Over the past couple of months Jim Ryan, CEO of Sony Interactive Entertainment, began to unveil PlayStation’s interest in live-service titles, something that didn’t necessarily excite PlayStation fans. Each time […]
Over the past couple of months Jim Ryan, CEO of Sony Interactive Entertainment, began to unveil PlayStation’s interest in live-service titles, something that didn’t necessarily excite PlayStation fans. Each time Ryan speaks about live-service titles it brings out a feeling of dread because the video game company that had championed singleplayer games for years appeared to be doing a 180-degree flip.
Whilst Sony Interactive Entertainment won’t be abandoning singleplayer games entirely, just essentially halving its investment in them, it’s still easy to see why PlayStation fans are concerned about this obsession with live-service titles. Live-service games aren’t always bad the overwhelming majority of them are, a good live-service game is generally the exception to the rule. Live-service games don’t respect your time, they drip-feed you content and in far too many cases, publishers put out an unfinished or broken game with the expectation that you’ll stick around long enough for it to become good.
Bungie has released one of the most beloved and popular live-service titles of all time with Destiny 2, breaking free of Activision it built on its vision whilst making the game more accessible. Whilst Destiny 2 is a great example of what a successful live-service game can look like it’s not necessarily the best. Both Capcom and Square Enix have far better examples of a live-service game than Bungie’s Destiny 2. Monster Hunter: World and Final Fantasy XIV could both have served as the perfect blueprint for Sony Interactive Entertainment and neither would have required a massive acquisition fee.
The Destiny 2 Content Problem
The biggest issue Destiny 2 has is content and how the game delivers it. It feels like everything is drip-fed and nothing is ever truly fleshed out. This approach works for some games but for most, it’s just frustrating, in the case of Destiny 2 it’s the latter. The world of Destiny is truly amazing and there’s so much potential to tell great stories but sadly Destiny 2 hardly ever manages to deliver. The Red War (base game) campaign was decent and the Forsaken expansion is probably the best story ever told in the Destiny universe but neither of these two is accessible today.
In 2020 Bungie announced plans to remove content from Destiny 2 in order to make the game easier to manage and maintain, as part of a new “content vault” Bungie would continuously add and remove parts of the game. This was also done due to Bungie’s decision to increase Destiny 2‘s support instead of releasing a Destiny 3. Since introducing the program, Bungie has removed paid content for the game and has essentially made Destiny 2 more unwelcoming for new players, making it seem like the game was built for the hardcore or extremely casual player.
Destiny 2 is a game you have to commit fully to and risk getting burnt out or you have to accept that you’re never going to get the full Destiny experience and play casually. In which case you’re essentially going to be repeating the same strikes or playing competitive modes. In a normal live-service game like Apex Legends or Genshin Impact that would be fine because the design is more modern whereas Destiny 2 often comes across as prehistoric. Multiplayer modes are from an era in which most first-person games have moved on from and the entire hub and map system are far too restricting.
As someone that went from Destiny to Destiny 2 and then to Monster Hunter: World and Final Fantasy XIV, it became painfully clear as to just how bad Bungie have been mismanaging this series. Both Monster Hunter: World and Final Fantasy XIV have issues, Monster Hunter: World has the most convoluted multiplayer system I’ve ever used and Final Fantasy XIV gets overwhelming with the number of quests and information the game throws at you. These issues are minor grievances in comparison to all that Bungie get wrong with Destiny 2.
Both Final Fantasy XIV and Monster Hunter: World actually respect your time and money, Final Fantasy XIV has more content in the base game than Destiny has across all expansions. Comparing expansions doesn’t do much good for Bungie either as expansions in either of those games offer a lot more than even two of Destiny‘s expansions combined. It’s almost as if we’ve been conditioned to accept less from Destiny 2. Then you can look at how those games manage content, neither of those games removes paid-for content or campaigns. The campaign is the player’s introduction to the world and the fact that Bungie is so willing to toss it aside is actually quite scary.
Finally, you can compare how each game is managed and this is where it feels like Bungie is giving its fans the finger. Both Final Fantasy XIV and Monster Hunter: World are packed to the brim with content, Final Fantasy XIV, in particular, has more content than any game I’ve ever played and yet neither of these games cut out significant quests. The only quests Monster Hunter: World removed are licensed collaborations, none of which have any real impact on the game. Final Fantasy XIV and Monster Hunter: World are the two best live-service games out there and both of them were made by studios that had no major experience in the field.
Destiny 2 is an absolute mess, especially for new players. Regardless of how difficult it is to manage Destiny 2 Bungie have no real justification for cutting content, especially content that people paid for. Bungie began the live-service revolution and is among the most experienced developers in the multiplayer market so it’s quite baffling to see just how much they get wrong. Destiny 2 isn’t revolutionizing anything with its seasonal content and expansions, so regardless of difficult it is to “efficiently update and maintain” there’s no justification for the existence of a Destiny content vault. What it essentially boils down to is laziness and publishers trying to see just how much they can get away with.
