The Never Ending Game: Will Infinite Video Game Experiences Be The New Normal?

In the land of sequels, reboots, and remakes it’s beginning to be difficult to see anything having a definitive and decisive ending. We stretch out experiences for as long as we can. At times it can enhance a story to build upon what’s already there. Or it can be at the detriment of an already solid experience. Video games are the perfect entertainment medium to keep coming back to for new missions and boss fights to face at any time. Games like Destiny, Overwatch, and Fortnite are wildly successful because they’re games that don’t have an “ending” in any traditional sense of the word. Instead, they’re video games that are great for short bursts of gaming with the occasional new maps, characters, or events to participate in every few months or so. But as huge and popular these games are, does this mean we’re beginning to move away from video games that are mostly singular and conclusive experiences?

In a GamesRadar+ article written around the summer of last year, writer Dan Dawkins talks about Ubisoft announcing their intention to create more video games focused on unlimited gameplay that doesn’t typically end after a player finishes the initial story. Dawkins then proceeds to examine why making such a move makes sense for most developers from a business standpoint, but also believes the video games industry shouldn’t abandon gaming experiences that actually have meaningful stories to tell with a conclusion.

On some level, I think we’re seeing this now. Take Anthem, for example, BioWare’s upcoming online multiplayer, action role-playing game. Anthem seems to be adopting the same models as Destiny, Overwatch, and Fortnite with its focus on online multiplayer elements. While BioWare has said their new game will also include a single-player mode and a wider story narrative to play through, it’s obvious that Anthem is meant to be vastly different from their other well-known signature properties, like Mass Effect and Dragon Age.

[Credit: EA/BioWare]
I’ve still been debating whether or not Anthem is a game I’ll check out, even as the game’s release date gets closer and closer. I like multiplayer game modes in small doses, especially when the only reason I’m playing it is because a friend and I are getting together online for a few hours of co-op play. But I prefer to play my games solo with an elaborate story to gradually unfold. Anthem still looks and feels like it will be a game that leans more towards the online multiplayer experience, while single-player and story will largely take a backseat. I could be wrong, of course, but I’ll have to see what the consensus is after it’s out. I pray that Anthem will somehow marry the best of online multiplayer with what BioWare is known for—stellar story and characters.

I understand why these type of infinite games are appealing to most people now. Attention spans are much shorter than they were years or decades ago. Uncovering and playing a game that requires more of your time and investment is a lot to ask for. If you want to play video games, but only have an allotted amount of time blocked off to do it, Destiny, Overwatch, Fortnite and many other games of this design will be exactly what you want to be playing. It has fun game elements to indulge in and minimal to no story to have to pay attention to. It also keeps players coming back to these games because there are new add-ons being updated. Gamers get their money’s worth without having to worry about finishing a game and then needing to look for their next adventure to play. The playtime and fun these online multiplayer games promise will remain endless as long as the developers behind them continue to pour all their money and resources into one game instead of working on other projects that’ll take months or years to develop. When one game has already become a hit and is continuing to make money, why gamble on a new title that’s not a sure thing? The bottom line for all businesses is to make money with little to minimal risks. In other words, it’s better to play it safe. As NPD analyst Matt Piscatella, in Dawkins’ article, sums up:

“Given the decline in sales of the average finite, story based game when compared to 10-15 years ago, combined with the increase in development costs, and now the added opportunity cost involved, it’s no surprise at all to see the move towards games offering unlimited gameplay. The majority of those that purchase a finite, story based game are highly likely to never finish it.”

Based on Piscatella’s analysis, are we to blame for this shift in how we want to play and consume games? Maybe, but that doesn’t mean I want the finite, story based games to disappear all together either.

