I’ve written on numerous occasions about the “Games as a Service” model that has been pervasive in the video gaming space over the last several years. World of Warcraft pioneered the concept in the mid-’00s with great success – Blizzard Entertainment found that with the low $15 subscription cost, they could easily hook players and keep them coming back month after month, soon earning them far more fetching the average $40-$60 per copy that most games earn.
Dozens of clones appeared and promptly died in the years that followed – Star Wars Galaxies, Age of Conan, FireFall, Warhammer Online and so on. Similarly, the multitude of recent games that have tried to capitalize on the same player base that enjoys Fortnite, Apex Legends and Destiny 2 are struggling to gain a foothold.
Many of the elements that are prevalent in these live service games are starting to wear off with people. Last month, when developer Rocksteady confirmed that the upcoming Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League would require an internet connection at all times, have a Battle Pass, and have a post-launch content schedule, players seemed less than enthused about more content.
Of course, with Fortnite continuing to generate roughly $5 billion in revenue every year, it’s easy to dismiss those tired of live-service gaming as just a vocal minority. But when such titles are designed to take up as much of their players’ time as possible – with timed events and exclusive offers, high skill caps and daily login bonuses – there can only be a finite number of them.
Funnily enough, in the months leading up to the original Destiny’s release, Bungie proudly stated that they would take care of “the weekend warrior.” They were aware of the trap of offering a game only for hardcore gamers.
While the game has been a success story for Bungie, they have failed to maintain the casual player base they initially aimed for. The constant updates, events, balancing changes, and ever-increasing level caps became a serious disadvantage for any player who had the audacity to play other games instead, say, for a month. One month was certainly all it took me to get out of the loop with Destiny 2, and I haven’t looked back.
There simply aren’t enough hours in the day for players to engage in multiple live service games. So while the games-as-a-service model will never entirely go away – it’s far too lucrative – I expect publishers will soon have to accept that there can only be a handful at the top at any given time, and need to scale their efforts accordingly.
Eve Online continues to exist, although it’s mostly aimed at hardcore enthusiasts. Updates are on the slow side, and their development team isn’t nearly as massive as World of Warcraft, Destiny 2, or Apex Legends. The difference is that CCP Games has developed a business model for Eve Online that can thrive with “only” 170,000 monthly active players, while larger publishers are constantly pushing their resources to the limit to become “the next big thing”. .
Everyone wants to make the next Fortnite, and the result is almost always the same – updates stop, servers shut down, and not only does the game never reach its full potential, it becomes completely unplayable due to the always-online requirement. Spellbreak and Rumbleverse are a few prominent examples from this year alone that closed in January and February respectively. Square Enix will end support for Marvel’s Avengers in September.
It’s frustrating to see these games go offline forever because none of them are really bad. I wrote positively about Spellbreak in 2020, Rumbleverse was well received but canceled just six months after launch, and while Marvel’s Avengers wasn’t exactly groundbreaking in concept or execution, it was a perfectly usable game.
I can’t be the only one fed up with seeing good games disappear forever simply because they’re tied to a greedy, foolhardy business model that promises “endless content” and predictably fails to deliver. The recent success of games like Elden Ring, Hi-Fi Rush, and Metroid Prime Remastered — all full games without Battle Passes, paid cosmetics, and so on — should signal to publishers that gamers are ready to put quality over quantity in their hobby again .
Riordan Zentler can be reached at [email protected].