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2009 Is The Year... Of The Update

Feature: Why you won't stop playing 2008's best games

After-sales support used to mean the occasional bug-fixing patch - and that was if you were lucky. Now, a few developers are responding to the way their fans actually consume games.

We don't just play games once and move on. We live with the games we love, returning to them day after day to experience them all over again. In that way, we want games to be services, not products. We want them to change and grow with us. Thankfully, more and more developers are waking up.

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Always good at supporting their games, Valve have become the poster child for the update movement. Since the release of Team Fortress 2 in October 2007, the original development team has never stopped working on it. In that time, they've produced a new game mode in Payload, multiple new maps and new unlockable weapons for three classes. Those free updates are going to continue into 2009 with each class receiving their own update, but Valve are also promising that there are new maps and game modes on the way.

Left 4 Dead is mooted to be no different. The original game comes with four campaigns, each designed to be roughly the length of a horror movie. The plan is for future updates to include new campaigns that continue the current story of four battling survivors of a zombie apocalypse.

The most obvious proponents of the update model are developers of massively multiplayer games. If you're paying a monthly subscription fee for an MMOG, you don't want that game to remain static. Thankfully, it won't be. Warhammer Online had to cut both classes and planned capital cities to meet its launch date, but that doesn't mean they're not still being worked on. Originally cut classes like the Black Guard and the Knight of the Blazing Sun were introduced to the game in December, but in 2009 we ought to also see some of the four other capital cities materialise.

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EVE Online is a game that's been continually developed with free, large and frequent expansions being released across the course of its five-year life-span. But 2009 will see the biggest change to its universe that's happened to date. Right now, you're just a ship with a small picture representing your character. But soon you'll actually be able to get out of your ship when you're docked at a space station and walk around them in first-person, so you can mingle with your fellow pilots in the station's bars, rent a headquarters for your corporation and play mini-games with friends.

While all of these updates will be free - or at least free to subscribers - there are, of course, those who charge money for their updates. Company of Heroes: Tales of Valor is the new CoH expansion due out next year, but developers Relic Entertainment are already talking about downloadable content for the game. This content would come in the form of mini-campaigns, letting you experience new missions from World War II. Also, with the release of Fallout 3, fans of radiation poisoning can expect the same type of downloadable content provided for Oblivion. Though hopefully it won't just be some armour for Dog Meat.

It seems that 2009 is the year where you can just keep enjoying the permanent revolution of the games you already have.

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