With the increased ease of communication and ubiquity of gaming networks that came about with the current generation of consoles, video games have begun to shift from a product-based industry to a service-based one. Service-based gaming includes not only subscription-based online games, but also the variety of console and internet gaming service networks that have been steadily increasing in popularity. Is this change for the better or for the worse? When everything is accounted for, it becomes clear that there are a number of advantages to service-based gaming that make it superior to selling a standalone product.
A major concern with the shift to gaming services is the economic impact it will have on developers. Many games released digitally, or via subscription fee, cost less than a physical disc, so it can’t be profitable for developers…right? Actually, digital sales of video games can benefit developers in the long run. Cheaper prices for the games themselves mean that more copies are likely to sell, even to casual gamers who don’t want to invest in a large, complex game. On the legal side, subscription-based games are nearly impossible to hack or pirate. This protects the developers by guaranteeing that they will obtain full profit from every person who plays their game. The ease of distribution also means that indie developers can more easily promote their products and make a name for themselves on the market. Developers can also make good use of service systems to release add-on content in the blink of an eye. When “Marvel vs. Capcom 3” was released, for example, much-needed DLC updates were %not% available and players were forced pay full price for a second copy of the game to get the complete product. If a digitally distributed game is proving unbalanced or bug-ridden after release, patches can be applied easily and cheaply.
The players are the consumers of the video game market, and since the developers rely on their business, it is important that they benefit from these services. The most notable of these benefits are the large gaming communities that have developed over service networks like Steam, Xbox Live and PlayStation Network, which have become incredibly useful tools for promoting multiplayer gaming and allowing communication between players. The online capabilities of the Nintendo Wii and DS let players interact and share content. All of these communities include online shops with both demos and full games available for download. OnLive, arguably the most ambitious video gaming service in existence, even allows games to be played without an expensive console, offloading the processing work to the service’s bank of servers. Not all of these services cost the players money either; a number games like “League of Legends” and “Team Fortress 2” have seen a surge in popularity for their largely free game play that includes optional DLC. The majority of DLC is not necessary to experience a complete game, so players are left free to pay only for the parts of a game that they want and only for as long as they want it.
With the new focus on multiplayer, communication, and instant availability, the replacement of video games as a stand-alone product with gaming services is inevitable. This may ultimately prove to be for the best, as the change is already showing undeniable benefits to the video gaming industry and those who support it.