In response to concerns that arose after publisher Krafton said the upcoming Subnautica 2 will feature co-op mulitplayer built on the "games-as-a-service model," developer Unknown Worlds has clarified that it won't be very different from the early access releases of the previous games in the series, and that there will be no battle passes or subscriptions involved.
Krafton said in its latest earnings release that Subnautica 2 is "pursuing fandom snowballing," which is a bit of uniquely corporate terminology I haven't run into previously, with "single or 1-4 player co-op" and "games-as-a-service model with enhanced replayability."
This resulted in immediate consternation from fans: Subnautica and Subnautica: Below Zero are outstanding survival-exploration games that trade heavily on the sense of isolation they engender, and the idea of ditching that aspect of "you against the world" in pursuit of the live-service trend—microtransactions, season passes, in-game events, weird crossovers, whatever—did not go over well.
"Really sad news for Subnautica fans," redditor patchinthebox wrote. "I get why they'd do it, but it doesn't make it okay. Games as a service are predatory."
"This kinda bullshit is the result of top-down decisionmaking by management types, certainly not helped by the fact that Unknown Worlds was bought by publisher Krafton in 2021," darps wrote in a separate thread. "Publishers don't invest for fun, they demand profit maximization and all too often trend-chasing."
One redditor wondered if any Subnautica developers spend time on the subreddit so they could see the widely negative reaction to the Kraton report, and apparently the answer is "yes" because in very short order the studio released an update about its plans for the game.
"In reference to 'Games-as-a-Service,' we simply plan to continually update the game for many years to come, just like the previous two Subnautica games," the studio wrote. "Think our Early Access update model, expanded. No season passes. No battle passes. No subscription.
"The game is not multiplayer-focused. Co-op will be an entirely optional way to play the game. You’ll be able to enjoy the game as a single-player."
The driving force behind the reaction to Krafton's financial report is the lack of a clear definition of "games-as-a-service" in the first place. It's most commonly thought of in the context of games like Fortnite, where developers are constantly crashing out new content, large and small, to keep players engaged, and in that light, yeah, Krafton's choice of words was definitely ill-considered.
But any game that's being updated on a regular basis, regardless of cadence, can be described as such. That's especially true for early access games, where players are jumping in before development is even complete. The original Subnautica is a fine example of that: It underwent multiple major updates between its early access launch and 1.0 release.
Separate from the games-as-a-service element, there's some genuine excitement for co-op support in Subnautica, and I think that part of it could work quite well. I tend to be more of a solitary player but it is fun sometimes to team up with pals in games like Valheim and Enshrouded, and the world(s) of Subnautica are certainly ripe for that sort of gameplay too. As long as we don't have to pay for boosters to get our bases built faster or make the worst of those awful undersea horrors leave us alone, I don't think too many people will mind if we have the option to play with some friends.
Unknown Worlds also clarified that Subnautica 2—which for the record isn't the official title, the studio referred to it as "the next Subnautica"—is not actually set for early access release in 2024 (it's been slated for launch in 2025 but the Krafton report listed it under "Strategic titles for 2024"), "but we plan to share a lot more information later this year!"