This year has been a triumphant one for games. 2018 has seen a host of innovations and revelations from developers many had written off, as well as franchise returns that more than did justice to their origins. Nearly every single month of the year has had a quality release, meaning that most gamers are overwhelmed by choice — I don’t think I’ll ever complete Blood and Wine at this point.
However, another, less welcome custom has reared its ugly head again in 2018: the industry trying to monetise as hard as they can. While loot crates may be far less common than they were last year, the biggest publishers have moved on pretty quickly to other revenue streams, some arguably just as insidious as digitised gambling.
Here are just few of the worst gaming trends of 2018 in a year full of them, ranging from bandwagon chasing to the quietly nefarious that might have slipped under your radar.
1. Battle Royale Bonanza
Publishers will always chase the hottest new ideas; it’s just good business. There can, however, been too much of a good thing, evidenced by everyone and their grandparents jumping on the battle royale bandwagon. The big problem? There’s only so much room at the table: PUBG, Fortnite, and Black Ops 4 are going to take some serious dethroning.
There’s nothing wrong with battle royale games as a concept. There has simply been far too many this year, so much so that the magic has worn off and they are now like any other game mode. They all tend to blur into one, not helped by the fact that they just aren’t a natural fit for most franchises. Battlerite Royale, anyone?
2. Battle Pass Rip-Offs
Fortnite’s Battle Pass works for two reasons: 1) the rewards can actually be worth the grind and 2) the game itself is free. The monetisation method has earned huge dollars for Epic Games, so it should be no surprise to see other publishers wanting a slice of the pie. The trouble with that? They’ve already made players pay the price of admission.
PUBG and Rocket League have both released their own versions of the Battle Pass to mixed results, but it’s Call of Duty –surprise, surprise– that has gone the whole hog. As well as being a full-price AAA game with a season pass and microtransactions, Black Ops 4 also has a “free” Battle Pass rip-off with a grind so real that players were in uproar until it was balanced.
3. Pre-Ordering For The Beta
If you put your money down early to get access to a private beta, you’re effectively paying to playtest a demo that will hardly be different from the finished product. Why? Because betas aren’t betas anymore: they’re a demo by any other name, a marketing tool to get people interested before the launch of a game. Activision did just this with Black Ops 4, showing barely even a glimpse of its Blackout mode with the incentive of pre-ordering to uncover the mystery of the would-be “Fortnite killer”.
Even worse is Fallout 76 and its closed beta just a few weeks before the game launched that you had to pre-order to play. Bethesda even billed it as the B.E.T.A. (Break it Early Test Application) and asked for feedback from the stress test. If the aim of the beta was to see what breaks and then fix it for the full release, it failed. To boil it down to its essence: pre-ordering to play a beta is like paying to do QA.
4. Live Service Lethargy
Live service, Gaas; whatever the buzzword is. I personally dub these “get out of jail free cards”. The regularity with which developers and publishers have released half-baked online games with the promise of extra content to come down the line is alarming, making these types of experiences feel like early access enterprises designed to part you from your money over time.
Sea of Thieves was released with Rare acknowledging that it was a work-in-progress, though the underwhelming reception to it at launch due to a lack of content suggest more work should have been done beforehand. Worse still, Battlefield V released with a huge swathe of content missing with single-player content also not making the cut. If more and more big games launch as live services like these in 2019, I’ll have serious reservations about many day one purchases.
5. Paying More For Early Access
Here it is: the worst gaming trend of 2018 and one that could become the norm if it continues to go unchecked. Different editions having different release dates is nothing new, but not to the extent that we’ve seen this year. It’s no longer just relegated to mainly sports games, either: Battlefield, Assassin’s Creed, and even Hitman 2 fully adopted it to evermore confusing effect — I’m pretty sure I am forgetting plenty of others, too.
Battlefield V’s launch has to go down as the most fractured and outright weirdest launch I’ve ever seen, though. Three different releases: one tied to EA’s subscription service, one for the Deluxe Edition, and one for the Standard Edition, which is probably going to be renamed as the Starter Edition before too long. No wonder so many people didn’t even realise it was out.
While this may seem just more perplexing than damaging, it sets an unhealthy precedent. Publishers have been making the more expensive versions of their games more enticing and the regular versions seem inferior a lot in 2018, which could lead to paying more just becoming the done thing. This is how they’re getting around the rigid $60 price-point for new games, as well as making up for that lost gambling money: making the $75+ versions too tempting for many to pass up. When you consider the amount of content that is regularly chopped out to be sold as DLC, $60 may just get you the bare minimum —and maybe not even that— if this worrying trend goes on.