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.
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.
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.
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.
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?