Sony’s PlayStation 5 has been touted as the console that will get rid of loading times, but will the gaming industry’s changing revenue model make it ultimately useless? Sony recently showed off the capabilities of PlayStation 5 SSD through a video. Loading times on PS5 and PS4 were compared.
The difference seemed to be drastic as the custom SSD of PlayStation 5 loaded the game seemingly in the blink of an eye. A patent has also been filed by Sony for “System and method for dynamically loading game software for smooth gameplay” and which is described as “A load boundary associated with a game environment is identified.
A position of a character in the game environment is then monitored. Instructions corresponding to another game environment are loaded into memory when the character crosses the load boundary so that gameplay is not interrupted. In simple words, it is preloading games to avoid loading screens.
PS4 exclusives such as Horizon Zero Dawn, God of war(2018) and Spiderman(2018) have been important in luring people to the PS4 in recent years and since they are narrative based single player games, removal of loading screens will make immersion in the game’s environment easier. However there is a catch, all these patents won’t matter if loading screens become integral to game developers’ new monetization model.
Imagine this; you have downloaded a game and you want to start playing it. But before you do, the game forces you to watch an unskippable minute-long ad, integrated into the loading screen, even after the game has loaded in the background the ad won’t skip itself until it ends. It is the same model we see in free to play mobile games.
The same model is now used in NBA 2K19 which has a $60 price tag and is the latest offering in a yearly release franchise spanning 20 years. What if this becomes the norm? This is a “what if” situation but when it comes to greedy publishers and new ways to monetize, we have seen many “what ifs” become reality.
Acclaimed AAA franchises have stooped to such tactics in the past to earn additional revenue; back in December, Capcom put “Sponsored Content” in Street Fighter V. Stages and costumes were decked out in the logos of the sponsors. People could disable it but those that did not disable it would get additional benefits. After much backlash, Capcom reversed this decision but this points to a growing trend in the gaming industry.
Original ideas are increasingly the exception rather than the norm in the gaming industry and as a result, capturing new audiences is not as easy anymore, resulting in a stagnation of revenue. Coupled with this, is the fact that in the modern world, more capital is required to develop and market games as compared to before.
This has resulted in a dilemma for the game developers, especially the giants; do they choose to invest more in innovation as was done in the past or do they just find new ways to earn money from the existing games? These days more developers lean toward the later.
Taking inspiration from the burgeoning mobile game industry that now earns the most revenue from gaming, EA and others have implemented mechanisms such as loot boxes (now, to much ridicule, branded as “surprise mechanics”), and started integrating ads into their games. But 2K is taking this one step further.
Consequently, customers are forced to constantly generate revenue for the company. First directly, through the base price, and then indirectly, through microtransactions and ads. Some argue that this is not a cash grab, that this is a legitimate way of earning. It may be legitimate but it’s ethically wrong and according to Reddit, it’s “scummy.”
Like the loathed DLCs of the early ‘10s, this seems to be a move in bad faith, if a person is paying full price to buy the game, he/she should at least be entitled to the complete experience of the game, not have them locked behind a paywall.
The same goes for unskippable ads; no matter how fast your console is and how fast your game is loaded, you will not be able to play until you watch the ads, even though you have already paid to play.
Even if they are skippable, seeing ads in a videogame sure does break immersion. This is a slippery slope and we are already half way down. If AAA game developers continue to follow the freemium model, this will mean that an additional monthly fee might be introduced to remove these ads, resulting in the death of the era where buying games was a one time deal.
All of this leads to our original point if Playstation 5’s main selling point is that it is going to reduce loading times then Sony will have to introduce restrictions on having unskippable ads. Thankfully, what NBA 2K19 has done is seeing significant backlash and it is only a matter of time before 2K Games backs down.
Publishers have proven time and again that if you give them an inch they’ll take the whole Island. We think Sony and Microsoft need to look at this example and pose restrictions on predatory and aggressive freemium models in AAA games.
If unskippable ads become the norm and game publishers might deliberately put in loading screens, no matter how fast the game is loaded. Let’s hope Sony puts the spirit of gaming first, otherwise loading screens seem here to stay.