What the Hell is a Live Service Anyway?

So, 2017 was the year of the loot box apparently.  Aside from all the amazing games that were released last year, there was a huge amount of controvosy over loot boxes and their links to gambling.  Whatever your stance on this, no one can deny the backlash was significant once Battlefront 2 came along and the practice of enticing players with a chance to win what they want came into the public eye.  And since then, there have been fewer and fewer games featuring loot boxes for real money.  I would make an educated guess that a lot of publishers don’t want the negative publicity that comes with them.  But now we’re hearing the term Live Service thrown around in terms of games.

Star Wars Battlefront 2
Was this a victory of sorts?

The concept of a Live Service seems to be a game that is frequently having new content added to it to encourage players to stay invested in a single product.  Somewhat like MMOs, players will buy a base game that will have new features pushed to it over the course of the game’s lifespan.  This could take the form of constant new characters, new missions, new outfits, or things of that ilk.  You could think of this as regular, small expansion packs for a small cost.  Rather than having microtransactions unlocking shortcuts or costumes, they will buy small chunks of content to add onto the game.  In theory, this could be a good thing as you could just pick and choose the content you want.

Marvel
Would live services be better than this?

But let’s be honest, this isn’t going to be something good.  This design is intended to tie players into a single product into which they dedicate their free time.  The idea here involves the sunk cost fallacy. This is the concept that once you have invested money into something, you need to see it through, otherwise the money is “wasted”.  You see a lot of this in gamers’ backlogs (not wanting to give up on a game that they spent money on) andin the free-to-play model (once players spend money, they feel more invested in playing due to that financial investment).  The thing is, these new “live services” will likely adopt this free-to-play model without being free to begin with.  This means lower content games with greater cost.

Obviously, publishers will see this in a very positive light.  This means a continuous revenue stream from a single product by releasing small, regular updates rather than having to move onto developing a whole new game.  The idea would be that a single game could go on nearly indefinitely.

british-1-pound-coins
All about that money!

There are some examples of this being done, in my opinion, fairly well already.  I feel that Rainbow Six: Siege‘s model in this regard is fairly good.  The base game contains numerour operators and plenty of content, and each year a new set of characters and maps is released for free if you have earned enough points to buy them, or they can be purchased for real money.  I feel that this uses the traditional expansion pack model and is far less exploitative than the way this model could be.

Sun_Apr_10_21-43-15_UTC%2B0100_2016
Was it successful though?  Yes, probably

Here’s the thing though: this is probably going to backfire horribly in the long term for a particular reason.  Once you are tied into a game (either through money or time investment) you are less likely to want to make the same investment elsewhere.  There is a finite amount of money and time available, and if players sink those resources into a “live service”, those resources aren’t going to be able to spread much further.  It seems somewhat short sighted to me.  Think about World of Warcraft.  If you played that you weren’t terribly likely to be playing much of any other MMO at the same time due to time limitations if nothing else.  Thank heaven for the indie scene!

Anyway, I’m no expert on this, and really this is just a rant about the future of the hobby.  What do you think?  You’re probably better equipped to comment on this than I am, so why not let me know what really is good or bad about this model?

 

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17 thoughts on “What the Hell is a Live Service Anyway?

  1. Live as a Service Games really came about in 2014, I want to say. I don’t remember 2013 or 2012 having nay Live as a Service games and I think it kicked off with Call of Duty: AW. I don’t think it will backfire because you can get more cash if you constantly update the game, like live events that offer cosmetic items or a weapon or community events like in FC5 or Call of Duty: WWII. Phil Spencer said it best and I think he’s right, he said “Games are going further and further towards Games as a Service.” , this is the evolution of MP games and maybe SP games, IDK. It is annoying, however.

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    1. I don’t like Live as a Service games but it is what it is. Battlefield 1 turned from a regular Battlefield game to a “Live as a Service or Games as a Service.” title because there were constant monthly updates that added new challenges, new weapons to unlock, and much more. Thanks EA.

