Live-Service Games are the Big Thing in Gaming Now, but What Makes These Games Stick in our Minds, and in our Game Libraries?
By: Brendan Brown
Live-service games are nothing new to the gaming world, with titles like “World of Warcraft” and “League of Legends” having been around for well over a decade each. But the model has really hit its stride in recent years, with profits and popularity skyrocketing.
The gaming industry as a whole has been extremely profitable in recent years, but it’s these live-service games that sit atop the standings. But what is a live-service game exactly, and what makes them popular and profitable?
In simplest terms, a live-service game is a game that is released to the public that continues to get content and updates well after release. Any game can be a live-service game, such as battle royale games, first person shooters, or exploration games; there is no limit to what can be a live-service game.
These games are popular because they keep the fanbases happy and interested with new content, updates, expansions, or whatever it takes to keep the players around. With this popularity comes profit, which allows the game studios to continue to make new content and continue to make money, a very simple cycle.
Live-service games can be unpredictable though, as whether it becomes popular and lands properly among players can vary. Games like “Fortnite” or “Grand Theft Auto V” didn’t expect their battle royale and multiplayer modes, respectively, to take off and become the billion-dollar money-makers that they did. But they did so well early on that they almost had no option other than continuing service, and with “Fortnite” making almost 2 billion dollars and “Grand Theft Auto V” making well over 6 billion dollars, it can be universally agreed that they made the right choice.
But what happens to the games that don’t hit the mark right away? Do they die out, get scrapped by the studios and never touched again? Well not quite, but it’s up to the studio how much effort is needed to turn things around.
Not every live-service game hits right away, in fact the amount that miss the mark on release likely matches the amount that do hit the mark. Games like “Fallout 76,” “Star Wars Battlefront 2,” “Rainbow Six Siege” and “Destiny 2” are all good examples of games that did not hit the mark on release and were blasted by fans for a variety of reasons.
“Star Wars Battlefront 2” had massive issues with its lootbox system, “Fallout 76” moving to a multiplayer game and it’s janky controls and mechanics didn’t mix well and fans were quick to show their disappointment, and “Rainbow Six Siege” being a bare bones, bland experience on launch with gameplay that looked nothing like gameplay trailers released prior to launch.
All very different games with pretty much nothing in common in terms of gameplay, but what they do have in common is that they all came back in a big way with their respective studios listening to fans and fixing these issues, evolving them into polished and fun games today.
“Rainbow Six Siege” is now going on its 6th year of service, has become a big time E-Sports game with their own tournaments, and now boasts over 70 million players. “Star Wars Battlefront 2” has one of the largest and most passionate fanbases in video games, pleading with EA to continue service on the game and continue its growth. “Fallout 76” (despite my personal opinion it should be a singleplayer story with a multiplayer option) has also made a solid comeback, adding NPCs, story missions, and a large free expansion just recently featuring the franchise’s Brotherhood of Steel faction.
Not every game that falls flat on release makes a strong comeback. Square Enix’s “Avengers” lost roughly $105 million during its release month, and BioWare’s “Anthem” lost an unreported amount, but that number is likely in the tens of millions as well.
“Avengers” downfall was in its lack of interesting gameplay, lack of post campaign content, and lackluster marketing prior to release. The game’s player base is almost non-existent and it’s not a game that is really talked about except in contexts like this right now. Granted it only came out last August, and has plenty of time to turn things around, but with its future content release schedule in the distance and spaced far between, things are not looking up for Square Enix on this one.
“Anthem” has had a bit of a comeback on its own, doing well in sales recently, but it also has a long way to go before it has a shot at being one of those live-service games that can really live out a game’s lifetime.
While not every live-service game has reached its full potential, every single one has an equal chance to make it to that point. It is up to the drive of the fans, and up to the drive of the studio to match. As long as this genre of games is profitable, as it very much is, there will be a market for them.
Constant content keeps players happy and interested, and those players keep the game running with the money they spend on in-game content and “battlepasses” and the cycle just starts again. Even with the popularity of these live-service games, there will still always be a market and place in the hearts of gamers, for solid single player games.
This is a good time to be a gamer, and a good time to be a game studio, and here’s hope for more good live-service games to come and good content within them.