Games as a service
"Live services are, in themselves, a compromise. The corporate thinking is if you devote a lot of time to a game over a longer period, you'll have an easier time convincing yourself that it's worth your microtransaction dollars, while the tradeoff is that relying on long-term spending allows everyone to benefit from those dollars whether or not they spend anything themselves."— Kacey
"Games as a service" is a term that refers to games that, according to big publishers, "offer long-term content and support to extend the longevity of games". In reality, this refers to big publishers' efforts to put more microtransactions and loot boxes into already full price games. As a result, this trend was critically panned and despised by gamers alike.
What this model entails
"Games as Services" involves including more content, DLC, expansions, and such to games that were already released so that players won't stop playing said games after they "finish" them because they will continue getting more new content over the years. On paper, this doesn't sound like a bad idea, as officially supported games might get more content, events, and bug fixes, getting more players to continue playing and new players to join in. However, in recent years, some publishers that adopt this model do so not to offer more content for the players, but to continue monetizing some games by making all the new content cost money, essentially charging money over and over with games that players already paid for.
This "model" also allows publishers to rush games and release them unfinished while still charging full price, then claim that the game will be fixed later under the excuse of "new content" when said new content is actually already existing content should've been in the game at launch in the first place but was intentionally removed so it can be sold as "expansion DLC". As a result, some of these games launch as bare-bones barely functional games that have close to zero content and what little content they have is boring and repetitive.
Big publishers will often use the "games need more additional monetization to support the additional content" excuse to keep implementing microtransactions and, even worse, loot boxes in full-price games. Essentially, "games as services" allows publishers to put "free-to-play" mechanics in retail games, some of them even becoming "pay to win" due to their over-reliance of microtransactions.
Some publishers pushing for more "games as services" also tend to push for less single-player games in favor of more multiplayer only games. This is because microtransactions and pay-to-win mechanics are significantly harder to shove into story-based single-player games. Electronic Arts in particular has become infamous for openly stating that "single-player games have no place in the market anymore and online multiplayer games are the future". These claims have led to massive amounts of backlash and other developers are now advertising single-player content as a feature in their games. Most notably, there was even a scene in Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed: Odyssey that officially made fun of EA with it's "pride and accomplishment" line.
The biggest flaw of the "games as services" model is that the model is supposed to make games last for many years, yet the publishers pushing for it keep releasing sequels for those games almost every year expecting players to abandon the current game for the new one, which completely defeats the whole purpose of "games as services". In fact, the continuous annualization of these games means that publishers expect players to start spending money on the new game all over again every year.
Thankfully, this model has largely proven to be a failure, as some multiplayer-only games that followed the "Games as Service" model flopped very quickly. These multiplayer-only games are completely reliant on having a big consistent player base, and in most cases, the player bases are very short-lived because players quickly abandon them due to the games being shallow and lacking in content at launch, resulting in the games losing their player bases. By the time those games get more content and look more like finished products worth playing most of the player base would already have abandoned the game in favor of newer releases.
While AAA "service" games continue to make billions in microtransactions, the gaming community has become less and less forgiving with how shallow and microtransaction filled these games are. In fact, AAA "service" games are starting to flop as well while single-player games continue to be successful.
An additional problem that has come to the surface with service games is that the requirement to have the game constantly get new updates and content results in the developers suffering through crunch so that the game can see that new content at a consistent rate. There have been many reports of service games where the developers faced severe crunching, in some cases causing mental and physical issues to those developers.
- Tencent is arguably the pioneer of "Games as a service" model; since the acquisition of Riot Games in 2011, Tencent has started to monetizing League of Legends as well as other games produced by their subsidiaries, such as Epic Games, Supercell, and more, while put little to no effort to make a new game which is basically a reskin of one another.
- Electronic Arts used to be notorious for being one of the biggest supporters of "Games as a service", with them claiming that single-player games are obsolete and pushing for more pay-to-win multiplayer-only games. Their sports games, in particular, put more focus on online multiplayer and microtransactions while putting less and less single-player content every year.
