The release of a video game used to be so simple. Ads would run, reviews would be written, fans would buy the product and then wait for the inevitable sequel. It was a reliable process, akin to music and movies. But things have changed. A game’s release date is no longer the end of its journey. In many ways, it’s just the beginning. Modern game studios now have the ability — and some would say, the responsibility — to keep giving to players even after production has ended. Developers can now alter games long after fans have had their hands on them. This is great news for players and creators alike, giving some games a second chance. This year’s high-profile games The Division and No Man’s Sky are perfect examples.
The Division and No Man’s Sky both debuted with massive amounts of hype. However, they quickly lost their fan bases shortly after launch, leaving players wanting much more. Traditionally, that would be the end of their stories. But now, these two games are learning from their mistakes by expanding, and fans are very eager and responsive to these changes.
No Man’s Sky‘s High Expectations
No Man’s Sky, the truly enormous open universe work of art from Hello Games, promised a galaxy of possibilities. You could visit millions of planets, attack space pirates (or become one), upgrade and buy new space crafts or just fly around in outer space. The game studio promised players a world they’d never want to leave and could presumably play forever. But that’s not how things worked out. While there are millions of planets in No Man’s Sky, they all start to feel very generic after a short while. Worse than that, there’s not much to do on these worlds. You mine for minerals and elements you need to upgrade your weapons and ship and then… do it again. And again. And again. The universe never seemed to bare.
Then, late in November, Hello released the Foundation Update. After months of radio silence from the game’s creators, they dropped a giant update that allowed players to build bases, buy freighters and employ aliens. For burnt-out fans, it was just what they needed. Steam reported that No Man’s Sky rocketed back up the charts and reviews started to turn around. Hello won back some goodwill, proving they were listening to fans and intended to make the game even better. This was the first of many updates, they said. For the first time in a long time, fans were excited again.
The Division Runs Out of Gas
Like No Man’s Sky, Ubisoft’s The Division had to battle expectations that were a bit too high. The open-world RPG shooter turned you into an urban soldier on the streets of a plague-ridden New York City. You roamed the decimated Big Apple taking out rioters and villains hellbent on taking over the city. The game felt much more realistic than most shooters and relied on a leveling system more at home in RPGs than other Tom Clancy games. From many perspectives, the game was a breath of fresh air.
It was also a bit repetitive and flat after awhile, much like No Man’s Sky. The much-anticipated Dark Zone (a PvP area of the game that allowed for dramatic backstabbing, epic gun battles, and great loot) was more challenging than expected, the missions were essentially the same, and the AI felt like bullet sponges and took forever to kill. These were just some of the problems with The Division. As a result, players quickly dropped the game. Even initial DLC just felt like more of the same.
Survival Keeps The Division Alive
But The Division story wasn’t over. Ubisoft is currently rolling out its Survival DLC (now available on Xbox One and PC, soon on the PS4). It’s a game mode that essentially turns the entire map into a Dark Zone. You start from scratch, no weapons or gear, and slowly dying from infection. You have to make your way through a blizzard, crafting and finding guns and armor while other players do the same. When you spot an NPC or another player, you can engage and take them down or opt to hide and survive. It’s a no-holds-barred free-for-all with only one or two players making it to the end. Games usually last about an hour and contain more drama, action, and intensity than the game ever had previously.
Survival has received rave reviews and many, many players have been sucked back into the game they gave up on. YouTube and Twitch have lit up with people diving into Ubisoft’s world. Countless players have remarked that this is the game they wanted at launch. After months of waning interest, people are really enjoying The Division. If Ubisoft is smart, they’ll continue to upgrade the game based on the feedback they’re receiving about Survival. It feels like the game is really starting to figure itself out and what it could be.
Games Can Live On… and On… and On…
The Division and No Man’s Sky are enjoying a second wind thanks to the persistence of their studios. Think back on poorly reviewed and over hyped games from the past. How many of those projects could developers have saved if they reinvented them weeks or months after their release? The lifespan of a game can be greatly improved when creators are open and eager to keep it alive.
These are just a couple of examples but there are others. Minecraft, Destiny, Overwatch and other modern games are listening to fans and enhancing themselves long after they hit shelves. With the advent of social media, it’s irresponsible for studios to ignore fans’ pleas and stick their heads in the sand. They’re not required to continually update their games but they can build a ravenous and loyal fan base if they do.
The Division and No Man’s Sky show how game makers can win over disappointed fans and change the media narrative. Games no longer have to be permanent let downs, they can grow to become something more. It’s a lot of work and it’s not always pretty, but it’s worth it in the long run. Without this sort of interaction and evolution, the run might not be very long at all. If game makers don’t give up on their creations, fans won’t either.