What are Live Service Games?

Live service games are a contemporary sensation in the gaming industry, with several popular titles across all platforms elevating the business model to something that numerous game development studios and publishers have widely adopted. Though far from guaranteed success, live service games can thrive when received well and provide large amounts of content for players.

But what exactly are live service games? Though popular, the term might be unfamiliar to some gamers. Live service games have several qualities that help them stand out in the crowded gaming market and attract sizeable and loyal player bases.

Defining Live Service Games

Live service games are games of any genre designed to be regularly updated with new content, events, and engagement efforts to maximize player retention long after the title’s original release. Traditionally, their support will end once games are released and optionally receive a few post-launch updates and downloadable content. Live service games break this mold by making active efforts to engage players over a longer period continually.

These live game services most commonly include new content releases featuring new playable characters, missions, weapons, enemies, and locations in the vein of traditional DLC or game expansions. Another hallmark of live service games is seasonal and periodic events. In-game seasons provide players with an opportunity to earn exclusive rewards, including cosmetic skins and weapons, as do holiday events, where in-game rewards are often based on the relevant holiday theme.

Though not strictly exclusive to live service games, many focus on online multiplayer to foster a sense of community, cooperation, and competition. This is further reinforced by clan systems in multiplayer-focused live service games, where players can group with other like-minded individuals to reach the same gameplay goals.

Gameplay and Genres of Live Service Games

Live service games aren’t exclusive to any genre, but primarily crop up in shooters, as is the case with the successful Destiny 2, and battle royale games. Despite the genre disparity among live service games, they all tend to have a few similar gameplay features, namely progression systems.

Progression systems refer to the systems in place that allow players to unlock new characters, abilities, weapons, and powers over time as they grow in power. These are effectively similar to leveling up systems in RPG games, but they appear across different genres to help foster long-term player engagement. Though not always the case, progression systems can sometimes be tied to the monetization strategies of a title’s live game services.

Monetization in Live Service Games

Live service games adopt a wide variety of monetization strategies with several commonalities. Some studios and publishers elect to charge upfront for their games, whereas some others make their live service games free to play but with added optional purchases possible.

Live game services are regularly monetized with microtransactions, additional game purchases for cosmetic items, in-game currencies, and sometimes even weapons or other items that can have a tangible impact on gameplay. Another commonly seen strategy is season passes and battle passes. Season passes are a one-time purchase that entitles a player to all the content planned for release as part of that season. Battle passes are usually tiered content tracks that entitle players to certain items and in-game benefits once the player has fulfilled requirements.

Advantages and Challenges of Live Service Games

A well-constructed live service game can provide content to players and extend its natural lifespan for years without remastering or remaking it. Regular updates ensure that the game continues to feel fresh, retain players, and encourage new players to try it out. For development studios and publishers, the monetization strategies available for live service games could also prove to be more lucrative than traditional models over time.

Despite the advantages of live service games, they’re not without their share of challenges. There’s a risk of releasing content too frequently, leading players to feel burned out trying to keep up with new releases. It’s critical for developers to carefully consider their release timelines to keep players engaged without overburdening them with fresh content. The monetization strategies synonymous with live service games also need to be planned carefully to avoid them being considered excessive and egregious. Players are more often than not happy to pay for additional content, especially if the base live service game is free, but too many transactions could mean alienating players.

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