Game On: The slow, inevitable death of ‘games as a service’
Fri., March 24, 2023
I’ve written on numerous occasions about the “games as a service” model pervasive in the video gaming space in recent years. World of Warcraft largely pioneered the concept in the mid-00s, to great success – Blizzard Entertainment found they could easily hook players with the low subscription cost of $15 and keep them coming back month after month, soon netting them far more than the average $40-$60 per copy that most games were earning.
Dozens of clones appeared and promptly died in the years that followed – Star Wars Galaxies, Age of Conan, FireFall, Warhammer Online and so on. Similarly, the multitude of recent games that have attempted to capitalize upon the same player base that enjoys the likes of Fortnite, Apex Legends and Destiny 2 are struggling to find a foothold.
Many of the elements prevalent in these live-service games are beginning to wear on people. Last month, when developer Rocksteady confirmed the upcoming Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League would require an internet connection at all times, have a battle pass and a post-launch content plan, gamers seemed less thrilled by more content.
Of course, when Fortnite continues to rake in around $5 billion in revenue each year, it’s easy to dismiss those sick of live-service games as being just a vocal minority. But when such titles are designed to suck up as much of their players’ time as possible – with timed events and exclusives, high skill ceilings and daily login bonuses – there can only be so many of them.
Funnily enough, in the months leading up to the release of the original Destiny, Bungie proudly stated they would be catering to “the weekend warrior.” They were clearly aware of the trap of catering a game to hardcore players alone.
Although the game has been a success story for Bungie, they’ve failed to maintain the casual player base they initially sought. The constant updates, events, balancing changes and the ever-raising level caps became a serious detriment to any gamer with the audacity to play other games instead for, say, a month. A month was certainly all it took for me to fall out of the loop with Destiny 2, and I haven’t looked back.
There simply aren’t enough hours in the day for gamers to commit to multiple live-service games. So while the games as a service model will never disappear altogether – it’s far too lucrative – I expect publishers will soon have to accept that there can only be a handful at the top at any given time and scale their efforts accordingly.
Eve Online continues to persist despite catering primarily to the hardcore enthusiast. Updates are on the slow side and their development team is not nearly as massive as the likes of World of Warcraft, Destiny 2 or Apex Legends. The difference is that CCP Games has crafted a business model for Eve Online that can thrive with “only” 170,000 monthly active players, while bigger publishers keep stretching resources to the limit in a push to be “the next big thing.”
Everyone wants to make the next Fortnite, and the result is almost always the same – updates cease, servers are shut down and not only does the game never reach its full potential, but it becomes totally unplayable due to the always-online requirement. Spellbreak and Rumbleverse are a couple of prominent examples from this year alone, which shut down in January and February, respectively. Square Enix will cease to support Marvel’s Avengers in September.
It’s frustrating to see these games go offline forever, because none of them are actually bad. I wrote favorably about Spellbreak in 2020, Rumbleverse was well-received but shut down just six months after launch and while Marvel’s Avengers wasn’t exactly groundbreaking in concept or execution, it was a perfectly serviceable game.
I can’t be the only one sick of seeing good games disappear forever all because they’re tied to some greedy, foolhardy business model promising “endless content” and predictably failing to deliver. The recent success of games like Elden Ring, Hi-Fi Rush and Metroid Prime Remastered – all complete games with no battle passes, paid cosmetics and so on – should signal to publishers that gamers are ready for their hobby to prioritize quality over quantity again.
Riordan Zentler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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