Why ‘Live-Service’ can be the kiss of death

Games as a service

The industry’s once-favorite buzzword now strikes doubt

Back in the day, when I first started hearing about 'Live-service' games, it filled me with excitement to know that developers were going to closely monitor and enhancing a games experience with regular content updates, bug fixes, new maps, weapons, and the like. It left me wide-eyed at the thought of receiving years of new things to play with years after a game's release.

But then grim-reality came crashing in and revealed an ugly-truth about 'service' based games: often they tend to over-promise, and under-deliver. Tons of smaller indie titles go into 'early access': a system where players can buy a game earlier with the caveat that they are willingly purchasing an unfinished product.

Ideally, this would give developers a little extra cash-flow and moment-to-moment feedback to better fine-tune their product before the official release. This way, they can continue to add and develop features and a steady-pace without the ever-looming threat of encroaching deadlines. However, this type of release has been cast into the same shadow as 'live-service' games due to the similar pitfalls developers find themselves in.

Perhaps the most egregious example of a live-service failure was EA's Battlefield V: a full-priced AAA title whose 'Tides of War' system left many wanting, myself included. Despite dropping $60, or more, if you bought one of the Deluxe Editions, many felt that there was a huge lack of content when it came to the 'service' part.

People quickly realized that instead of large and varied content releases, DICE would drip-feed items here and there – going as far as to release parts of camouflage schemes for weapons instead of the whole set. This problem would only be exacerbated as DICE focused on reworking core game-values like Time to Kill instead of new content. Add the fact that these changes were eventually reverted, and many felt that precious time and resources were utterly wasted.

Bioware's Anthem is another title that had also bit off way more than it could chew. Much in the same way DICE handled Battlefield V, Anthem was marred by an apparent lack of content and unrewarding loot system. Also, the roadmaps Bioware had put together to relay future plans would be scrapped to remain transparent.

Cloud Imperium Games' Star Citizen also falls into this category, having been in development since 2010 and completely missing its initial 2014 deadline along with its single-player component Squadron 42. It didn't help that they also offered a pack of every ship in the game for only a measly $28,000.

No one likes delays, but road bumps are to be expected. No development is perfect, and fans can usually sympathize – usually. However, in the case of Cloud Imperium Games' founder Chris Roberts, sympathy quickly ran dry after reports of mismanagement began circulating.

It's not impossible to make this model work, games like Warframe and Hell Let Loose have managed to stay in the publics good-graces despite using similar tactics. The former is free-to-play and uses a premium-currency to skip long grinds while the latter has managed to keep up with most of its promises.

Now there are even more ways to monetize progression such as the ever-popular 'Battlepass' – whereby players pay a small entrance fee for access to potentially earn all of a season's rewards. They still have to progress all the way through the tiers to unlock everything - Modern Warfare managed to successfully implement theirs even though most of its content is locked behind a $60 paywall.

Not only does this provide players with things to strive for, but it also instills a fear of missing out due to many of the rewards being un-earnable after the season ends. Although a few items may make a return, sometimes for a fee.

It doesn't seem like 'live-service' games aren't going anywhere, despite the public outcry. 'Live-service' may not immediately spell doom for a title, but the warnings should be loud and clear: "Buyer beware."

Jose is a left-handed techno-mancer with an affinity for IPAs, big dogs, and black-and-white movies. Rebels are scum, Empire for life.
Gamer Since: 2004
Favorite Genre: RTS
Currently Playing: Wargame: Red Dragon, Battlefield V
Top 3 Favorite Games:Wargame: Red Dragon, Metro: Last Light, Battlefield 4