Add Anthem to the list of titles that have struggled out of the gate as a live service. While the endgame content is important, the open testing periods are critical. These periods need to be months before a title releases, not weeks, as its becoming predictable that the issues plaguing the title during the beta will persist upon full release.
Open testing should be what draws the player in, it gives just enough information to make the product intriguing while never giving away the endgame. Anthem, Destiny, The Division, hell, practically any title branded as a live service has had issues during after their open testing period by having it too close to launch or the testing periods being too similar in content to identify differences.
Take Destiny, its alpha and beta were literally the same. The beta was so close to the release of the game, that virtually none of the concerns raised by the beta were addressed. While the environments themselves were diverse, they were empty, with little in the way of content to keep the players entertained. The beta was a precursor for the issues that would persist when Destiny saw it’s full release. There just wasn’t enough content.
The Division saw the same issues, so did Sea of Thieves, Destiny 2, and Fallout 76. You would think that with all of the examples on the market, a studio would take the time to learn from their peers mistakes. BioWare has experience with MMO’s, if any studio would understand the importance of these open testing periods, it would be them.
Instead, the beta fell flat. The world, while gorgeous, was lifeless and even though the javelin gameplay was a highlight, the game immediately felt repetitive. Early reviews and impressions of Anthem tag this as a largely disappointing release, but honestly, this was predictable, the beta was filled with issues that wouldn’t be fixed in time for release. There just isn’t enough time to take all of the feedback and polish the title in time for release.
Live services are meant to be experienced over long periods of times. It feels though, that these titles should be marketed as early access as none of these titles even reach their potential until year 2. The Division wasn’t at it’s best until a year and a half later, when it become a fully featured and well-optimized experience. You can expect that Anthem and any other similar titles to follow suit.
These open testing periods have been back breakers for this burgeoning genre. Everytime a beta ends, the feedback is always trending toward cautiously optimistic. But if these studios continue to market unfinished products, only the most hardcore will stick with those games while everyone else will wait until the game is fully featured.
When these titles are compared to other live services like Fortnite and the recently released Apex Legends, there is a large difference. On one end of the spectrum you have a free-to-play, focused experience and on the other end there is supposed to be a premium multi-faceted experience. The problem is that the free-to-play tends to follow through with its updates and the premium titles struggle due to their size and ambitions. Transparency, as always, is key.
The criticism leveled at these live services would be lessened if they were marketed as early access, regardless of who is behind their development. As these games require lengthy testing periods, especially upon initial release, this would be the perfect time to build with the player. Using social media to provide continuous updates ensures the community stays engaged, otherwise you can expect the community numbers to decrease in time.
It seems asinine that with how far we’ve come in gaming, that studios struggle to maintain transparency. Going dark is never a smart tactic, look at Bethesda. Admit your faults, stay grounded and always look to improve. Follow through and it will build trust. The fans are the ones who payed top dollar for what should be premium experience, you should never get outworked by a title that is free-to-play, it’s almost inconceivable.
Quality over quantity matters and with these live services, it shows. Battle royales and competitive shooters may be simple in nature, but due to the high quality of some of these titles, it’s not difficult to see why they’re popular. Promising a grand, ambitious experience that expands in time is great, but it needs to be diverse and of a higher quality than what we’ve seen thus far.
Paying 60 dollars is a lot for any title and live services should seem like a bargain due to the promised content…until you pay 30 to 40 dollars for each expansion and they end up being underwhelming. Rainbow Six Siege, a live service product done right, offers free content after the initial purchase. Its popularity hasn’t waned and for good reason, each year adds around 3 to 4 maps and 6 to 8 operators to ensure a fresh experience. Oh and its ranked matchmaking has been in beta for 3 years. Still a great experience.
Anthem had a lot riding on its shoulders, most live services are competitive shooters and there are a number of successful examples to follow. With persistent online-only worlds, there really isn’t one that has hit the sweet spot. It’s practically been misfire after misfire with little transparency and broken promises. The Division 2 is up next and with an open testing period arriving March 1-4, which is two weeks before full release, we will see if any lessons have been learned.
Cautious optimism it is.