The Core Of A Live-Service Game
As you can see, Destiny 2 is far from the perfect, or even ideal, live-service game. Despite the game’s issues, it’s actually quite easy to fix, simple tweaks alone would make the game a far better experience. That’s because making a live-service game isn’t all that complicated, it only becomes so when developers build the game around keeping you playing for as long as possible without a care for the actual content and when monetization becomes the priority.
Reading that last paragraph you may be thinking “if live-service games are so easy to get right why aren’t there more good ones?” Admittedly, you’re probably not thinking that but it does help with the flow of this piece. Regardless, the answer to your, or rather my own, question is that these games don’t have to be good to succeed. In most cases they simply need to work in order to find an audience, in other cases minimal effort and slapping a big name to it can also do the trick.
If you look at the moderately successful live-service games, like Fallout 76 or Dauntless, you can clearly see that you don’t need to put much into these games to be successful. In fact, both of these seem to be the blueprint publishers and developers follow when releasing one. Fallout 76 was a $60 game, lacked meaningful content and was broken at launch, post-launch it introduced a subscription model and built upon the microtransactions. Dauntless on the other hand is a free-to-play title that relies on season passes and microtransactions whilst releasing content updates every couple of months.
Neither of these games is great but they do just enough to hold your attention. That’s all a live-service game needs to do. If you look at the trends of gaming over the last 10 years it’s not really hard to see why live-service games are so popular. We went from the online craze to the era of free-to-play and whilst both of these brought about some truly terrible experiences they also introduced us to some unforgettable times. A live-service is, at least in my mind, a metamorphosis of both.
A live-service game should ideally be one where you get the multiplayer fix you’ve been looking for along with the promise of it being supported for years. This on its own already sounds great but it also costs a great deal to maintain, which is why these games are often filled with microtransactions and expansions. The good live-service games either give you enough meaningful free content where you won’t mind spending a little extra money through season passes or the dreaded lootbox, or they’ll give you a meaty paid expansion in which you’ll get hours worth of new content.
Live-service games only really need two or three things going for them in order to find some success. It can be something as simple as character design, art style, gameplay or even just a big IP. The next big factor is accessibility, it’s no secret that a game will be more successful if it’s available on more platforms but this goes doubly so for live-service games and multiplayer games in general. Finally comes the support, something which Sony has admitted been quite poor at. A live-service game needs to be supported for years otherwise it will die off, Overwatch is the perfect example of this.
Support doesn’t just need to come from the content side but also in the way of balancing the game. Live-service games are constantly evolving. Players are always finding new exploits and meta’s, this means that developers need to stay on top of things. Something which Sony have no experience with. Regardless if we look at some of Sony Interactive Entertainment’s existing IPs you’ll see that it’s actually quite simple to convert some of them into live-service games.
If we take something like The Last of Us, all you need to do is build on the Factions game mode. Add some story content and create a hub and you’re already halfway there. Killzone is already primed and ready to become a Destiny-like live-service game. Dormant IPs like Resistance and Soul Sacrifice or Freedom Wars are perfect for the live-service model. Soul Sacrifice already saw a huge boom last year on Vita and a modernised version for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 and PC would immediately find an audience.
The point I’m trying to make is that Sony could have begun its live-service venture without the huge investment of acquiring Bungie. It could have also done this the smart way, not by increasing its funding in live-service games to 55% by 2025 but rather by testing the waters. Going down this route would have allowed Sony to enter the market without sacrificing a huge chunk of what made PlayStation special and without spending a huge sum on money, money that could have been used to strengthen its existing development teams.
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Bungie will be a huge help in the path Sony Interactive Entertainment is heading on. The experience Bungie has will pave the way for Sony’s live-service push but there’s also a great deal to be concerned about. Sony Interactive Entertainment has made it clear with the acquisition of Bungie, the talent retainment fund it has set aside and the creation of the Sony Interactive Entertainment Live Service Centre of Excellence that it wants Bungie to lead this push but there’s a lot that Bungie get wrong.
Destiny 2 is unkind to newcomers and casual players and it has issues with content and how it manages it. Worst of all is that Bungie doesn’t really see any of this as an issue. Sony Interactive Entertainment could very well pick up these bad habits and given that Sony wants Bungie to review all aspects of the development cycle for its live-service games it could also end up plaguing all of PlayStation Studios’ live-service titles. Live-service titles aren’t bad, not when they respect your time. Destiny 2 does not and there are only so many of these kinds of games that you can play and dedicate your time to. Sony plan on having 12 live-service games out by the 2025 financial year and if they’re all run like Destiny 2 they won’t be sustainable, regardless of how different they are.
Sony’s interest in live-service games isn’t a surprise, they’ve seen how much money they make from the PlayStation Network and now it wants a piece of the action. It’s just going about it the wrong way. Capcom and Square Enix have both been stepping up their efforts in the multiplayer department but they are doing so without sacrificing the core of what made them the monoliths they are. PlayStation has been breaking a legacy that it strived so hard to build with the PS4 and its obsession with live-service games is just the next step towards that.