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Microsoft Studios Head on Games as a Service & Longevity vs Traditional Games

When I hear “games as a service” I think about subscriptions, MMOs, and things I’ve been doing for the past 20+ years of gaming. I’m not sure what Microsoft Studios head Matt Booty means by his use of the phrase. He also has a lot to say on game longevity and the nature of the business models / approach to Microsoft’s first-party strategy in June’s MCV issue.

“There will always be single-player games with maybe 20 to 30 hours of gameplay, we love those kinds of games and there’s a place for those, but it’s also certainly the case with the focus on watching, streaming, broadcast and esports that it’s really important to think about the longevity of a game,” Booty explains.

“It’s really difficult for anybody to think about making a large scale triple-A game these days without having in mind a content and service plan that goes one to two years into the future out of the gate.”

“Games really have become much more social, much more mainstream, much more widespread. We know that the games industry is growing, and that’s taking nothing away from what you call the ‘single-player, narrative, cinematic game’ but we see a lot of interest from our players in more community-driven ongoing franchises. I think that is in alignment with a lot of the trends we see in gaming overall.”

While I don’t see any sort of language pitting the GaaS model against the AAA single-player theatrical experience, I’m interpreting it as a subtle “we’re not interested in spending 4 years making traditional games.” However, I have yet to see Microsoft ever make or succeed at making any GaaS.

Microsoft appears to be doubling down on their Xbox One mistakes. Remember when all they could say at E3 was how “gaming” wasn’t their core message anymore and they were all about that “entertainment system” crap? They’ve learned nothing from Sony’s success. Even Nintendo is shaming Microsoft’s offering.

I’m not sold on the gaming community shouting that they want more community and esports. I think there’s still a huge market for traditional games.

Rather than chasing the success of Twitch and trying to respond with Mixer, I’d like to see them get innovative again. Remember when Xbox had the best (or even only) online gaming service for their consoles? Xbox Live was where it was at! That was a great service in its day for social interaction and achievement. Heck, didn’t that start “achievements” as we know them today? Where did that Microsoft go?

HOWEVER…

I think he has a point there about games being supported beyond that initial sale. Spending 4 years to develop a game just to launch it and hope it sells well within its news cycle is, at best, ludicrous.  Blockbuster movies come out and don’t rely on ticket sales alone. The big bucks are made in the DvD and merchandise phase.

There should be a plan for supporting a title after launch. That can be done in a number of ways, from patches to DLC, expansions, and so on. That’s where I think MMOs of old nailed this business model. That subscription model was the recurring revenue and game longevity solution. Would that work today? No, developers are set up to run games like that anymore. Most studios hire, make a game for 4 years, then lay everyone off. That’s the cycle for the non-Blizzard studios these days.

There’s an answer there for Microsoft, but I don’t think it’s in the ‘watch other people play games’ industry.

  • audioshaman says:

    Everything always comes back to this: make good games. Make really good games.

    Business models, consumer trends, DLC, blah blah, are all secondary. They are important, but secondary. Microsoft Studios isn’t exactly cranking out hits. There are hardly any “must-have” exclusives for Xbox, unlike Sony and Nintendo.

    Just focus on making a genuinely good, fun, exciting, special game and the money will follow.

  • nukethesitefromorbit says:

    While I still from time to time enjoy a AAA game, I find myself more and more enjoying smaller indie scale budget games. I think they benefit from the lack of focusing on that long term revenue that some AAA games have at the core of their development plan. When you are making a game and a core focus is ‘how do we keep making money from this game for x months’ I think it becomes apparent to the player. Just the same, when the core focus is ‘how do we make this so compelling or fun that people will keep playing it for x months’, that is apparent.

    • Keen says:

      Agreed completely. There’s a distinct lack of focus on “is this game actually fun” when the focus in on “how do we make money?”

      It’s tough for a for-profit business, especially one like Microsoft, to walk the line of emphasizing fun games over profit. That’s probably why, as you say, the “AAA” games (which I think we’re seeing redefined anyway) games are starting to lag behind the indie games.

  • Shutter says:

    I don’t think you should be reading the GaaS comments as “We don’t want to make traditional narrative experiences”. I think that should instead be interpreted as the belief that games should have a plan beyond launch, and I’d point to what Ubisoft did with The Division and Rainbox Six Siege as good examples of that.

    • Keen says:

      Possibly, but his other remarks about long development cycles and traditional AAA launches seem to indicate he’s talking about the traditional cinematic/narrative experiences.

  • Gankatron says:

    I hope they are not referring to the Microsoft direction of making their programs leasable verses ownable, such as what they have done with Office 365, where you don’t buy it outright, but instead pay a yearly fee to be granted access to use it..

    • Keen says:

      That game service is certainly on their radar, for sure. It’s an interesting swing in psychology for players. Some people have no problem paying $60 for the MMO box, then $15/month to access it. Despite the $60 box being nothing but a paper weight without the subscription… so in a way you’re just leasing there too.

      They’re absolutely pushing the Xbox Game Pass.

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