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Live service games: “But it’s good now!”

An unpolished title, lack of end-game content, frequent patching and negative press: a recent trend in video games from the biggest publishers in the industry. “But it’s good now!” is the cry from gamers who have dedicated themselves to an arguably unfinished game for months, while developers have rushed to fix the issues and deliver promised content. This is the curse of games as a service (GaaS), which is designed to continuously monetise games long after the initial purchase.

We have reached what I see as the third version of the live service model, where the first originated with subscription-based MMOs like World of Warcraft. The introduction of smartphone apps moved us into version two with free-to-play games supported by microtransactions such as Candy Crush, and the MOBA craze on PC gave us League of Legends and Dota 2. Version three has been adopted recently by triple-A publishers recently and drops the free-to-play aspect, requiring a traditional payment upfront.

Destiny 2, Sea of Thieves and Fallout 76 are all examples of titles which have launched in a premature state with lofty promises and expensive advertising campaigns. There are of course exceptions such Tom Clancy’s The Division 2, which have avoided controversy – except for perhaps the publisher’s usual abundance of special edition releases. The Elder Scrolls Online also experienced a moderate reception when it released in 2014 with concerns over a lack of features, but this was soon resolved by dropping the subscription requirement.

Some games have reached the it’s-good-now point but it’s taken months of development, frustration, bad press and feedback from dedicated players to get there. This style of development could be confused for early access, usually reserved for smaller developers using crowdfunding to monetise the process, gather feedback and generate prolonged interest in their project. I can fully appreciate the sour feeling from gamers with high expectations that pay the full upfront price to a big publisher only to discover something half-finished.

Battlefront 2 took the hardest hit when introducing microtransactions in the form of loot boxes containing perks that provided advantages over players. The element of luck generated a heated discussion about such purchases being a form of gambling, and EA had no choice other than to revise their entire system. Microtransactions and loot boxes are a massive topic for another time, so let’s get back to some more live service examples.

Battlefield V took the approach due to feedback from players about the cost of the Premium Pass, essentially a season pass which introduced new maps and game modes that had the side-effect of splitting the player base into haves and have-nots. With Battlefield 1, it was common for these elements to have a distinct lack of players after a short period as not everyone was willing to pay for the title twice. With the live service approach, Battlefield V ditched the pass and promised new content monthly for free.

Unfortunately, the release was hit with controversy after a poorly-received teaser trailer and the embarrassing backlash from a minority of gamers about a female soldier pictured prominently on the box art. It has yet to recover from this bad start and patches often create more bugs than they fix. The recent release of its Firestorm battle royale mode has provided some refreshing gameplay, but is yet to motivate fans to return to the WW2 shooter.

The game most important to me, Fallout 76, has had the most difficult launch with a wealth of controversy. I thoroughly enjoyed Bethesda’s interpretation of the post-apocalyptic RPG classic thanks to the 1950s-style alternative future and the stories found only through exploration on computer terminals, along with unique locations around the game world. Even though the game was due to become a Rust-style online survival title, I was still thrilled to return to the Fallout universe.

Even with the all controversy, lack of non-player characters, player griefing, cheating and typical slew of infamous bugs, I’ve played the game consistently since launch. It has certainly been a tough experience to enjoy it while reading so much negativity in the press, but after six months I’m ready to say ‘It’s good now’ thanks to frequent patches and content releases. Unfortunately the gaming world has moved on however and the opportunity for Fallout 76 to win back gamers has long expired.

So is live service a good thing? There are definitely benefits from having a steady flow of new content, features, bug fixes and quality-of-life improvements thanks to publishers dedicating resource that traditionally moved onto a new project as soon as possible. But it’s the reliance on microtransactions for revenue and rushed titles that I believe doesn’t sit well with gamers. The demand for refunds and feeling of mistrust fuels the argument against live service.

My hope is that these failures are crucial lessons learnt by publishers who will ensure future releases deliver on their promises and win back our trust. Most gamers only have time to invest in one live service title at a time and the market has become saturated with looter-shooter Destiny-clones over the last year. Frequently rushing out unfinished games and expecting players to stick with them while they are fixed and polished isn’t really preferable to the incremental Call of Duty or FIFA annual releases.

I applaud Sony for sticking with the single-player format as it has provided us with some of the best gaming experiences this console generation from exclusives such as Detroit Become Human, Horizon Zero Dawn and God of War, and will likely continue this trend with The Last of Us 2. While they can be short lived experiences, I definitely prefer them to the live service model and hope that single-player lives on into the next console generation.

