Suicide Squad: Kill The Justice League got delayed out of next month into next year, confirming a rumour now a few weeks old, one that came in the wake of a gameplay showing that generated an awful amount of backlash and negativity from players. Why did that showing do that? Because Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League, when shown off, looked to be the blandest, most trite possible looter shooter style game as a service game that it could possibly have been, with everything from its combat to UI to even its interpretation of its otherwise cool setting and characters being literally the most inoffensively dull possible take possible.
Suicide Squad didn’t just reduce its cast of cool superpowered villains into being very decidedly un-superpowered individuals who engage in combat with… the guns they carry. You have King Shark in there doing no King shark stuff, he’s just shooting at people with a gun like a chump. This is already bad enough, but it actually gets worse. See, Suicide Squad is by Rocksteady, a developer of such high caliber and so much prestige, that to call them among the best studios in the industry might actually be understating things a little.
Arkham Asylum was a groundbreaking game at the time, Arkham City is literally one of the highest rated games ever, and while Knight is viewed as the weakest entry in the series, it was still a great game that won rave critical acclaim and a lot of sales. To see Rocksteady to go from doing the Arkham series to doing the most uninteresting possible Destiny knock-off that doesn’t even have the decency to do justice to its own setting and characters, something even the previous nadirs of the Games as a Service looter shooter rush, such as Anthem and Marvel’s The Avengers, could have lain some claim to doing.
So, rather than the amazing interlocking design and controlled progression and hours of missable side content of Arkham City, Suicide Squad has you fight giant bullet sponge enemies with big purple highlights telling you exactly where to hit them. When you kill them, they may or may not drop loot. That loot may or may not be what you want, and to confirm, you check it in the most eye lollingly generic menu where you see whether it’s green, purple, or gold, and whether the number on it is higher than you currently have. To see Rocksteady be reduced to this is legitimately depressing. It’s as if the developers of Mass Effect 2 went on to make Anth- no, wait. Okay, it’s as if the developers of Skyrim went on to make Fallout 7– no, not that one either. Okay, I have it: its as if the developers of The Last of Us Part 1 went on to make Ghost Recon Breakpoint. Or if the developers of Breath of the Wild went on to make State of Decay. It’s such a mind bogglingly massive step down that it’s almost literally incomprehensible.
All of which is to say – yes, Suicide Squad was shown off to massive disinterest (and, to be fair, outright hostility) from players at the direction it is taking (everything from the design to the mechanics to the UI to even the always online requirement drew ire), which made it no surprise when the rumour first broke that the game was on the last track to be delayed, and even less of one when that finally ended up happening. Yes, Suicide Squad is now delayed by nine months. It’s a big delay! Especially this close to release. Whether or not they take this opportunity to remove the more obnoxious live service elements and try to inject some of that classic Rocksteady flair that made them so beloved to begin with remains to be seen. To be honest, my understanding is that that is too ambitious to do in nine months, even with inhumane amounts of crunch (which I sincerely hope do not happen). The entire game would have to be fundamentally reconceptualized and then redesigned, balanced, tested, and polished, then QA, certification (across at the very least three separate console SKUs and however many PC ones) – that’s the kind of thing that takes years, not months.
Most likely, some of the more obvious things will be fixed (they may add character specific powers and loot to differentiate them a little more, the UI may become less generic, the mission and boss design might become less banal, the always online requirement may get scrapped, the excessive monetization hooks may be pared back) – all of this would still not make it the game Rocksteady fans would want, but they can at least make it more palatable for the broader audience, and give it some chance at success.
But to be very frank, I don’t really care about Suicide Squad, and I don’t want to talk about it at all. In fact, I have already spent more time talking about it than I intended to, because the point of bringing it up to begin with at all was to use it as a segue to make a broader point: in the last few years, it has now become increasingly clearer that the mad gold rush by AAA publishers and developers to capitalize on the success of one game (Destiny) is going to have to end soon.
When Destiny hit the scene in 2014, it had its own struggles and problems (the launch was troubled, it was critically lambasted, it took Bungie a very long time to get their content pipeline for it in a good place), but it had such a huge impact on the market that most major publishers decided they wanted to get in on that. Destiny was published by Activision – but we saw EA attempt their own version with Anthem, Ubisoft attempt their own version with The Division (and become the only one to actually do it somewhat well, which they took to heart so much that they then decided to make every single game they were making into a live service game, driving all of them into the ground); Square Enix decided to get in on the action by leveraging a property no less than The Avengers as their GaaS entry; Bethesda decided to try their hand at it with Fallout 76. And Warner Bros., well, that’s what Suicide Squad was supposed to be.
