#43: Undead

Now, look, I like live-service games. Some of my best friends are etc and so on. While it’s fashionable to complain about a breed of games that are not designed so much to be played as to be lived in — heavily social things that are endlessly updated and (hopefully) improved over the years and across console generations; the kinds of game Randy Pitchford once described as ‘hobby grade’, and we all laughed at him but he was actually right for once — I have a soft spot for several of them, and respect for many more.

Even so, I admit that at their worst these things turn our hobby into a job. I logged into Destiny 2 briefly last night to check out the new season — it launched directly after Bungie’s broadcast to formally unveil the game’s next major expansion, The Witch Queen — and it felt like being in the kickoff meeting for a major project, where you suddenly realise the scale of the thing and just how much work lies ahead. (Then I was booted from the game, and told the servers were at capacity. Developer readers: why does this keep happening for online game launches? Surely, when you expect a large influx of players — when, say, you launch your game’s new season immediately after a widely trailed video showcase streamed live to a huge audience — you are able to prepare for it? What, exactly, is the problem? I do not understand. Please help.)

But it was only while watching the sort-of-festivities from not-Gamescom yesterday that I realised the impact that service games are having on our most hotly anticipated events. We have been trained, down the years, to expect excitement from shows like E3 and Gamescom. To see things we haven’t seen before, and get excited about; to help players decide which console or games to buy, to help press decide what to cover, to give boring people like me a chance to assess the shape and standard of things to come.

Increasingly, however, an ever-growing chunk of these events and broadcasts is given over to the latest updates for a publisher or platform holder’s service-game line-up. Destiny is big enough to warrant its own thing, at least; if you don’t like or play Destiny, you could just not tune in. But too much of Microsoft’s broadcast yesterday was given over to games I played at launch, a number of years ago, and quickly realised were not for me. This is not to paint Microsoft as the only culprit: it was a feature of not-E3 more broadly, too.

I don’t dispute that this is necessary. If a company is to continue to support an ageing game, it has a right to keep talking about it. I assume it works, too: the success of a live-service game is naturally driven by the size of its playerbase, and there can be no finer user-acquisition opportunity than a live event broadcast to millions around the world. But this all feels a bit one-way. What’s in it for me, and all the others tuning in hoping for some exciting news about the expensive hardware they bought? In what way do I benefit from this five-minute update about a game I already know I don’t like that much, and will almost certainly never love? I gave up my evening for this? My expectations for the Xbox show yesterday were already low after it showed so much at not-E3, and reined in further still by Microsoft’s warning ahead of time there would be no new announcements. Still I came away disappointed.

It wasn’t all service games, of course — but even away from all that, there was little of note to gawp at. And of the evening’s undisputed headline act, Halo Infinite, there was no sight at all. I’m pulling my punches a bit because of claims that Microsoft will feature in Geoff Keighley’s thing later today, and may be saving the Infinite release-date news for that. If that doesn’t come to pass, I can only assume Infinite is in big trouble, and Microsoft and 343 are scrambling. If it does happen, I will be even more annoyed about the Xbox showing yesterday.

Sure, I see the sense in announcing something of Halo’s profile and pedigree on a stage with a bigger, more multiplatform audience. But it would be quite disrespectful, I think, to those of us who set aside our precious personal time to watch the Xbox conference in the hope of getting some exciting Xbox news, and instead found out what’s going on State Of Decay 2. I wish Undead Labs well, don’t get me wrong. But it’s not what I showed up for, and if this is the way things are heading, maybe I’ll stop tuning in for these things at all.


  • Because I love contradicting myself, I thought all the new Destiny 2 stuff sounded terrific, and am thoroughly looking forward to getting lost in it all next year. Locking high-quality endgame #content behind a purchase of the game’s deluxe edition, however, I am less enthused about. I’m buying it anyway, sure, but that’s sort of my point.
  • Better news from the Xbox showcase: the xCloud streaming service is coming to consoles before the year is out, letting not just Series owners, but those on Xbox One as well, play games over the cloud. This is great: being able to check out Game Pass games without committing to a big download will improve my Series X experience significantly. Microsoft says ‘over 100’ games will be available at launch.
  • California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing has updated its lawsuit against Activision Blizzard, adding testimony from temp workers, accusing the publisher of interfering in its investigation, and hitting out at its hiring of the (allegedly!) union-busting law firm Wilmer Hale. Activision has responded, insisting it has done its bit.
  • It’s all sunshine and rainbows over at EA, however, after the publisher announced plans to effectively waive its patents on a raft of accessibility techniques in a bid to improve standards across the industry. Really nice stuff from EA, this. Feels weird.
  • A couple of media notes. IGN’s post about Palestine, that management abruptly deleted back in May and I wrote about in the very first Hit Points, is back online, with updated language, an apology, and news of new editorial processes designed to avert similar catastrophes in future. Meanwhile, Gamasutra is abandoning the most cringeworthy website name in all of Christendom by rebranding as Game Developer tomorrow.

That’s your lot! Here’s hoping for more exciting news from Keighley’s show later on. In the meantime I will be playing Psychonauts 2 with the eldest. Kindly interface with the buttons below, and I’ll catch you on Friday.