I’m interested to know your opinion: is this even something to even be concerned about? Should we simply continue to look for new gaming experiences and our next all-time favourite regardless of how it’s delivered? Am I just secretly reaching out to fellow Fallout 76 fans to confirm my feelings about the game? If it’s the latter then make yourself known in the comment section below!

Phil View All

Often found in front of YouTube watching videos of cats if not playing video games. Loves sprawling open-world games with a soft spot for the Fallout series.

27 thoughts on “Live service games: “But it’s good now!” Leave a comment

  1. Enjoyable read. Did feel specifically around BF5 everything around the launch of that game was comical especially when the developers circled the wagons and doubled down critiquing their fan base, it’s one way to generate sales!

    It does seem publishers and studios either schedule their titles with seeming abandon or pursuing a mutually assured destruction strategy releasing to close to another GaaS release. Obviously competition is healthy but time is finite and unless you are open and willing to support multiple open world loot a thons one or more of these titles will fail and perhaps the studio. Division 2 and Anthem?

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s worrying that media and YouTuber coverage is often on centred on controversy instead of the actual game itself, but I guess that’s their job? If you mention Battlefield V or Fallout 76 to someone you may see they have a distaste for both games even if they’ve never actually played them. Both games are enjoyable, at least to me, so how can we separate an enjoyable gaming experience from the abundance of human error from developers and publishers making the headlines?

      Completely agree with you on the release schedule, I didn’t include a section about the massive layoffs from Activision and EA as this shocking behaviour deserves its own article and isn’t exclusive to live service games. Expecting gamers to dedicate themselves to multiple time sink/GaaS games can only lead to poor sales per individual game and unhappy shareholders. How often do we see the headline ” did not meet sales expectations” these days?

      I completely underestimated Division 2 and will pick that up soon as it appears to be doing well in reviews and opinions and even though Anthem received the bad press it did sell well anyway!

      Thank you for the comment 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I wanted to love Fallout 76 but it’s been tough. Aside from the bugs, multiplayer and survival aspects are not what I wanted, but I purchased the game anyway because it’s Fallout.

    I will probably pick it up again soon, right where I left it, but hopefully without as many bugs and a bit more content!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Please do give it a try but if you’re in no rush maybe wait until winter this year as the ‘Wastelanders’ section on their roadmap was teased by Todd Howard as being a massive game changer. The F76 community speculates this could be the inclusion of NPCs which is probably the biggest gripe most people have about the game, which isn’t that bad once you start playing.

      https://fallout.bethesda.net/en/article/7Lw6jVvhjzSNzuUMmKZgwn/fallout-76-100-days-roadmap-for-2019

      If you do play and on PS4 please do send me an invite! PSN: InfraRedPS

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      • NPCs would probably help. I think they had this grand idea that players would fill that role, but back in the real world, no one can be arsed with that.

        I’m on PC for this one, but I have considered re-buying on Xbox One X. It keeps showing up in local supermarkets for £20! Would it work at all if I didn’t have Gold though I wonder?

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        • Yes completely agree on NPCs! There’s only a few situations where the entire server of players will come together and that’s usually a massive boss battle which leads to decent loot. Bethesda claimed F76 to be an experiment and the recent limited-time Fasnacht event was the first time players came together in a fun and interesting way that wasn’t a bullet sponge boss battle. Hopefully they create permanent events such as this as it was a lot of fun and I took so many screenshots of everyone hanging out around the bonfire.

          Lots of images here: https://twitter.com/fallout/status/1108797957757898752?lang=en

          Unfortunately it does require Xbox Gold to play F76 on Xbox 😦

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  3. As someone concerned with video game collecting, archiving and preservation, I loathe the live service model… but fortunately, the games I’m interested in tend not to make use of it. However, even the single-player games aren’t completely immune from this in the triple-A sphere: look at Devil May Cry 5, for example, which added a whole new game mode post-launch; Days Gone, which is adding a new difficulty mode after launch; and probably the most extreme example, Final Fantasy XV, which is practically unrecognisable from its launch incarnation!

    Granted, you don’t have to pay for these updates — but these factors do mean that the game on the disc is not the game it will eventually be, and make it extremely difficult to preserve.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Very good point – I’m a fan of the Ace Combat series and can go back to play Ace Combat 2 (PS1) any time I want but the recent free-to-play Ace Combat Infinity (PS3) turned their servers off last March after only four years so there’s no way to play it. It introduced a tech tree of jets and parts to buy with in-game currency similar to World of Tanks and a very re-playable co-op mode which is now gone forever.

