- The majority of the live service games have been nothing but boring and repetitive cash grabs.
- As much as people hate them, GaaS frequency hasn’t decreased one bit, and they still continue.
- Developers need to understand that a hated concept won’t be making money for long.
Since their initiation, video games have accumulated a rich history. And a rich history is something that’s filled with evolution and changes. Some of these could be good, while others bad, and gaming is no exception. Games have come a long way from what they were back in the day, both visually and mechanically. However, some of this evolution invited regression rather than progression, like the generalization of Games as a Service.
2023 was one of the best years recently for gaming. It had some solid titles, but that doesn’t mean it was problem-free. Some of the practices continued that need to be rooted out. That’s why I believe that with the start of the new year, the gaming industry should receive a makeover of sorts. And you know what would be the perfect first step? The decline in the implementation of the live-service formula being forecasted needs to become a reality.
Live services games domination will “end” in 2024, analyst predicts
There’s an oversaturation of live services games and publishers will pivot back to premium game development
— Hunter 🎮 (@NextGenPlayer) January 3, 2024
Where Did It All Go Wrong?
My purpose for this discussion would be to present an analysis of the hate surrounding the concept, and why I agree to it. However, before I begin, let me make this clear. The live-service concept is not inherently bad if it is used justifiably, but it becomes extremely soulless if used for predatory purposes, and that is the root of the evil. There are some very solid live-service games like Fortnite, Destiny 2, etc. But this doesn’t mean everyone else should shoot for it.
So, if the concept is not wrong, where did it all go wrong? Well, the roots of this GaaS concept can be traced back to World of Warcraft. Blizzard’s enormous MMORPG was one of the first uses of the live-service formula, and it was immensely successful. That success was bound to attract attention, and it did. Companies looked at WoW and the money it was making and thought “Why shouldn’t we do the same?” Sadly, they missed the point.
Developers thought it was all about creating a game, providing some free segments but then gating the progress, filling it with microtransactions, and then waiting for the cash to flow in. And that is exactly what’s wrong with all the games that tried to mimic the concept. Even Final Fantasy 14, launched back in 2010, was a very barebones usage of the live-service formula, and failure naturally followed. But, I genuinely respect that game for fixing all of its shortcomings.
Live Service Developers Wanted To Earn But Not Spend
Do you know what’s the most critical flaw of all these poor live-service implementations? It’s the mentality that the formula is somehow easy money, and this is what led to all the hate surrounding it in the first place. As I was saying, it started with imitating World of Warcraft, and at that time MMORPGs were the GaaS. And there’s a huge list of MMORPGs that I’m sure you haven’t even heard about, that tried to replicate it but failed.
Did you know there was an MMORPG of The Matrix? Yeah, in truth I didn’t either. That’s not all, games like Dark and Light, Myst Online, Tabula Rasa, and even the successor to the massive Phantasy Star Online: Phantasy Star Universe; all were very short-lived games, and for good reason. They had little to no gameplay creativity and became boring very soon since there was no consistent content variety.
Similarly, One of the earliest examples of when live service and microtransactions started becoming predatory can be found in Infestation: Survivor Stories and Dungeon Keeper. The former was an open-world multiplayer survival game, while the latter was an MMO strategy. Both of these featured a very blatant cash-grab attempt in their microtransactions, despite being advertised as “free” games. Although they crashed hard, it was foreboding.
Slowly, Live Service Games Became Annoyingly Frequent
Once the MMORPG craze was done and dusted, the GaaS concept re-emerged as battle royales, looter shooters, battle passes, and the recent mainstream of Gacha. What’s common is that there were 1-2 games of these kinds that truly understood how to creatively implement this formula like Fortnite, PUBG, Overwatch, Destiny 2, Genshin Impact, etc. Seeing this, every other game started jumping on the live-service train with only one thought: It’s easy money.
Although these games were live service, too, they’re something I’d like to call an authentic representation of the concept. But I can’t say that for all the others. Live-service games didn’t consider the fact that replaying the same thing is bound to become boring. Their attempts were done with an absolute lack of consistent updates, unfinished games in the guise of completing them later, and putting worthless cosmetics behind paywalls as a substitute for “content.”
