industry as a storytelling medium. Yes, people create their own stories in multiplayer focused games, but that’s not what I’m talking about. The writing and delivery found in video games has come on leaps and bounds in the last decade alone, I just fear that the move towards attaining the kind of consistent quality found in the world of movies and books could be, at least temporarily, stunted in the face of the current obsession and huge global success of Fortnite and the games as service model. As always, independent development will invariably pick up the slack when it comes to imaginative storytelling and varied experiences, but a reduced emphasis on narrative quality and genre diversity at the top of the industry can only be bad for video games in both the short and the long-term.

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