      World of Warcraft classic is another example of preservation which is tightly controlled by the publisher.

      It appears the live service games are built on the fear of missing out by regularly introducing new content that is often forgotten about, inaccessible, or unplayable a year or two later. Combine this with digital sales which can be revoked at any time and we’re now living with very temporary gaming experiences and no actual ownership as a consumer.

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  4. I’m going to grab onto one thing in particular, and that’s your reference to The Division 2 mostly getting away with this stuff. I wonder if that’s simply because everyone’s so used to it that it’s become par for the course. No one complains about it because it’s now expected. That’s far more terrifying.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes that’s true and I agree it’s not good, maybe this also extends to Ubisoft games as a whole? They definitely stick to tried and trusted game mechanics even the point of taking the pee out of themselves with a reference to climbing radio towers in Far Cry 5. Something about their games keeps us playing without question; I would really like to get into AC: Odyssey even though I know it’s more of the same!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. One thing that I do really enjoy about GaaS is that it creates this loop in which me and those I game with can jump back into something we played at launch, and then dropped for something else, only to come back to on the release of a new update (sea of thieves is a good example.)

    Where it’s not been so good is when there is a horrendous pay wall there, which builds up if you don’t come back for every single one (destiny 2) to the point where you’re looking at £50+ just to jump back into a game and be relevant.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s one big benefit and SoT is the perfect example as the core gameplay is so enjoyable solo and even more fun with friends!

      As for the paywall I like ESO’s alternative which is the monthly subscription to access all content so if I wanted to get back into it I can pay £10 for a whole month of access to the extra content. Battlefield V is different as the content is free but that content is also very weak in comparison to other games, so I guess the old saying of ‘you get what you pay for’ might still hold true!

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  6. It’s almost to the point some people (or maybe we are already there) feel it is unfair to even review a game based off its release because of how unfinished they are. Many games are released almost as early access now, and people are expected to spend $60 in order to help them finish the game. It is really getting out of hand I think.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s definitely getting out of hand and it could be a while before the pressure is back on publishers to set realistic release dates, it has taken years for loot boxes to get the appropriate attention for example.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I wouldn’t mind micotransactions so much if I could pick from a list of what I wanted. Elite Dangerous for example has a ton of microtransactions, its also one of the few games i purchase them from. They are reasonably priced mostly and I know exactly what I am buying plus it is all cosmetic. There is no random maybe I get something good or maybe not, and nobody is rewarded in game for it. For me that is the only acceptable way to do it.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yes that’s definitely the way it should be done! Not even the convenience items in free-to-plays such as XP boosts or time savers are acceptable because they still split the player base.

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  7. That was a good read 🙂 I’m a big fan of the Fallout series but I will admit Fallout 76 was a bad choice from the get go releasing the BETA a week before release what were they thinking? And the bugs, glitches and exploits made me think this game was not gonna improve but with playing the game with My girlfriend over time we’ve seen how the game has improved and the next patch is going to be great with player vending.

    It’s just a shame Bethesda didn’t take more time before release or pushed the release back it may have sold more and kept players.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, that’s much appreciated! I agree, if they had released the game in it’s current state it would have done much better.

      Really looking forward to player vending and it should work well considering we now know that camps will show on the map if there’s a vendor. Let’s see what the griefers come up with on this one though…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah the griefers should just disappear into the background a little and I’m looking forward to selling all the legendary gear I’ve picked up that i’m not using :p

        Liked by 1 person

        • The update is live today and the player vending is awesome! Within seconds of powering on my vending machine I had 3 players fast travel over and bought quite a few things. It appears to work well with no bug so far! The legendary gear converter is such a relief to get all the carry weight back and a pocket full of Scripts. Not to mention the backpacks and extra content they added today, really great update to then game.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Yeah the vending is amazing sold a gun for 500 caps and a few plans finally get rid of them!! Not got a backpack yet but I will grind through the game tomorrow and get one :p

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  8. My biggest gripe with this business model is, that they want you to invest all your time into this one game…and then release two others the same year that they want you to invest equal amount of time in. Come on, EA, how am I supposed to play Apex, Anthem, and The Division 2 all at once without quitting my day job that pays for these live services in the first place?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Precisely, and you have to buy them all for fear of missing out! The market has become over-saturated with these games so it’s no wonder they are released in a poor state and too early. Hopefully The Outer Worlds can break the trend somewhat?

      Liked by 1 person

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