- Many "games as a service" games (not only EA's) are multi-player only, and most of them lose their player base very quickly because players moved on the new multi-player only games that keep getting released constantly, leaving the older games "that were supposed to be supported for years" completely abandoned and unplayable.
- They even tried to not abide by Belgium's gambling laws to continue pushing loot boxes, and are currently under criminal investigation as a result, in the end, they gave up and removed it.
- Star Wars Battlefront II: Everything in the game was built around loot boxes and the game was intended to be pay-to-win in every way. The backlash the game received for its abuse of loot boxes got so bad and widespread that governments are now writing anti-loot box laws and Disney forced EA to remove microtransactions from the game. All progression was eventually removed from loot boxes due to criticism.
- Anthem: Advertised to be a deep game with creative combat and deep meaningful narratives similar to previous BioWare games, but it released as a shallow looter shooter with very little content, repetitive missions, and a very lackluster story. Many players noted that Anthem becomes boring and repetitive very quickly. Due to the failure of Anthem, not only was the "Anthem Next" update canceled, but also the company decided to abandon the release of live-service games, so Dragon Age IV will no longer be developed as a live-service game, but a pure single-player game.
- Capcom's Street Fighter V: released the game with less content than a demo and shamelessly admitted the game was unfinished and that they would fix it later. It was quickly found that a large amount of the "DLC" Capcom was charging money for was content already found within the disc's data, in other words, on-disc DLC. This is a familiar trend with Capcom in general.
- A year later, Capcom tried to do the same with Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite, but the game commercially failed before they could fully fix it.
- Activision Blizzard is another major publisher that supports this model. They have filed for two patents that manipulate matchmaking systems by pairing novice players up with those that have bought a lot of in-game items with real money in order to prey on jealousy to encourage microtransaction purchases. They have also started chasing trends as of late, such as ditching single-player in favor of Battle Royale for Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. Activision has also started adding microtransactions to the game post-launch, and shamelessly selling zero-effort items including aiming reticles.
- Destiny 2 (Pre-Forsaken): Every new event keeps putting more and more focus on the Eververse, the game's loot box store. These events also introduce special loot boxes that can only be obtained for a limited amount of time while putting strict limits on how many of those the player can through regular gameplay, essentially forcing players to buy loot boxes in bulk whenever there's an event. This was changed for the game's second event and now event loot boxes can only be earned via gameplay and there is no limit to how many the player can earn.
- Konami's Metal Gear Survive: when the game came out, it was criticized for requiring a persistent internet connection, a multiplayer component that is tacked on, and a massive reliance of microtransactions. Konami even went so far as to lock basic features like additional save slots, weapon load-outs, and storage upgrades behind a $5 - $10 paywall (three save slots and four loadout slots locked away for $10 each).
- Microsoft's Sea of Thieves: Although Rare knew full well that the game was shallow and lacked content, they decided to release it in the state it was in any way, and still charge full price for it. The result was a game that only had three quest types, and a painful grind for cosmetic rewards that are ultimately superfluous since the game is played from a first-person perspective, with plans to add in microtransactions later. The game had roughly 2 million players in its first 48 hours across retail, digital, and Game Pass, but the player base was quickly halved since the majority of players stopped playing after the 14-day free trial for Xbox Game Pass expired.
- 2K Games: has been getting extremely greedy with their stance on microtransactions. They destroyed NBA 2K18 by designing the progression system around microtransactions by gimping core gameplay mechanics and making progression as slow as molasses. Apparently, NBA 2K19 follows the same model as its predecessor, only even worse than before. The company even tried to justify the inclusion of microtransaction by claiming they are "an unfortunate reality". This "reason" was heavily criticized by many people who pointed out lots of very successful single-player games that did not rely on microtransactions. Worst of all, they tried to bribe some websites to hide the negative reception of NBA 2K18. This problem is much worse in NBA 2K20 which had even more monetization than previous titles.
