Games as a Platform
It's the end of the games as we know them, and I'm feeling [?]
Mainstream video-games have long abolished their premium product aspect in favour of a more versatile feature: service. Software-as-a-Service, aka SaaS, is the umbrella under which video-games’ new era shone. From World of Warcraft to Fortnite, games tend to prolong their existence and provide new content to players through constant updates that come in the form of DLCs, Season Passes and whatnot. Games-as-a-Service (GaaS) have been criticised by players as products that keep on siphoning money off their wallets and with good reason. But lately there’s been a new trend in the games industry, slowly-yet-steadily grinding its way through several video-game studios. Games-as-a-Platform or GaaP (I’m calling dibs on the acronym, ty).
Games as a platform are, essentially, meant to provide a holistic experience to their players, while creating effects like those of digital platforms, i.e. network and lock-in effects. The major difference between GaaS and GaaP, is that GaaS are close-ended. GaaP open up to their gamers, from whom they expect to acquire more user-generated content (UGC), thus fundamentally altering the game’s core experience, as the UGC produced is made instantaneously and officially available to the game’s world, as well as other players. A prominent recent example is Dreams.
Dreams is the latest creation of Media Molecule, the studio that gave us LittleBigPlanet, and definitely their most ambitious project to date. It’s a video-game platform which allows players to create mini-games, animate videos, recreate their favourite video-game scenes, build sculptures and what have you. The possibilities are virtually endless. And all of that come in the efficient digital package of less than 5GB. Pretty neat, right?
GaaS, most often than not, require constant content updates that will attract either more subscribers or payers, if the game offers microtransactions. So, it could be argued, that GaaP come in to fill that gap (pun intended) by outsourcing a significant part of that work to their end-users. And, what is more, that platform they offer is also open to advertisers. A recent, vivid example of this case is Marshmellow’s concert in Fortnite, which had “more than 10m concurrent players” watching [or experiencing?].
GaaP certainly open new directions for video-game creators and players alike. From a political-economy standpoint, one could argue that they maximise their players’ agency and UGC to prolong their existence and keeping their content fresh, while keeping players engaged. From a more creative and, dare I say, romantic standpoint, one could argue that GaaP invite players to embrace their creativity, play with the games’ rules and cultivate their inner-game designer (and probably more than just that). I’m not taking a stand on the matter as the truth may very well be somewhere in the middle, but for now I’m keeping a close eye on the matter (while playing an awkward 3D version of Cuphead on Dreams).