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Games with a Definite Ending VS Live Operations

A playstation 5 with 2 controllers on a TV console next to a TV, sound bar and router

Games with a definite ending are the default?

Pre-2000s, before the advent of mobile games, most published games have definite endings.

One would buy a game off the shelf, run it on their PC across multiple sittings, to experience it from start to end (kudos to whoever who still remembers playing games off a CD). At that point, players could only access whatever was contained within the CD. In other words, the games purchased had a fixed amount of content, and a story that had a conclusion of some kind. New content and features were not generally planned for in such titles. However, there are exceptions, in the form of "expansions". Where further content were added into the original game via another boxed product.

This is largely due to the limited means of distribution (physical by nature) and the lack of high-speed internet back then, games tend to be shipped in this format. Therefore, games needed to be shipped with a proper end-state, with as little bugs as possible*.

*Patches for games in the past were released in additional CDs! Usually packaged with a gaming magazine or similar.

Rise of live operations games

Eventually, as high-speed internet took over the world, digital distribution of games became possible. "Expansions" evolved into "Downloadable Content" (DLC) and patches for bugs could be distributed online. Game development and marketing also radically evolved to fit the new consumer practices and tastes. Developers could reduce their risk by making smaller amounts of content with a core game feature and release it into the market. Should it get picked up by the gamers, the game would receive more updates to flesh out the game further and continually engage them. Many mobile games have taken this approach and are wildly successful. cough Genshin Impact cough.

On top of that, these games could change in direction to accommodate their players preferences or actions, as they never had a definite ending to begin with. Our recent discussion on the game Helldivers 2 is very much a live operations game. The developers are constantly shaping the game's narrative to adapt to the player base's actions. Updates are scheduled to add more content and features to retain their attention. And above all, there is no definite ending for the foreseeable future. Which I believe, is something that the players of Helldivers 2 would very much prefer for now.

Definite end OR live operations?

In recent years, many PC/console game developers have felt the power of the live operations model adopted by most mobile games and are also desperately trying to incorporate it into their titles. Some have been fairly successful, some have been met with resistance from the gamers and others simply fell flat.

While poor game design and the lack of sufficient content at launch are some of the common reasons cited for the failure for some of these live operations games. The kicker is mostly due to the monetization model that usually follows, "microtransactions". We have also covered this topic briefly in a previous post, especially when developers are charging higher prices.

In a surprising twist of expectations, ShiftUP, the developer of 2 highly-successful, live operations mobile games in the last decade, have recently dipped their toes into games with definite ends. As of the time of posting, ShiftUP is about to launch their latest title, Stellar Blade, that has a definite end (supplemented by some free DLCs). Their website has also indicated that they are hiring to develop a new title, rumoured to be another single player game with a definite end.

The CEO even advocated for more single player games with definite ends (original post in Korean here), stating that these games are needed in the market. It is definitely a sensible thing to say, as the consumers are varied and diverse, there has to be a diversity of products to match that.

While the profit margins of such titles may pale in comparison to the highly successful live operations titles, in recent years, one can never be too certain as the market might shift overnight. Humans are fickle anyways.

As a gamer, I see the appeal in both types of games. And there are times when I would want to play a game with a definite ending as opposed to one that is meant to be played over years. But above all else, I would like to have fun that is worth every cent that I have spent on the game. What do you think?


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