With the plan set, the outpour of live service games started, like there was no tomorrow. Even bigger companies went all in on it, regardless of the actual quality of the game. EA came up with Battlefront, Bethesda jumped in with Fallout 76, BioWare presented Anthem, Respawn launched Apex Legends, and Square Enix decided to join in with Babylon’s Fall and Marvel’s Avengers. Not only was it a bad idea, but it also became extremely frequent.
People Are Fed Up With GaaS For A Good Reason, And It Shows
I don’t think I need to tell you what happens when something is saturated. I mean, you’re bound to dislike something if you’re forced to consume it continuously even if it’s good, but overuse of a bad concept? Now that’s going to get really annoying. And that is precisely what happened with the live-service formula. When predatory implementations of the concept started flooding, people realized it slowly and thus the hate began.
After it became essentially a universal opinion that live services are bad, they were bound to fail. EA has become notorious for microtransactions at this point, and it was in large part due to its greedy practices in Star Wars: Battlefront 2 in particular. Although the game has improved considerably now, the damage was done. Similarly, Fallout 76 became the worst game of the series, the Fallout soul is entirely absent in that game.
Anthem faired no better. I still believe it was a very interesting concept, why did it have to be a live service? And a pretty bad one on top of that, with hollow gameplay, repetitive content, and microtransactions galore. Oh, and do I even need to go towards Square Enix? Babylon’s Fall was one of its biggest flops, and this was a game by the highly creative Platinum Games, it couldn’t do well with the formula either. And last but not least, Marvel’s Avengers was doomed the moment it launched.
Yet The Game Companies Still Think GaaS Is The Future
This is not an exhaustive list, and If I start listing all the live-service flops, I think I’ll run out of pages. But still, let me reinforce my point some more. EA’s Knockout City was another interesting concept victim of content inadequacy, and the Culling dug its own grave when the developer decided to work on a sequel for more profits. Similarly, Lawbreakers, Sim City, Paragon, Chocobo GP, and Rumbleverse are games that suffered the same fate.
However, what did the industry learn from all of these failures? Nothing. Despite the concept receiving extreme amounts of hate from almost everyone, and live-service projects failing one after another, the game companies continue to push these games nonstop. I mean, Marvel’s Avengers example was right around the corner, so why on earth did anyone think making Suicide Squad another live service would be a good idea? It hasn’t been that long, but people hate it already.
Oh, and that’s not all. WB is hell-bent on turning all of its major franchises into live services. And if Suicide Squad is any indication, it’s about giving everyone a gun and being done with it. I don’t think the day is far when you see Superman with a gun. Plus, WB’s not the only one. Square Enix is also a supporter of the live-service and NFT concepts, and Sony has a ton of GaaS projects in the backlog, waiting for their turn.
Live Services Are Sucking All Creativity Out Of Gaming, And They Need To Be Stopped
I think with all that, I’ve made myself clear how the GaaS concept is a very hollow and predatory one that has killed all creativity in gaming. Aside from a solid and genuine implementation in some games, it is nothing but a disrespect to the consumers’ time and effort. I remember when games were all about packing as much quality content in a package, no “fix later,” no microtransactions, no battle passes, just fun and ingenious concepts.
That is exactly what I want gaming to become from 2024 and beyond. If you take a look at 2023, all the games that made a noise were complete, solid adventures. Consider Baldur’s Gate 3. I’ll say this as many times as necessary, I have nothing but respect for its decision to abolish any microtransaction possibility. Alan Wake 2 is single-player goodness in a campaign filled to the brim with genius ideas. A similar case can be made for others.
Games like Spider-Man 2 are what Sony should focus on, not live services. Capcom proved once again its mastery of remakes in Resident Evil 4. And Tears of the Kingdom is hundreds of hours of JRPG goodness, exploring and experimenting across Hyrule. These are the true soul of gaming, live service is just a cash grab. Oh, and tell me one thing, if people hate it so much, how will they make money in the first place? This needs to be said out loud.
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