The True Innovation In Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain Isn't Open World Gameplay
Discussing with a friend of mine about where video games are going these days, the first topic we dealt with was distribution. I think we're going somewhere very close to Netflix, where subscription based services like Humble Monthly, PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live offer an entire library of games for you to play without any additional charge – or, at least, this is where we should go in my opinion.
It would be somewhere further than where we are now, just because there would not be time limits for those games to be played, neither they would be only a couple per month or part of a bigger offer (such as online multiplayer gaming).
I think it's possible, and Electronic Arts is already dealing with something similar thanks to EA Access and future options they're actually considering, but I also think video games should slightly and radically change the way they work today to make this shift happen.
Of course, the games that today would suit more this kind of distribution method would be those based on monthly episodes, such as Telltale's, but I do believe that the same could happen with triple-A video games, too. Let's take a look at a few examples about it.
A huge game like Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain – we want it to be distributed online, as part of a bigger library set to offer new contents every month. We don't think distributing the complete game at once would be profitable for our company, so we have to find out a method to make it happen. But how?
The first thing we do is split the game in episodes – no need to make severe changes to the game, we'll just deal with it the way we would with a TV show à la Breaking Bad. Every mission is an episode, so we can stop the flux of contents coming to the player whenever we want.
To make it even more realistic, we'll put credits at the end of each episodes, so gamers will feel satisfied with the end of each of them, just like they completed the entire game instead of a 30 minutes to 1 hour single mission. It comes without saying that we can't force players to watch hours of cut-scenes and then play just for a few minutes, so we'll have to offer a proper game, with proper gameplay, in order not to get some online user based backlash.
But, wait… did this happen yet? Sure it did, on September 1, and it represented the biggest yet quietest change in the video games industry in the last twenty years. A medium that shifts its focus, its main source of inspiration, from cinema to TV shows. It looks a slight modification but, if you know TV shows and cinemas, it isn't at all.
It even looked less important in comparison with the open world gameplay. As a Metal Gear Solid fan, I was among those who were scarred as hell with this new type of gameplay, which was completely different from what made me fall in love with the series. I was so scarred that I didn't see the real change in mentality coming.
Open world gameplay doesn't change anything in our favorite video games. Open world is something every developer would have always wanted to do in the past twenty years, but they were not allowed because of the power limitations that were destroying the past consoles and machines – it was always something they had in their minds, it's not happening anything new now and here.
The new thing is publishers being aware of this trend and trying to “manipulate” video gamers somehow inviting them to invest their money on stupid secondary content based DLC and microtransactions. But this happens because gamers are truly investing their savings in this kind of stuff, so they really want to do that and there's no fault in offering a chance to fulfill that purpose. I mean, no one is forcing you in spending money on “in-app purchases”, when these things are treated properly.
So, back to the revolutionary thing in video games, I think the biggest change offered in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is not the sandbox component – maybe Kojima could have dealt with it more properly, when it came to story? I don't know – but the transformation of the game in something inspired not by cinema anymore but by TV shows. This is something we'll maybe not understand today, but it will finally make video games a product which could be way more easily distributed online and in the future via subscription based services, a piece at a time.