[Credit: Blizzard Entertainment]
If every video game is one big online MMO or co-op player experience, I can’t say I would want to stick around as a gamer for much longer. Despite what these advantages offer to gamers and businesses alike, it would get pretty dull and boring for someone like me who gets a thrill out of playing a game with an amazing story. Overwatch is a phenomenal game to play with beautiful maps and varied characters to choose from. But after an hour or two, whether I play it solo or with a friend, I’m ready to move onto something else. Story heavies, like Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Final Fantasy, Life Is Strange, and just about every Telltale Games title out there are the kind of game experiences that will stick with me for much longer. I remember how those games made me feel even years after finishing them. Getting “Play of the Game” during a session of Overwatch is pretty neat when it happens, except I can never fully remember what I did in specific matches to be the gamertag and character showcased in that moment. It may take me a while to play all the games I spent my money on, but once I do get to it, I want the game to elicit an emotional response. A reason for having spent 36 or 50+ hours to find out how it all ends for our favorite heroes and heroines once we bring them to the conclusion of their stories. Kingdom Hearts 3 has finally released last month, and whether it has been worth the wait since the first Kingdom Hearts came out in 2002, is still too early to tell. But for those who have played all the games in the series and are very much interested in knowing how Sora’s journey will end, will find a will and a way to finish the game no matter what.

Dawkins’ final thought on infinite gaming experiences is that he doesn’t want all his games to be nothing more than adequate, in the moment, endless experiences with no context or narrative. I agree with him, of course. Stories, whether they’re video games, films, or books, exist because it helps us understand the human condition. They give us a reason to navigate our emotional landscapes, make sense of what causes us immense amount of joy or what ignites our anger. We can get a glimpse of what it is to live a whole other life that’s different or similar to our own. You simply won’t get that if the main goal of a game is to guard a payload or be the first to take down an opposing team in a fire fight. Those moments will eventually become hollow and empty experiences.

Like Dawkins, I sincerely hope the vast majority of gamers aren’t only about playing all the Destiny and Fornites of the world. In the moment, infinite gaming is fine and all but please continue to make games that are meaningful, purposeful, and conclude on a profound level. I will gladly continue to be a gamer as long as these games have a chance to exist, and not become an obsolete relic from the past, much in the same way we now see record players, cassettes, and VHS players.

[Credit: Epic Games]
Do you think finite gaming experiences will go extinct to make way for more infinite gaming ones? Would you play video games that have little to no plot at all? Let me know in the comments section!


13 thoughts on “The Never Ending Game: Will Infinite Video Game Experiences Be The New Normal?

  1. In short, no. And for the very simple reason it’s an extremely lazy form of narrative structure. Comparing it to, something like the Godfather for instance. Great as a movie, would be terrible without any resolution or structure. It serves to give players a quick fix of the ‘happys’ but the main issue with Destiny for example was the lack of content and how the developers focused all development and expansion on ‘improving’ the existing framework not delivering on their lofted promises of additional world’s etc. The promise is always growing and expanding games, the reality, unfortunately is often over saturation of the same.

    #singlepringlegamer

    1. Yeah, that’s already some of the issues I have with playing games like Overwatch for too long. It’s all the fun gameplay without the narrative, which is kind of how I view most Mario games. Not that I don’t enjoy playing them, but I always find myself bored after 30 minutes or even half an hour of playing those games. Unless I’m playing with someone else, then I manage to stay engaged. Solo? Nope, I want to play something with more substance than just bash this person or complete that objective. I haven’t played Destiny at all, but I have friends and a cousin who do. They even admit that they don’t really play Destiny much unless a bunch of their friends are online to play together. Destiny never really appealed to me, which is why I never bothered to pick up the game. I do hope this games as service model doesn’t dominate the entirety of the video games industry. I still think it’s possible to have both infinite and finite video games co-exist, even if I can see how most other gamers might prefer the games as service model over the game that takes years to develop.

  2. Reblogged this on Around The Bonfire and commented:
    With Anthem soon to join the growing range and genre of games as a service a interesting and well written take on this topic. Personally, despite dabbling in this Tea I’m very much a single player gamer with the exception of close friends. Gaming is very much a decompression exercise at times and maintaining that somewhat false facade of the cool hip gamer is not my thing. An interesting take though on the industry’s attempt to reframe and develop titles for those who view it as a social experience.

  3. I completely agree. A lot of my favorite games are JRPGs, and those are pretty much the definition of finite games with long stories that require some time to finish. I also like sandbox game series like SimCity, but those games let you create your own worlds rather than simply play in someone else’s world.
    People have also been saying that the novel is going out of style as attention spans shorten. Maybe they’re right, but I hope these forms of art don’t die out.

    1. I definitely can’t imagine a world where story extensive video games or the traditional novel go out of style. Story-telling enriches our lives, and without them, what’s left? I want to be transported into the worlds and characters other writers have crafted. It’s the best kind of escape and one where it stretches our imagination and challenges our intellect on some level.

