Oh my god, I am so freaking tired of live service games. I know, I know, they’re a necessary evil. It’s 2023, baby, videogames ain’t what they used to be. They cost way more to make and developers have to continue toiling away on patches and expansions post-release. Money has to be made and, for the most part, one-and-done sales just ain’t cutting it anymore.
The natural development of the industry’s need for a constant revenue stream is, regrettably, the live service game. Ever-present, ever-evolving experiences that eat away at all my time and occasionally my money. Dailies, weeklies, monthlies, battle passes (a thing I already have thoughts on), limited-time cash shop items, loot boxes. I could go on.
Updates often fly in at such an alarming rate it’s nigh impossible to keep up with everything I enjoy unless I somehow manage to turn games into a job even more than I’ve already done. Overwatch 2, Fortnite, Apex Legends, Diablo 4, and Honkai: Star Rail are just some of the ones I dabbled in this year and inevitably fell off because the commitment was simply too much. It’s like several tiny toddlers yanking on my arms, demanding my attention. It’s a constant battle to get me to continue playing, but what I really want right now is a break from it all.
Live service games prey on one of my biggest weaknesses: my intense FOMO. Missing out on bonuses, seasonal events or chipping away at some lengthy progression drives me to keep playing, even when it’s 2am and I’m desperately trying to finish my dailies so I can go to bed. Who knows when that sick crossover event is going to come back? Will it ever come back? Welp, better make sure I’m playing every day just in case it never sees the light of day again. I am the sucker who falls for it every time, despite my attempts to get away.
The problem in trying to take a break from something like live service games is that they are literally everywhere. The industry seems to have hit a peak saturation point with them over the last couple of years, leading to me being crushed under a metric ton of time-consuming doodads. Almost every multiplayer game I play is vying for my attention long beyond when it reasonably deserves it. I can’t just play a game, enjoy it for what it is and pop it back on my virtual shelf to return to in five years when I get a nostalgia hit. After all, will it even still be there for me to enjoy?
Dead or alive
Because unfortunately, it’s not just me who suffers at the hands of live service shenanigans. Developers have seen their projects killed in a matter of months when player count and profit misses the mark. As Morgan Park wrote earlier this year, live service keeps killing off modestly successful multiplayer games. Super cool ideas are getting wrapped up in all the nonsense that comes with games as a service, meaning they never get their full opportunity to shine.
(Image credit: Activision Blizzard)
Just this year we’ve seen the death of real neat games like Knockout City and Rumbleverse, the latter of which barely made it to the six month mark before biting the dust. It was even up for two DICE awards right before its closure. Babylon’s Fall was closed down less than a year after releasing, and despite Spellbreak’s attempts to innovate on the battle royale formula, it too shut its doors.
Hell, Creative Assembly’s Hyenas wasn’t even given a chance to make it out of the gate. Despite beta tests, the game was scrapped right at the finish line. Quantum League, Paladins, Gundam Warfare, Super People 2. All games that were shuttered this year alone. Clever, creative or risky ideas are being thrown to the dogs, doomed before they even get a chance to fight back. As much as I complain about all of the time I dedicate to grinding in a live service game, none of that compares to the hours developers spend intensively toiling away for a product that sometimes doesn’t even get to release.
Clever, creative or risky ideas are being thrown to the dogs, doomed before they even get a chance to fight back.
The unfortunate reality is that smaller, curated experiences just don’t pay the bills like they used to. But increasingly, it seems like neither does throwing a live service game at the wall and hoping it sticks. In a year that’s been plagued by server shutdowns and developer layoffs, it doesn’t seem like there’s a foolproof formula to fall back on anymore.
Something we have seen in 2023, though, is that there’s still a thirst for these contained experiences. Dave the Diver was a total sleeper hit, nabbing a 91% in our review and easily being one of the team’s favourite games this year. Dredge was a personal favourite of mine, earning an 89% in my review. Baldur’s Gate 3 in all its battle pass-less, microtransaction-less glory has been the hottest game of the entire year, securing our highest review score in almost two decades and sweeping numerous award shows.
I would love to see 2024 being the year of fewer live service games. More cool ideas wrapped up in 12-to-15 hour chunks, more sprawling RPGs that keep me busy for weeks or months on my own time, not a publisher’s. Games are supposed to be for fun, for relaxation, a way to escape the monotony and drudgery of everything else we have to do as adults. Live service games feel exhausting, like the antithesis of everything the hobby is supposed to be, and I certainly won’t be sad to see them trend downwards over the next 12 months.