My Stupid Assassin’s Creed “Problem.”
The Game Industry doesn’t care as long as I’m a buyer
I love the Assassin’s Creed franchise. It’s a big budget single player franchise in a world increasingly devoid of those. Every year or two, a new game comes out, and I tear through it over the course of a week…then wait for the next installment the way people used to wait for pulp fiction magazines.
At least, that was my old routine.
These days, I’m straight-up terrible at finishing video games. I used to pride myself on my ability to churn through content, and barring about a thousand hours of Diablo III that ceased abruptly in 2017… the last five years have been a barren wasteland of “Alex plays ~10 hours of a game and then stops.”
So my new strategy for Assassin’s Creed is to wait for the new one to come out, then scramble through as much content from the previous neglected game that I can before I give up and buy the new one…and then play about 10 hours of it.
Last year, I really tried. I spent a good 50 hours on Assassin’s Creed Origins…but across all three platforms.
Thanks to sales and trade-in credit, I ended up with three copies of the game. I have the regular disc version on Xbox, and the Gold digital editions on both Steam and PS4.
Boy, what a good customer I am.
To Ubisoft, I’m the perfect player. I bought three copies of their magnum single player action RPG opus. The people at the top don’t care if I ever finish it.
I’ve come close, seeing the bulk of what people would call the “base content,” but I’ve got tons of side stuff, the Discovery Mode, and the DLC expansions still waiting for me.
But again, the publishers don’t care about my backlog. Once I’ve purchased the game (hopefully a digital copy that I can’t sell back) they’re done with me. They’re satisfied. Mission accomplished. The vast majority of gamers don’t finish games. Just check out achievement percentages on one of your favorite titles sometime. I can almost guarantee fewer than 50 percent of users will have finished the game.
(Except for Kingdom Come: Deliverance, which has a shockingly-engaged player base. But that’s a tale for another time!)
Now, Ubisoft’s new magnum single player RPG opus is out and it’s called Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Isn’t it great how it abbreviates to the same set of three letters? Not confusing at all! If you pay one hundred dollars, you can have the Gold Edition right now with all sorts of bonus content including free copies of two additional upcoming AC releases…or you can be a peasant and pay a mere 60 dollars to get the base game on Friday.
This pile of extra content exists solely to entice purchases, just like all video game content. At least, in the eyes of the publisher. I have no doubt that the game is of exceptional quality, and that the hundreds of talented people that worked on it poured in everything they had. I’d love to see it all someday soon.
The irony is that I can sit here all day and talk about how carefully engineered the industry is to get me to buy games and doesn’t really care as much if I play them, and yet that Gold Edition is still legitimately enticing. I can have it early! I get all this bonus content, and remasters of AC 3 and Liberation! How can I go wrong???
Never mind all that neglected Assassin’s Creed content I haven’t looked at yet. Or a few hundred Steam games I bought for pennies on the dollar then played for three seconds.
The careful business tricks that push consumers into new game purchases have spilled over into their extended lifespan for a few years now, with mixed results. “Live service” games that hook players into additional purchases are all the rage, and the backlash to loot boxes both legally and otherwise means all new tactics are being devised…where “all-new” means “How can we copy Fortnite?”
I wish that the gaming industry valued playing/completing/experiencing content as much as it did buying it, but I guess that’s not a realistic hope for any large-scale entertainment business.
However, the Backlog Dilemma(TM) is rather unique to video games. Movies are short experiences, and very few people will pay for a ticket to a big budget movie, get bored, and walk out before it’s done. And the barrier to entry is much lower at home, with 4–6 dollar digital HD rentals accessible on devices many people own.
An economy more like this might actually prioritize games that are “sticky” and fun to finish, perhaps through a streaming on-demand service. Publishers could no longer rely solely on stacking the deck with pre-order bonuses and other excitement up- front, and games could also more easily have a long tail since the truly great ones would survive based on their content and not their hype.
Or maybe they’d just build in more psychological tricks that make me subtly addicted so I’ll finish or pay for another rental.
I don’t want to just play a pile of loot and numbers. I want to have a fun experience, with rewarding mechanics, design, and storylines.
Anyway, this started as me wanting to buy Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, thinking it might be reasonable somehow to spend 100 dollars to get it right now, then remembering I still hadn’t finished about half of last year’s amazing game.
It’s the epitome of a “first-world problem,” but it’s something I go through so often that I can’t see how it’s sustainable or ultimately, a good way to keep me as a healthy gaming customer. In spite of the fact that I’ve been a gamer for 30 years.
And I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that way.
I know some of this is my fault for not finding the time to finish a game I was enjoying quite a lot. And I don’t want games to be shorter; they should be whatever the creators want them to be. I guess I just…I wish the discourse around games could stretch beyond the first month of release. I’m about the millionth person to say that.
The internet always pays lip-service to that idea, and almost never delivers because the publishing industry still controls the vast majority of the business.