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Can We Stop With the Live Service Trend?

I can’t be the only person getting tired of hearing about all these live service games. Call me selfish, but I really wish it’d just stop.


Trends come and go. In the past every game seemed to have a stealth section. Or a tower defence mini-game. These were annoying, but had very little impact on the industry itself. Nobody was imploding because their content pipeline wasn’t filled to the rafters.

And yet live service has fundamentally changed the way many people play games. It’s not enough for a title to hit shelves, it’s then deemed a massive disappointment if it doesn’t have monthly content to dig into.

This is nothing new with purely multiplayer games, and in some ways this has had a positive impact. I’m not unhappy to see map packs go the way of the dodo. I remember all too well being segregated from the Call of Duty community just because I hadn’t bought the latest set of levels yet.

And if that’s where it stopped, I wouldn’t have a massive problem. Yes, I hate what Overwatch has become. But it’s easy to just not play it. That’s something I never thought would happen during the heyday of the original game.

But everybody is chasing the live service dream. Sony have 12 – yes 12 – live service games in development. And six have been delayed beyond 2026. That means the bulk of their output for the next 2+ years is going to be trying to be the next big thing.

Call me old fashioned, but I think the last big thing is the place to be. Not the “too big to fail” blockbusters, because it’s not sustainable. But that PS3/PS4 level of engagement where there was occasionally room for a Gravity Rush or something.

Changing the World With Live Service

The problem with traditional single player games is that they end. Kat destroys all the gravity monsters and floats off into the sunset and… what? There’s some story DLC, but by the time it’s ready almost everybody has moved on.

That should be okay, especially in the subscription age. Gravity Rush has legs, because there should be new generations of people discovering it through the sub they’re already paying for. If that’s not happening, it’s a discovery issue, and something Sony should try to address.

But the industry has collectively decided that’s not okay. If you’re not playing a game at all times, if you’re not thinking about that game at all times, then the game is a failure. And more often than not it seems these games end up failing.

EA dropped support for its Monster Hunter-like Wild Hearts long before anybody expected them to. SEGA cancelled its most expensive game – Hyenas – despite the fact it was finished.

And in a year that has seen far too many layoffs in far too many companies, why oh why is it that more companies are switching to this dreadful model?

There seems to be an accounting problem in this industry. Everybody wants to spend more than is worth it for projects that won’t make the money back. The solution, all too often, is to spend so much money that it’s impossible to ignore.

The answer? Make good, smaller games again. You might piss off the blockbuster hunters but if they’re not keeping the game afloat today, they never will. And the more-money-than-God success stories don’t change that one jot.


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blank Mat Growcott has been a long-time member of the gaming press. He's written two books and a web series, and doesn't have nearly enough time to play the games he writes about.

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Twitter: @matgrowcott