“Games As A Service” Is Still Winning


Ubisoft’s latest sales report (PDF) might seem like a cold splash of reality after all the conversation we’ve had these past few months about what games are “winning” on consoles.

From my perspective at least everyone was talking about Persona 5Yakuza 0NiohNier AutomataHorizon: Zero Dawn, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild as if that’s all anyone was playing. Turns out, the top-selling game of 2017 so far is Ghost Recon Wildlands with For Honor right behind it. Two western blockbuster games mainly built on multiplayer and online communities towering over a bunch of lower-budget classic-style singleplayer games, mostly from Japanese developers. Who knew.

Tucked in that report I believe (or somewhere else I can’t find) is Ubisoft’s statement of intent that pretty much all its games going forward will have some kind of perpetual online service integration. This all just seems to go along with what makes more business sense in the mainstream market despite the wishes of some consumers who may prefer story-driven singleplayer games. I didn’t pay much attention to the critical coverage of Wildlands but I don’t think it got as much critical praise as Zelda or Horizon or Persona, despite easily outselling those games. Is this beginning to reveal a disconnect between game critics and the mass audience? I feel like that’s almost always existed in film but not really in video games. These results also back up Microsoft’s strategy with its first-party games.

It’s also worth looking at the news of the Hitman franchise potentially being on indefinite hiatus and EA putting Mass Effect to sleep for the time being after both games failed to be undisputed successes. For a little bit it seemed like story-driven singleplayer games that didn’t totally depend on online services were making a bit of a comeback. I think they still are, but we need to remember they’ll probably never be as big as the blockbuster online games. What’s potentially more alarming is that the biggest AAA publishers seem to be backing away from singleplayer games. This has been the case for years, the possible difference in 2017 being that some mid-sized publishers (i.e.: Japanese publishers) have made a comeback on consoles.

The latest NPD report shows that Persona 5 at least did very well in North America. The franchise definitely isn’t niche anymore, which is actually a significant achievement for a Japanese RPG outside Japan. People think of JRPGs as a big genre, but in the west they really aren’t outside Final FantasyKingdom Hearts, and Pokémon.

Maybe this feels like a harsh reminder because RPGs and action games from companies like Square Enix, Tecmo, Capcom, and SEGA are no longer the standard-bearers of game consoles. From the NES days up to the PS2 era Japanese RPGs and action games of the type Persona 5 and Nioh represent were a bigger part of the pie on consoles. Now, even when they make a comeback they’re eclipsed by multiplayer shooters fans of the former type of game, including many game critics, might not be as interested in. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as long as people can find the kinds of games they like.

Games where you go online with friends to get points, buy microtransactions, and subscribe to season passes may be the dominant trend but I personally haven’t really been playing any. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any I couldn’t get into though.

Right now I keep Gears of War 4Forza Horizon 3, and Street Fighter V installed on my PC. I like hopping into those games every once in a while, but I just don’t find the time to get deep into any of them. I like the core gameplay of all three games (I play Gears exclusively for horde though) and if I played enough I could definitely get into their progression loops (though I don’t know about the microtransactions and season passes yet). It’s just that when faced with the choice, I’m always more drawn to something like Zelda. My most played games of the last decade have been ones with large immersive worlds.

I could theoretically see myself getting into Destiny 2 though. I even thought about getting the first Destiny after having a Phantasy Star Online moment of revelation during the original open beta on PS3, but ultimately decided not to get a PlayStation Plus subscription (for the PS4 version). Destiny 2 on PC breaks that barrier down, and it’s been a while since I got into that kind of loot RPG. The Division is still on my hard drive as I type this but I honestly didn’t find in it the personality or flavor that draws me to DiabloTorchlight, or Destiny.



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