Games-as-a-Service or GaaS is a concept that’s arguably been around since the inception of World of Warcraft back in 2004. Back then, usually, if a game were to be updated it was common for a developer or publishing studio to release an expansion instead of regular updates.
GaaS at its core is designed to keep players playing and engaged as long as possible by releasing regular content updates, bug fixes and events to keep the game feeling fresh even if it may be bordering on decades old.
Now, this may seem like an amazing concept, and in practice, it is. You can play the game you love for years and years and it keeps getting regular updates that add new things and new goals for you and your friends to complete. In reality, however, GaaS has taken a turn down a much darker road. Many refer to the concept as ‘fraud’ or a ‘plague’ on the industry — and we can’t agree more.
A Minimum Viable Product (MVP), according to productplan.com is, “a product with enough features to attract early-adopter customers and validate a product idea early in the product development cycle.” This concept fits perfectly with GaaS, as it’s been almost the status quo amongst some of the top developers and publishers within the gaming industry to sell these MVPs and then update and patch them into something actually worth playing months — and in most cases years — down the road.
In our most recent memory, the most egregious example of a studio selling an MVP for a game would be CD Project Red and their title Cyberpunk 2077. Many were excited for CD Project Red to finally get their hands on the newest game in their impressive repertoire of Witcher titles. However, what the consumer base eventually got was a buggy, poorly optimized and nigh unplayable mess of code that is still, to this day nearly two years later not considered a complete experience that sits at the bottom of the libraries of millions of players; never to be touched again.
Now, why is this a problem? Well, let’s say you buy a dishwasher. When you buy a dishwasher you expect it will work right the first time. You’ll fill it with dishes, throw in the dish soap, run it through, and clean dishes will be the byproduct. GaaS is like if you bought a dishwasher, but the company hasn’t quite developed the rack to put your dishes in quite yet — but you’ll get it within the next few months. So, you get your dish rack, however, the company hasn’t quite perfected the water pump yet — so that will be the next item to be shipped out to you. It’s an extreme example, and one that may not even be classified as an MVP because it inherently doesn’t do what it says on the tin; but it comes very close.
Now, not every GaaS experience is as horrible as selling a consumer an incomplete dishwasher. There is one that sticks out to us that actually does what GaaS is meant to be and serves to be an amazing example of what studios can do if they care about their consumer base; No Man’s Sky.
No Man’s Sky was created and developed by Hello Games and back upon its release in 2016 was an absolutely horrific dumpster fire that served as a case study for what not to do upon the release of a game (even if it obviously wasn’t listened to.) The game’s release was preceded by lies and hearsay and upon its release — it crashed and burned in a spectacular fashion. Today though, it’s an extremely respectable game and Hello Games’ name is praised amongst consumers now as a lesson of what to do for GaaS. Another example we can think of is Terraria – a game that was released way back in 2011 and is still receiving updates today. Even winning the 2021 Steam award for ‘Labour of Love.’ For $11 you have received, in return, countless hours of enjoyment and content updates that have spanned astronomically beyond Terraria’s initial price tag. There are good examples of GaaS, however, there are so many bad apples that it’s hard to think about GaaS as anything but terrible for gamers.
Our advice? Support the little guy that actually cares about the community surrounding their game. In a day and age where massive game studios only care about taking your money; support the small developers, you never know where that journey may take you.