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    2. I feel that Live Services is the next step in the “Games as a service” mindset. I’m expecting to see fewer games released as current ones are regularly updated. This is potentially good for the player, but it will likely be designed to take more money in the long run. Good for the publishers, bad for the gamers. It’s what I think the intention was for Destiny,but it just couldn’t be maintained. Anthem is going to be an interesting game to watch in this regard.

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  2. I agree with Anthem and Battlefield 2018. Battlefield 2018 is going to be an interesting game to watch because of the EA factor and what I’ve heard within the industry and what not, and how is Battlefield 2018 is progressing. I’m kind of worried for this year’s installment in the Battlefield franchise and how will “Live Services.” affect the game going forward as the expansions release.

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  3. Games as a service is such a potentially scary double edged sword. I think there is a genuine possibility that it can lead to great community led content and experiences. Having said that it is such an easy thing to exploit that it’s pretty hard to get behind them… at least when AAA studies are involved

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  4. I despise this model. I can just about put up with it when it comes to MMOs — though having fallen off the FFXIV train I don’t see myself either returning or starting up another — because you’re getting significant new content at a regular pace for a flat rate, but anything full-price that involves microtransactions is pretty much always an instant hard pass from me; I’ve played a few f2p mobile games in my time and find it marginally less objectionable there (at least in the case of Granblue and Fate/GO, both of which make it entirely possible to enjoy the game without paying) but something like Battlefront? No.

    My main objection to it is the idea of “live service” is based on the philosophy of what a friend of mine once referred to as “the lifestyle game” — a single game that becomes an all-encompassing hobby in its own right. If someone gets big into, say, Fortnite or PUBG or Overwatch or whatever, that tends to be *all* that they play — and if they’re into it, fine, but if you get into that situation you’re missing out on all manner of wonderful other experiences. I’m far more interested in having a variety of different games to play than one that offers me a few new hats every six months.

    My other objection to it is that the monetisation models for this type of game are typically set up in such a way that there’s no real “hard limit” on how much you can spend in them. If there’s a game with, say, DLC costumes or expansions or whatever, you can budget for them and get them if you want them, ignore them if not. If there’s a game with premium currency and/or lootboxes, however, you can potentially pay hundreds or thousands before actually getting what you want, and that just turns my stomach.

    And finally, the idea of “live service” makes archival and preservation of these games impossible. This is why I never, ever, EVER want to see single-player games go down this route — and I don’t think they will, as even the “episodic” model seems to be dying out somewhat, thankfully. When I buy a game, I want to keep it on my shelf, and I want it to be playable ten, twenty, thirty years from now. At this point, my disc copy of Final Fantasy XV is worthless, for example — though I can at least take heart from the fact that there will inevitably be a “complete complete” edition once the latest round of DLC is over and done with.

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    1. Your point that leaps out to me most is that if “lifestyle games”. If someone wants to play one game and one game only the whole time then that’s up to them. The risk comes in when publishers decide to have that as their business model for all their games, resulting in far fewer coming to market as the “lifestyle games” receive the focus and funding.

      God bless the indie market, and those publishers like Devolver who are unlikely to pursue that. The mainstream gaming cash bubble is going to burst before long I feel…

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      1. Yeah, this is the thing. The idea of “lifestyle games” is that someone plays one thing forever (or at least for a good few years) and continues investing money into it over the course of those few years. This means a company doesn’t have to worry about developing a completely new game (or indeed marketing it) and can rake in a lot more money than they might otherwise do.

        I have no problem with people who want to play one game for the rest of eternity (though I wish my friend Tim would play something other than Skyrim one day) but the idea holds no interest for me whatsoever! As you say, thank heavens for indies — and for smaller developers putting out single-player only retail titles with an “end” to them!

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  5. Still think Loot Boxes aren’t as bad as Amiibos.

    Ultimately the industry jumps on bandswagons and we as consumers jump on it too eagerly. Just look at “Battle Royale” mode. The next Call of Duty is going campaign free in favour of Battle Royale.

    Basically, this time next year we’ll be wondering why there was so much hype around Fornite.

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      1. I’m not sure I see that personally. I don’t think there’s any way for them to realistically implement it.

        Perhaps some sort of “always connected” thing, like phone apps but with more ways to engage with the games you’re playing.

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