One of the biggest trends of this last generation of gaming was the rise of live service games. Back in the day, a game would be lucky to get maybe one or two expansions or pieces of downloadable content (or see a “Street Fighter” style re-release of the same title). The gaming landscape has changed though. Now, not only do you see games thrive for much longer than usual, but companies also embrace the idea of keeping a focus on a set number of games for many years.
However, as lovely as it is to see games like League of Legends going strong even after ten years, other games are shutting down just months after opening up shop. We are reaching a point where those who have spent the time refining the live service game formula are thriving off of it while others who try and rush it are only angering their fan base. Are we witnessing a possible downfall of the live service model? Or do some companies need to abandon their current approach and try something else?
The One-Year Wars
If there was a company that struggles with the idea of how to make a successful live service game, that honor would have to go to Electronic Arts.
Over the course of three years, EA has had the opportunity to launch and seemingly shut down three games. Whether they weren’t profitable, received a lukewarm reception upon release, or were outright hated upon release, you don’t hear many people talk about these games’ positives. We could point out the yearly sports releases, but let’s turn our attention towards their two shooters that were recently announced to be closing up shop soon: Battlefield V and Star Wars Battlefront 2.
Star Wars Battlefront 2
In Battlefront 2, you have a game that angered its fanbase (and rightfully so) with their approach to monetization in 2017. Then, it took nearly two years to finally get good. At the start of this year, many outlets were writing articles about “Why you should be playing Star Wars Battlefront 2!”, as though there’s a resurgence. A second coming, if you will! The game is finally in a position to draw in new fans and have people playing again. And…
The game’s final major update was announced on April 29th.
Battlefront 2 will still receive support for its servers and will still have in-game challenges and recurring events such as Double XP, but what would be the purpose now? If you’re a Battlefront 2 player, you’ll probably still play the game and enjoy it, but the playerbase is slowly going to dry up. The idea of live service games is to keep players connected to a game for as long as possible.
If you cut the cord though, it becomes rather difficult to draw in new players as there’s nothing really “new” to the game anymore. Not to mention that the argument of, “It doesn’t matter how you launch a game, it’s about what it becomes,” is easily dismissed when a live service game ceases to be serviced. And when you have people actually setting up petitions demanding more “paid content,” it feels like a strange time to pull the plug.
What can one say about the poorly-monetized live service nightmare that was Battlefield V? The game launched in September 2018, and since then, has received mostly negative press. When EA DICE announced Battlefront 2 was going to come to an end, they took the time to also announce that Battlefield V‘s live service would end this summer, when the game receives its final major update.
We can draw comparisons to Call of Duty, which tends to operate under similar circumstances. But while the Call of Duty series has a grasp on how to conduct their live service games (not to say that they are any better), Battlefield V has suffered too many setbacks for it to truly thrive. Taking a step away from the misogyny criticisms it received and the concerns about historical accuracy, many gameplay aspects were heavily criticized, the hyped battle royale mode was met with lukewarm reception (in comparison to the wildly successful free-to-play Call of Duty: Warzone), and it failed to meet sales expectations.
While we will see another Battlefield game in the future, there’s no denying Battlefield V will likely be the black sheep of the series.
And Let’s Not Forget About Anthem
By this point, talking about Anthem feels like beating a dead horse. While the game is in the middle of a (hopefully No Man Sky-like) revamp, it too rests in the live-service graveyard that EA seems to be building. While some live service games try to turn a profit by any means necessary, Anthem‘s approach was almost as insulting for all the opposite reasons.
Besides a gameplay loop that feels like you were wasting your time, the actual monetization of Anthem felt like you were getting very little to actually spend money on. It becomes especially hysterical when you consider how they actually thought it was a good idea to have only one armor set available one a week for sale. And keep in mind too that we are talking about a game with four Javelins too. This means that in one week if the sale is for a Javelin you don’t use, then the game itself isn’t really going to earn anything extra. Even at times when the developers wanted to let players know how much you can customize your own javelin, the lack of available cosmetics meant the only “unique” thing about you is your choice of color.
No Company is Innocent When It Comes to Live Service Games
As easy as it can be to target just EA titles, chances are you know of a few other companies with flawed or failed live service games. One can hope that as we move into the next generation of consoles, companies will be taking a closer look at how they should approach their live service games and see how they can better support them.
The problem is that for some companies, it can feel like the idea of “turning a profit at any cost” seems to be far more important than making and developing a game that people can enjoy. In a sense, this is why Apex Legends seems to be the only example out of EA‘s camp of an ongoing game done right. It did have a bumpy start of course, but Apex Legends is still going strong. It’s difficult to say what the future holds for live service games, but people will be watching companies like hawks now, and won’t hesitate to raise their voice if they notice something that isn’t consumer-friendly.
Let’s just hope that companies like EA will realize this sooner than later (although let’s not act too shocked when we see Ultimate Team be one of the first things they talk about when they show off the next FIFA or Madden title).
What Do You Think?
Are live service games dying too soon? Should companies abandon the idea altogether and turn their attention elsewhere? And what will the future hold for monetization practices if live service games aren’t turning as big of a profit as they previously did?
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