Most of the talk about the changing, AAA gaming climate is about microtransactions, particularly loot boxes. These features are elements that have crossed over from mobile gaming, where the practices are common and generally more accepted. But loot boxes and other little spending encouragements aren’t the only free to play game characteristics crossing the metaphorical border. Another building trend is timed events, making their way most notably into games like Destiny, Destiny 2 and Hitman. These are games that are built on the same “game as service” business models, with various kinds of hooks meant to keep you coming back to the game over time. The problem is, this content disappears once it’s done, generally speaking.
In the mobile space, limited-time events are also a common occurrence. These are the main content delivery systems to expand these games past their out of the “box” offerings. In games like Final Fantasy: Record Keeper, one or more events will be in regular rotation. Daily events generally provide an easy way to get grinding resources, while weekly or monthly events will present levels more challenging than the normal “story” content. Completing these events usually net rewards needing to take on even more challenging content, allowing players to further perfect their game.
How these events manifest differ from game to game, sometimes rotating content in and out, sometimes overlapping (a character may reappear across multiple events), and sometimes going away forever. It’s a constant stream of content however, so while new players will inevitably miss out on stuff they’re too weak for, eventually the drive to participate gets you through all the regular content, strong enough to compete by the end. It’s part of the natural grind of the game and generally while the pace is slow, often hampered by things like energy, even totally free players (over 90% of most game userbases) can make it through relatively painlessly.
AAA games are a different story, however. These games have huge teams and huge budget. Creating content is a huge undertaking, hence things like the usual 40-dollar Season Pass containing a handful of content expansions, and then the life of the game is over. Even a game like Destiny had a shelf-life, eventually, of course, leading to Destiny 2 and a new content cycle fueled by the retail and digital purchases of the first game. But even with the raids, the strikes, so on and so forth, a game like Destiny cannot match the pace of your average free to play mobile game, in terms of adding new things to do on a regular basis.
But Destiny has this thing called the Iron Banner. It’s an event that usually lasts for a few days, applies itself to a Crucible game mode and dishes out rewards based on participation. It’s treated by Bungie as a big deal, with its own, unique set of rewards. But there are a limited number of Iron Banners, and once they happen, they’re done. In what will likely be a sore spot, the PC version of Destiny 2 actually missed out on an Iron Banner as it released later than the console versions. Because of that, there is even less time for that section of the fanbase to earn certain rewards. And the game is still pretty new!
In Hitman, IO Interactive added something called Elusive Targets to the most recent iteration of the game. Hitman was actually an episodic game, the story released in chunks over time to help space out development costs and create a sort of regular revenue stream. In order to further expand the content, Elusive Targets were also released over time. These missions have lasted anywhere from 48 hours to a week, and are finite in nature. You have a limited time to attempt it, and unless you restart it, any outcome will also cause the event to go away.
The problem with these kinds of content in bigger games is that the games’ structures don’t support them. There isn’t a constant flow like mobile games, despite these types of content clearly being inspired by the likes of mobile games (or probably MMOs as well, and similar logic applies). If you miss out, there won’t be dozens more opportunities to either catch other interesting things or revisit the content or reward opportunities (to IO’s credit, the Elusive Targets have been refreshed once or twice). Theres a handful of Iron Banners, then Destiny 2 will move on to Season Two, with new Iron Banners and the old ones gone forever.
These games are, effectively, eventually getting to a point that makes them much less enticing for new players to come in. Destiny 2 is a game that will be pushed and marketed until Destiny 3 inevitably comes. There will be several DLC expansions, perhaps multiple SKUs of the game including the new stuff as it comes out. But bits and pieces of the game will be gone, and it’s hard enough to start a game like Destiny 2 at a point when it feels like everyone is so far ahead already without knowing there are pieces of the game you’ll never get to see despite technically paying for it all.
It's a minor thing in the grand scheme of things, but it’s worth bringing up and talking about. The games creeping into these spaces are trying to figure out the best balance between what we’ve come to expect from AAA games over the years, and what works in terms of making these games last as services over time. This includes how to keep the games making money to fund jobs and new content, as well as figuring out the flow and structure of content as well. But these games also struggle with leaving potential new players behind, and until these developers and publishers can reach further into the mobile hat and figure out more regular content, taking what does become available away may be doing more harm than good.