Build it and they will come. This has been the ethos of game studios and developers for decades, and as they years rolled by it looked as if nothing was going to change. Oftentimes it’s the vision of one maverick designer or one determined team that drives a game forward from concept and vision to launch. This undoubtedly puts a huge amount of pressure on getting it right, and it can be hugely frustrating and puzzling for high-profile games such as No Man’s Sky, Evolve, Mass Effect: Andromeda, and Destiny,that were so eagerly anticipated but launched to a mixed response.
Now, times are finally changing. The traditional AAA game development model is evolving from a rigid build-and-release approach to a more fluid method of launching a game and optimising in response to real-time market feedback. This way of creating and launching games allows players more say in how the overall outcome of the game, whilst offering publishers and studios a commercial long-term in the form of DLC and expansion packs.
Take Ubisoft, for example: they’ve recently experienced record profits and sales in the 2017-2018 fiscal year thanks to the latest releases of their two AAA franchises, Far Cry and Assassin's Creed. Player recurring income, generated from DLC and in-game purchases, accounted for $569.2 million in revenue (a 58.7% YoY increase), a solid indicator of Ubisoft's ability to listen to, build for, and sustain the appetite of its community.
While these games have been a roaring success, that hasn’t just happened overnight. In recent years, Ubisoft has had to rethink what it looks like as a business. Moving from static development to a continually live development process has meant the whole organisation, all the way down to individual developers, has had to shift its thinking. At a macro level, Ubisoft has moved resources around their business far quicker than they’ve ever done before, opening new studios to invest in agile development whilst investing in new technologies and specialist teams to support their pipeline. In April they revealeda new studio they built in Canada, designed specifically to create world building technologies.
Ubisoft has used this reactionary post-launch listen, iterate and implement way of working. For them, and many other gaming publishers they can become more agile and alter games for the players. These are often called “live games” and you can really think of them as living games.
The question then boils down to do how big a demand there is for living games, and whether there is any space for the old style approach. Stéphanie Perotti (Vice President of Online Services at Ubisoft) was referenced in the company’s blog:
“Perotti sees Ubisoft opening more of its services to players, giving them the opportunity to modify and potentially create their own new services. "[We want to] put more services in the hands of players," she says. "At some point, we want to open services to the community, so we're working on that right now. That's one of the next key steps.”
As games grow to be larger and more complex, they can be created in a reactive way and developers can actually take on board the sentiment of the players through post-launch updates. This does add another layer of pressure to the already complicated design process as development teams have to remain agile, and are always weighing up their original vision with the demands of the gaming community.