The problem is, this entire endeavour was stupid and misguided to begin with, because in this very specific arena of Destiny-like looter shooter live service games, there was only ever one true success, and even that one had a lot of caveats associated with it (that one success being Destiny itself). Anthem failed. The Avengers failed. Fallout 76 face planted when it launched (though to Bethesda’s credit, unlike these other publishers, they stuck with it and kept at it until they turned it around. Today, it’s a fairly fun game with a thriving community, but it achieved that not by doubling down on the live service nonsense, rather by emphasizing traditional Fallout and Bethesda RPG strengths that happened to be framed in a multiplayer scenario – once more reiterating the point that the “Destiny-like” genre was a dead end). The Division and The Division 2 were mild successes, but then Ubisoft went crazy, and the rest of their lineup did not fare as well (or well at all); in some cases, the rest of their lineup didn’t even release (we are still waiting for Skull and Bones and Beyond Good and Evil 2, almost a decade after their announcements).
People often like to compare the situation to the MMORPG rush in the wake of World of Warcraft‘s world conquering success back in the early 2000s, and you know what? That’s absolutely correct. So many publishers and developers tried to misguidedly chase that golden goose (some outright bankrupting them in the process), because every single one thought that they could be the one to prove to players that their MMO should be the one they should invest time and money in, not realizing that World of Warcraft was insurmountable because people had already invested time in their characters, in their loot, builds, story, and the bonds they had formed with the community, none of which would transfer over to a new game. They would have to start from scratch, and why should they do that, rather than stick to what they had and liked?
World of Warcraft eventually did taper off (long after others had stopped trying to unseat it), and a new king of the hill took its place, but that absolutely did not happen because of a successful run at the genre king, it happened because after a decade, anything will eventually decline (plus the general malaise and bad decisions surrounding theme by Blizzard also can’t have helped). That’s the only way for a “live service genre king” to die off.
Am I trying to say that live service games themselves are a dead end, and developers and publishers will stop making them? Goodness no. Live service games are absolutely thriving – the biggest and most successful games in the world at the moment are all live service games. Allow me to list off some of them: Fortnite. GTA: Online. Pokemon GO. FIFA. And, yes, Destiny.
Do you see what these games have in common? It’s that they have little to nothing in common. There is absolutely room in the market for multiple live service games to thrive but you can’t do that by trying to make a different version of an already successful thing, because if you, people are just going to… want to stick to that already successful thing instead of looking at what you’re working on. All those games are successful because they offer very distinct and unique experiences. If you love GTA: Online, Fortnite and FIFA are absolutely not a replacement for it.
This is absolutely the way that live service games should be approached – don’t just try to make your own version of something that already works, try to make something unique that uses the live service format in interesting ways. Could you ever have imagined that a simple survival game would become a persistent social platform like Fortnite? Could you ever have conceived that a gacha game could become a high quality, gorgeous, addictive open world RPG with literally hundreds of hours of amazing content, like Genshin Impact?
People (at least enthusiasts) like to treat live service as a kind of pejorative, but very honestly, it does not have to be. You can absolutely do some really interesting stuff with the format, if you are actually passionate about the creative aspect of game development and not just trying to cash in on the latest fad trend. Sea of Thieves is a (successful) live service game, and it’s an incredibly interesting and unique bit of game design that simply would not have worked in any other form. Ditto Rocket League. Ditto Splatoon. Ditto No Man’s Sky. Ditto even Fallout 76 at this point. These are all successful live service games – but they are completely distinct and unique, and they all do some great stuff with the live service format.
Give players that! Rather than trying to make a lamer version of something players are already invested in, because that latter situation just ends up being a rock and hard place situation. Your project is not going to attract the attention of fans of Destiny, because they already have Destiny, and if they want to play something like Destiny, they will play Destiny. It will also not attract the attention of your traditional fanbase because you just pissed them off by not giving them what they love from you, and instead giving them something that, if they wanted to play, they would already be playing Destiny.
Why would you even do something like that? How short sighted and lacking in common sense does the decision making process at these publishers have to be for something like this to happen? And happen not just once, but over and over and over and over again? What, after seeing the failure of Anthem or Fallout 76 or even Destiny itself for the longest time, made Warner Bros. think that their game would be different, that this one would be the one to crack the market where nothing else had?
At this point though, almost every major publisher seems to have gotten the message, and most of them do not yet have any Destiny style live service games in the pipeline. This is good – again, not because I hate Destiny, but because I think using the template of a successful game and simply reskinning it is the most boring thing you can do (and also because, as we’ve discussed over the past 2,500 words, it doesn’t work).
Do I think live service games are dying? No, I don’t, and I don’t want them to either. I hope they survive and take on unique and fun new forms. Give me more No Man’s Sky and more Sea of Thieves. Give me less Marvel’s The Avengers, Anthem, or Suicide Squad.
Oh, right, Suicide Squad. Right, so that’s still going to be a Destiny-like, because, seriously, you can’t change all that in nine months. It’s too fundamental an overhaul. It will, at best, do moderately well for itself, but unfortunately, it is far likelier that it totally bombs. Whether or not it is successful is besides the point, though, for now, this trend is dead. Rejoice.
Don’t get too happy though, it’s only a matter of time before it gets replaced by the next fad everyone wants in on. I wonder what that will be…
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.