Gran Turismo 7 Shows that Live Service Games Have a Long Way to Go
Always-online doesn’t mean always-working…
With 25 years under its belt, the super-relaxing, visually stunning racing simulator known as Gran Turismo is one of Sony’s longest-running exclusive series. It’s become somewhat of a tradition for developer Polyphony Digital to release a new title in the series in the first year or two of Sony’s console cycles – an approach that’s worked well for both developer and publisher. With the exception of the PlayStation 4’s Gran Turismo Sport, the first mainline Gran Turismo release on each of Sony’s consoles has broken the ten-million sales mark (Sport had eight million), and the series as a whole has done quite well with critics over the years, showing off the power of each of Sony’s new consoles in the process.
Released at the beginning of March, Gran Turismo 7 has continued that pattern. While it is available on PlayStation 4, it’s the PlayStation 5 version that’s well and truly in the spotlight: it takes advantage of the new console’s improved hardware and processing power to run at 4K resolution and 60 frames per second with high dynamic range (HDR) support, along with features like real-time ray tracing and 3D audio. It even utilises the PS5 controller’s adaptive triggers and better haptic feedback to build an even more immersive experience. The result isn’t anything groundbreaking, but it’s a celebration of the series’ rich history that can be considered an early critical and commercial success.
Despite drawing some early criticism for its somewhat aggressive implementation of microtransactions (especially considering its status as a full-priced game), Gran Turismo 7’s launch was relatively uneventful; the servers stayed online, the game was good, and players were happy. The problems started when Polyphony Digital released Update 1.07 and “discovered an issue where the game would not start properly in some cases”. Since this was “a rare issue that was not seen during tests on the development hardware or the QA sessions prior to the release”, CEO Kazunori Yamauchi was forced to fix the situation. In order to “prioritise the safety of the save data of the users”, he and his team decided to interrupt Update 1.07’s rollout and work on a corrective update.
It’s actually quite impressive that Polyphony Digital only took less than a day and a half to diagnose the issue, fix it and release the new patch, with the only cost to players being the suspension of the game’s online functionality. Players likely would have understood and respected the decision if they were still able to play single player modes for that day and a half of downtime… but they weren’t. With the exception of its Arcade mode, Gran Turismo 7 requires players to be online at all times, which Yamauchi explained is to stop players from hacking or modifying their save files. This meant that those who’d forked out full price only a couple of weeks ago were barred from both the multiplayer and single-player game modes for an entire day and a half.
Polyphony Digital, Sony, and everyone who had purchased the game thus far definitely knew that a situation like this could come to pass. After all, it’s happened before. Epic Games pulled Fortnite down for 36 hours back in 2019 to perform maintenance for its Chapter Two release; Destiny 2 was down for 24 hours before Shadowkeep and then immediately went down again; and most modern games (see Call of Duty, FIFA 22, League of Legends, Lost Ark, NBA 2K22, New World and… you name it) have experienced some sort of server downtime while their developers deploy major updates. Audiences typically understand this process, but these games are either exclusively online multiplayer, or it was only their online modes that experienced downtime. Server outages have never impacted the ability to play a FIFA 22 career mode, or MyCareer or MyGM on NBA 2K22. These downtime periods are often the only time some online Call of Duty diehards elect to play their chosen games’ campaigns.
That’s how it should be, and that’s why Gran Turismo 7 players have been furious to the point of demanding full refunds after the downtime. A single-player game simply should not require an online connection to play; it goes against the whole concept, not to mention the myriad other ways to stop cheating. If a developer can’t implement an anti-cheat system that doesn’t rely on a constant connection, that developer simply shouldn’t be giving players the illusion of a single-player offline mode.
The downtime was a significant issue for Gran Turismo fans, but it’s not the only thing they’re not happy with. Update 1.07 – and subsequently, Update 1.08 – contained fixes for nine different aspects of the game, which is great, but hidden right in the middle of the comprehensive patch notes was a reduction in the reward payouts for no fewer than 18 races. Fans took notice of these reductions and immediately began to voice their displeasure on every forum they could find. At the time, Yamauchi explained that although he “would like to have users enjoy lots of cars and races even without microtransactions”, he wanted to keep prices linked with real-world prices in order to “[convey] their value and rarity” in the game as well. It doesn’t add up, then, that he mentioned that he wanted to try and avoid forcing players to “mechanically keep replaying certain events over and over again”. Mission failed. Yamauchi then, rather audaciously, implored players to “watch over the growth of Gran Turismo 7 from a somewhat longer term point of view.”
Players took the reward reduction, as well as Yamauchi’s tangential “explanation” for it, as a kick right in the guts, especially given that you’re looking at a price hike of up to 1200% from Gran Turismo Sport if you did choose to pick up certain cars by purchasing Credits off the PlayStation Store. That’s not a typo, either, that’s a twelve hundred percent increase in price. In fairness, you’d spend years grinding if you wanted a 2016 Porsche 919 Hybrid in real life as well, but that particular car went from US$2.99 in Gran Turismo Sport to three million Credits in Gran Turismo 7, which comes to US$40 if purchased on the PlayStation Store. Mind you, this is after you’ve paid full retail price for the game.
Of course, microtransactions have always been completely optional, but for Polyphony Digital to go ahead and reduce race rewards without providing a valid explanation for it comes off as a blatant attempt to force players into spending even more money. Don’t get me wrong: offering microtransactions within games is perfectly fine, even if the game isn’t free-to-play, because there’s always going to be a market for them. It becomes a serious issue when the developer and/or publisher obviously attempts to make them no longer optional. At that point, the offending parties make it well and truly clear that they no longer care about the players’ experience, or about providing actual value for their money – all they care about is that they can get more money. Fueling all of this is that players will simply take the bait. Live-service games ask for a significant time investment, and there are plenty of players out there who simply don’t have enough time to keep up with the rest of the playerbase, so they’ll often feel they need to spend extra to maintain their place in the community. Until gamers put their foot down, and stop accepting exploitative behaviour (which is just never going to happen), microtransactions will continue to be rampant in games that we’ve already paid full retail price for.
To its credit, and to the credit of the live-service model as a whole, Polyphony Digital has taken the criticism to heart and announced that it’s planning to make meaningful changes. Kazunori Yamauchi took to the official PlayStation Blog just a few days after the controversy began to “apologise for the frustration and confusion caused last week” and offer an olive branch. First, one million Credits (around US$17 worth) to every account that logs in again before April 25. Second, an explanation (though still quite a vague one) for the reward changes, and finally, the promise of a more player-friendly economy to come. Yamauchi declared that, at the beginning of April, Polyphony Digital would increase rewards “in the latter half of the World Circuits by approximately 100% on average”, add new rewards to acquire, and make more cars available to purchase at any given time. He also promised that “a few additional patches…between now and the end of April” would add some new cars and races along with other fixes, before noting that the studio is also working on more balance updates and event additions in the “near-term”. Most importantly, though, the studio is planning to “make it so that cars can be sold”; given Gran Turismo 7’s status as a live-service game, this is something that really should have been included from the get-go, but it’s better late than never.
Although, yes, Polyphony Digital’s response to the backlash it’s received is promising, it’s also a crying shame that it’s taken such intense feedback from so many fans for the studio (and its publisher, of course) to show a little more respect to the player experience. Especially when you consider the fact that this is not the first time – nor is it within the first handful of times – a live-service game’s developer has had to roll back predatory, money-hungry initiatives that simply aren’t necessary or fair in order to save some face with the masses. The live service model definitely has its place within the games industry, because it’s a genuinely good idea… but only when the developers put the service before the profits.