- Bethesda Softworks officially succumbed to EA's "single-player games are obsolete" claims by announcing and releasing Fallout 76 as an online multiplayer-only game (see point 8 for more info).
- Fallout 76: The game was released as an online multiplayer game, but it has the same bugs and glitches that Bethesda games are notorious for, along with some features like a story to pay attention and human NPCs are removed from the game. Even the attempt to add loot boxes in the game was made, also the patches of this game constantly create new problems and even unfix some issues that the previous patch fixed.
- Chinzohon China have done this with the infamous Chinese version of Among Us, which is filled with microtransactions.
- Ubisoft has recently been a notable example as a publisher of live-service games, as exemplified by The Division games, recent Ghost Recon games, and several free-to-play games. They plan to release Assassin's Creed Infinity, which will become a live-service game, as will some of their upcoming games such as the recently-announced Hexe, Red, and Invictus.
- Nintendo have recently used this method to add content to games lacking in content (notably compared to their predecessors), such as Mario Tennis Aces, Pokémon Gen 8 (except Legends Arceus), Nintendo Switch Sports, ARMS, Kirby Star Allies, and Animal Crossing: New Horizons (all being decent games, except Sword and Shield, Mario Golf: Super Rush, and Mario Strikers: Battle League) and have content in the later updates such as new characters, content, etc.). However, they did this approach right with their Splatoon series games (including the third game), Game Builder Garage, and the Super Mario Maker duology.
- Sony Interactive Entertainment admitted themselves that they're trying to get into live services in gaming and even bought Bungie so that they help them make more games as a service, and while most of them are done right, other games are poorly handled, with their most infamous example being Gran Turismo 7 (despite decent overall), which had microtransactions at launch and later got a patch that nerfed the reward system.
Reception towards the "games as a service" model from the gaming community at large has been extremely negative. The biggest points of contention involve the over-emphasis on monetization, trend-chasing, being released in an unfinished state, all despite already having a $60 price tag. This is why some "Games as a Service" titles have either slightly underperformed in terms of copies sold, or flopped entirely. Fallout 76 and Anthem are the two most infamous examples of "GaaS" games that tried to use this model that has not only been poorly received by gamers and critics alike but have woefully bombed commercially with only the most die-hard of fanboys buying, playing, or even defending them. Some gamers have gone so far as to [justifiably] outright boycott some of the biggest supporters of the "Games as a Service" model like EA and Activision, and instead choosing to support the ones who care about making games for the sake of the craft.
Publishers who support this business model have somewhere down the line become short-sighted, only thinking about short term gain rather than thinking in the long run, forgetting the importance of consumer goodwill and making single player games. Fortunately, the continued success of single-player games like Horizon Zero Dawn, Marvel's Spider-Man, Super Mario Odyssey, among others repeatedly prove that single-player games can still be successful, along with consumer goodwill do eventually lead to long-term success; in fact, it is just one of many games that prove this mentality to be true. However, while big AAA publishers like EA and Activision had started to make single-player games again with little monetization, (such as EA's Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order Activision's Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time, or many Bethesda titles such as Doom Eternal, Deathloop & Ghostwire: Tokyo) they only make them once or twice a year, and continue to ignore these success stories in favor of service games as those are seen as an easier method of milking more money without any disregard for consumer goodwill in the long run.
However, despite this trend having a bad reputation among gamers alike, there are games that can do this "Live Services" trend justice. Team Fortress 2, Apex Legends, Battlefield 1, League of Legends, Overwatch, Rainbow Six Siege (pre-2018), GTA Online (2013-2015), Destiny 2 (Post-Forsaken), The Division 2, Diablo III, MultiVersus, Warframe and Final Fantasy XIV (A Realm Reborn-present) are all good examples of this hated trend officially done right.