Business models change all the time. In gaming, there have been countless models which work and fail for games. Since online games launched with subscriptions back in the 1990s, people have been paying consistently for a single product over time. Many MMO developers had learned that having players spend monthly on a single product which they keep coming back too, is the key to victory. With consoles now catching up to PCs and MMOs hosted on every platform including mobile, players pay through microtransactions and DLC content. It is a proven income which works well finding that fine line between buying a single player game and forcing a subscription on players after they have left a game. It all adds up to the idea every game will be online, some variant of an MMO, in the future.
EA’s recent shut down of Visceral Games was what many considered a death blow to the single player RPG. The company was putting huge resources into a Star Wars game which was a buy once, play through, and end type of business model. EA’s Patrick Soderlund had this to say:
“Our Visceral studio has been developing an action-adventure title set in the Star Wars universe. In its current form, it was shaping up to be a story-based, linear adventure game. Throughout the development process, we have been testing the game concept with players, listening to the feedback about what and how they want to play, and closely tracking fundamental shifts in the marketplace. It has become clear that to deliver an experience that players will want to come back to and enjoy for a long time to come, we needed to pivot the design.”
When a game giant like EA makes this decision, not to mention cutting down Bioware and Mass Effect in favor of their much more Destiny styled Anthem it is clear they want more online play across all platforms. Anthem will likely come with a host of microtranscations and DLC content to keep players online longer.
This model has been proven more effectively than ever in Elder Scrolls Online. The MMO does extremely well with customization and DLC iterations which keep players active throughout the year. The model has worked well for Bethesda and ZeniMax. The game is now very profitable and supports a huge community on PC and console.
A similar effect is taking place with Grand Theft Auto Online. It may not be as big as ESO, but it is happening. More players are flocking to the content and launches within the game. Having the online element makes for a much stronger staying power and fans return. The engine and costs are kept at bay as no vast new game modes or designs need to be developed. It is all the same engine just producing new content.
So, does EA’s move signal the end of single player games? Not really, Divinity Original Sin 2 recently launched to huge critical and fan acclaim. The company is making a move on a business model which has worked out to be profitable for many games across lots of companies. We also do not know how good the Star Wars game was, it may have had flaws. What this does signal is more games in the MMO space. They may not be the traditional MMORPG as we know them, but they will be MMOs. Destiny 2 has a lot of elements from early MMOs like Warhammer Online (also an EA title that was shut down). In an every changing marketplace like gaming, seeing a business model like microtransactions work well sets up the future for more consistent games to be a part of. Instead of playing sequels of popular franchises the rest of our lives, eventually we will just see MMOs everywhere.