The Beauty and Horror of Live Service Style Games

As a very rapidly growing trend for many games, the Live Service model has already seen a very busy 2019 and we’re only four and a half months into the year so far.

I mean, just on a basic level, look at all of this:

  • Destiny 2 continues to evolve and move forward following Bungie’s surprising split from Activision
  • Assassin’s Creed Odyssey keeps pumping out post-launch content
  • Borderlands 3 was officially revealed
  • We learned that Anthem’s development was a literal nightmare
  • The Division 2 proved that developers do listen and learn from the past.

While Live Service style games are not the end all be all way to create a game, 2019 has already shown us two examples of the right and wrong way to do it. It’s made me come to realize some key elements that need to be there in order for a game to be successful. Here are some key ingredients that I believe are critical for a chance at success for any live service game.

One of the biggest component’s is the foundation. If your product/game is fundamentally sound, even if it lacks in some other areas, you have a fighting chance. Look at both Destiny games, which we can all agree had big issues at launch that were eventually fixed over time. The core element that was rock solid was the moment to moment gameplay. Shooting and moving in the world felt great, which helped keep players around while Bungie continued to refine the experience, evolving into what we have now. Sure, it still has issues here and there, but for the most part, Destiny 2 is lightyears better than how it was.

destiny 2 drifter annual pass

This is a big reason as to why Anthem may be quickly running out of time with fans. Sure, flying feels excellent, but many of the other elements feel underbaked or just not implemented well. Shooting feels basic and the loot is, to me, uninspired. You have a handful of guns that all don’t really look all that different from one another. The problem here is that players have other options so there is less motivation to stick around. And then you have the Kotaku story which…I won’t lie, really killed my motivation.

If you have that compelling gameplay loop, fans are more willing to stick around to see the game improve and evolve. If your game has huge core problems out of the gate, fan patience is likely to be limited.

Live service games live and die based on fan feedback. It’s critical. That’s why I have massive respected for Massive Entertainment for how they took the first Division game and continued to evolve it 2 years later. What’s even more impressive is that they took those lessons and applied them to The Division 2. Not only is the base game incredibly strong and compelling, but the endgame is wildly impressive. You think you’re done and then the game completely changes and all of a sudden you have this new faction moving in and introducing “Invaded” missions.

the division 2 agents

While The Division 2 may be the inverse of Anthem at the moment, it just goes to show you how important experience can be when making these types of games. Now, I’m not trying to say Anthem is horrible or The Division 2 is the best game ever, they just highlight a lot of my beliefs that a strong core foundation is paramount to creating a successful live service game that people want to stick with for the long haul.

I hope Anthem can improve, though with everything we’ve seen and with how fans currently look at the product, the situation appears to be getting dire. Hopefully, with future live service games, developers and studios can look at these lessons set and find ways to avoid the same pitfalls and continue to elevate the genre going forward.

Well, those are my observations, but what are some things you’ve seen with live service games? What works? What doesn’t work? Let me know below.

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6 Responses to The Beauty and Horror of Live Service Style Games

  1. Hatm0nster says:

    Live service games are all well and good, but only remain so if they continue to grow and respond to fan feedback. Taking half-measure just results in bad games and PR nightmares. In general though, I think there can only be a handful of these sorts of games going at the same time. Most people don’t have time to keep up with more than one, and many don’t want to do even that much.

    • Yes, and that’s something I’m finding out about. I only have so much time and it’s extremely hard to split that up between them. ESPECIALLY when they all start doing these “limited time events.”

      • Hatm0nster says:

        I’m growing concerned with this “time-saver” trend we’re seeing in triple-A game design now. We saw it with loot boxes; we saw it in the recent assassin’s creed game, and we’re seeing it now in Mortal Kombat. I won’t be surprised if publishers start trying to capitalize even more on player’s desire to be efficient with their play time. “Don’t wanna grind,then buy this item for real money,” they’ll say. “We put it in there because we know you don’t have a lot of time to waste on grinding.” That begs the question though: “In a game that’s been designed from the ground up, why is there grinding in there to begin with?” Grind used to be the realm of JRPGs and people trying pull off cool feats in multiplayer. Why on earth is it finding its way into *everything* now?!

        • Yeah, it’s odd how many of these games are starting to adopt a similar mindset. Independent developers are still the ones driving innovation these days, willing to take chances that big corporations aren’t.

          What you wrote though reminds me of a time in the PS3/360 era where games would have “Time Saver DLC” packs. Basically unlock everything for real money. I think a bunch of EA games had things like this Battlefield, older Burnout games, etc.

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