  4. Interesting post. I don’t think infinite gaming experience will totally take over and people will just abandon finite ones. I am sure. However, it is inevitable for the infinite gaming experience to grow but that will not cause the finite ones to go extinct. Anthem, Overwatch, DOTA 2, and Fortnite make excellent choice if you’re up for some real challenge because it’s real people you’re going against in the game. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. And losing always to a really good player is frustrating. But in finite games, it’s usually always winning because you’re up against scripted NPCs. You know there’s a pattern. You become more familiar with it and would eventually beat the game while infinite kind of games chuck you with unpredictable opponents because they’re real people. That’s why it is impossible for finite games to go away because these games give people satisfaction and make excellent outlet.

    1. Ah, I haven’t really thought of it like that! Video games can be competitive forms of entertainment and there’s a huge difference between playing against a live player vs. an NPC. Depending on the level of skill someone has, it will get tiresome if you’re constantly beaten by a gamer who’s better at the game than you are. At least playing against an NPC, you learn patterns and the way they fight, which better informs how you can beat them and succeed.

  5. This is a really interesting topic, and one that hits personally, because over the past few years, I have really struggled to complete games with finite stories (i.e. Fallout 4, Red Dead Redemption II). And now, I find myself much more interested in working my way through, of all things, the “infinite” MMO Neverwinter. Even worse, I’ve also been considering picking up Elder Scrolls Online! (Never in a million years did I ever think that I find myself not only wanting to play MMOs, but actually seeking them out as an gaming option!) But this switch is because of something you mentioned: time. These days, with limited gaming time, it’s far easier to play “infinite” games in short bursts than it is to become embroiled in an hours-long quest in something like Dragon Age. Plus, “infinite” games give you the satisfaction of completing something and being rewarded for it. Finish a round, a quick mission, a daily quest, and you receive something immediately – XP, “gold,” accolades, etc.. In story-based games, you’re usually rewarded with, well, more story. (Okay, and sometimes a cool item if we’re talking about Zelda games.)

    I don’t think that we’ll see the end of story-based, beginning-and-end gaming any time soon — video games have become a very accessible (and lucrative) medium through which to tell stories these days — but neither do I think that “infinite” games are going away either. I would love to think that one of BioWare’s goals with Anthem is to combine the two – give players a rich story with which to engage, along with quick and immediate perks stylized after MMOs.

    There’s lots of food for thought here…so much so that I might just have to write a post on it… 🙂

    1. I would love to read your own take on the topic if you write it! 🙂

      But I too have found myself opting for the shorter bursts of gaming rather than the more time consuming story extensive games. I always think my weekends will be devoted to some gaming, only to discover the entire weekend is gone and over because of other personal chores or social engagements that come up, sometimes out of nowhere. It’s especially difficult to budget my time in ways where I am able to do a little of everything I want to do: reading, gaming, writing, etc.

      Even though our gaming needs and habits may have changed overtime, I definitely wouldn’t want finite games to disappear. Besides, having options is good and gamers should have the ability to still choose how they want to spend their gaming experience.

  6. I don’t think the numbers hold up the idea that these “live service” games will be the new normal, at least not because they’re what gamers want. If that were the case, games like God of War, Spider-Man, Celeste, Kingdom Hearts III, Red Dead Redemption 2, and so on wouldn’t have sold as well as they did. We’re getting all these “endless” games because they’re what the publishers want us to want. They’re relatively easy to make, easy to maintain, and extremely easy to monetize. More money for less effort; that’s the goal here.

    In sum, just because they’re popular doesn’t mean that they’re truly what everyone wants.

    1. I agree. Publishers, no matter how hard they try, can never convince me that infinite gaming experiences are exactly what I’ll want all the time. Games as service can serve its purpose, but there are still plenty of other games where even if it takes us such a long time to finish one finite game experience, it’s still worth it to play. We’ll just be going at our own paces. It’d be nice if we can somehow spend all our days playing and finishing the games we have while still meeting our individual commitments and responsibilities. But it is what it is. We make do with whatever time we’re allowed and have. And I guess when we reach retirement age, that’ll be a good excuse to start gaming all day long with the free time we have!

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