Reminiscing: What the Gaming Industry Can Learn From ARMA 3
The gaming industry is incredibly fluid. Changing trends and innovations in marketing strategies mean that the industry is not only evolving but also reinventing itself every day. AAA games used to be these blockbuster releases that people looked forward to months in advance. Now games have become a work in progress. ‘Early Access’ is the norm. Popularized by games such as DayZ and H1Z1, a lot of AAA titles are starting to use the model to raise money for the game while it is being developed.
Another major change in the gaming industry is the concept of micro-transactions. Riot Games took the idea of microtransactions from Korean MMOs and popularised it all over the world with League of Legends. Nowadays microtransactions have become fully integrated into the business model of many industry giants such as Activision and Electronic Arts.
However, AAA games are not what they used to be. Games like Grand Theft Auto 4 and Crysis brought about revolutions in the world of games. But, nowadays, games with a massive budget and tens of thousands of man-hours put into them are released riddled with bugs and terrible performance issues. I am sure anybody who has bought Battlefield 4 or pretty much any Ubisoft game ever at release day would know the pain of trying to start up the game, or at the very least get a rewarding experience out of it.
ARMA 3 can Teach the Gaming Industry a Thing or Two
ARMA 3 was released in 2013 and has sold a little over 3 million copies to date. This is, by no means, a lot especially when compared to industry titans like GTA 5 which has sold over 80 million copies – as of May 2017 – to date despite being released almost 2 years later. But ARMA continues to enjoy 30-40 thousand players during peak hours. This is quite an achievement for a game four years after its release. We take a look at the reasons why ARMA 3, after 4 years of its release still works while having obnoxiously high system requirements and a steep learning curve.
Staying True to its Core
Games nowadays are trying so hard to innovate and come up with the next big thing, especially in the FPS genre. Call of Duty tried to go to space and Battlefield toyed with the idea of a ‘police vs robbers’ game with Battlefield: Hardline. Whereas, other games are constantly looking to innovate and come up with new, ground breaking ideas; ARMA knows what it is and only tries to further perfect the execution of their ideology rather than reinventing it.
ARMA, at its core, is a hardcore military simulator. Your bullets are affected by Gravity, stamina, their caliber, and many other factors just like the real world. Players die in one bullet unless they have protective gear on and sniping someone at long range requires a lot of skill and experience. ARMA is not for everyone, I would go so far to say that ARMA is not for almost everyone. Yet the developers at Bohemia Interactive are aware of the fact and instead of trying to make the game more accessible and perhaps more commercially successful, they try to make the experience of those who decide to play it as enjoyable as possible. This is probably why it takes BI multiple years to develop a new ARMA while a new Call of Duty is pumped out every year.
Modding / Customization Options
Ah, where do I begin? Modding / customization options in ARMA are the single biggest reason to play the game. And I am sure that the large majority of the multiplayer servers currently running are not running on vanilla ARMA. ARMA is like an HD version of Minecraft, you can literally do whatever you want. Mods in ARMA are so well made that many of them ended up spawning their own game like DayZ – based on the ARMA 2 mod of the same name – and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds – based on the ARMA 3 mod PlayerUnknown’s Battle Royale which was based on an ARMA 2 DayZ mod. The mods in ARMA range from weapon enhancements (like CUP Weapons) which add more guns and explosives to maps (CUP Maps) which add maps from the previous versions of ARMA to Total Conversion mods like Altis Life which is ARMA’s own little take on Cops vs Robbers.
The mission editor in the game is also amazingly detailed. So much so that there are entire user made single-player campaigns available, some of which are much better than the game’s own. But the best way to play ARMA is to play one of the popular user made multiplayer missions. These range from arcade modes such as ‘King of the Hill’ which is sort of like the conquest mode of Battlefield with 3 teams fighting over a city for its control. Another fun game mode is ‘Invade and Annex’ that sees a number of players work together to try and take over a city which is held by AI-controlled players. Some of the servers have elements of military simulation in which players have to behave like real soldiers, follow orders from their superiors, etc.
Nowadays, mod tools are rarely ever a part of an AAA game. Half-Life 2, perhaps the biggest release of the last decade, had amazing mod tools and support and thus it gave birth to mods like Insurgency and The Stanley Parable, both of which ended up becoming full-fledged standalone games. Games like Call of Duty and Battlefield all had mod tools which led to some of the greatest mods ever made such as Project Reality and Promod. Nowadays games do not provide any user customization which often leads to games being dead within a couple years after their release unlike HL2 and COD 4 which still have thousands of online players every day over a decade after their release.
Downloadable Content is now pretty much offered by every major release. This often ends up dividing the player base into various fractions, as those without extra bucks to spend often end up playing a watered down version of the game.
ARMA also offers DLCs, but unlike other games, you are free to use the content in multiplayer as long as you can bear a watermark advertising the DLC. This means that the only reason to actually buy the DLC is either for the single-player content – which is definitely worth it for some players – or to support the developers.
Like everything else in life, ARMA is not perfect. And there are a couple of lessons that can be learned by game developers from ARMA on what not to do as well.
The most obvious one is the optimization at which ARMA has been terrible. Even the most high-end systems can struggle to get over 60 FPS when playing on a multiplayer server. It can get so terrible that entire firefights are decided on who has the better rig. Bohemia Interactive has released multiple optimization updates which have helped a little but all in all, ARMA often ends up performing worse than AAA titles released as late as 2016.
One of the reasons for this is that the player models in the game are very highly detailed so the more players in the server, the more strain on the CPU. This means that many potential players do not buy the game as their rigs are not able to provide a fun experience.
ARMA is a military simulator, and for people who want the complete experience probably enjoy this aspect of the game, but the majority of the people who just want an enjoyable FPS, ARMA can be extremely frustrating. There is a lot of weapon sway which is directly linked with the stamina of the player. Since you spend a lot of time in the game walking to the next objective, often a few hundred meters at a time; this can get really frustrating.
In many game modes, the objective is so far away that each time you die you often end up taking a few minutes just to get back into the Area of Operations (AO). This problem is taken care of by many user-designed missions and mods which offer the capability of teleporting the player to a specific area in the AO. That is the beauty of ARMA 3 to be honest, any place the game is lacking in; there is always a modification to fix it.
When I started playing ARMA, I had the same PC that I had in 2010, I had never felt the need to upgrade it. 20 hours in, I was placing an order for a new CPU, GPU. Anyone can make a good game which you can enjoy for a few hours, but very few people can make a great game which you end up playing for thousands of hours and still want more. That is what ARMA 3 is.
AAA games nowadays are turning more and more into ‘pay extra for half of the game’ and there is many a lesson which can be learned by looking at the example of ARMA 3. Just imagine the possibilities if Blizzard or EA tried to do something like this, and succeeded.