Have you ever wondered why so many so-called “live service” games fail to live up to expectations and ultimately get shut down? Or why so many of these types of titles are actively despised by players all around the world?
I’ve lost count of the number of times an exciting-sounding game has been announced only for me to end up sighing with disappointment when I hear the dreaded words “live service.” To many players, those words have come to epitomise all of the worst things about gaming as a hobby in 2021, and it’s got to a point where a game has to offer something truly exceptional before I’ll even consider stepping over the live service hurdle to give it a shot.
I’ve talked on a number of occasions about the “release now, fix later” business model that has corrupted the modern games industry. In short, games companies see the internet as an easy way to roll out patches and fixes after a game has been released, thanks to the ubiquity of internet connectivity on every gaming platform nowadays, so they figure they can release a game in an incomplete state and fix it after launch. Though games like Mass Effect: Andromeda and Cyberpunk 2077 prove that this isn’t a phenomenon unique to live services, these kinds of titles are almost universally afflicted.
Many live service games launch with a “roadmap” – another dreaded gaming neologism that rightly turns off anyone who hears it. In lieu of actual gameplay features, levels, and content, the game arrives in a threadbare state with a so-called roadmap, which is little more than a euphemism for promises of updates and new content. All too often, though, the promised updates never arrive because the game gets shut down. The roadmap leads to a dead end.
If a game felt complete – with enough characters, levels, and whatever else it needs – promises of further content would be no bad thing. It would give the game’s fans something to look forward to while they enjoyed what was available at launch. But it’s rare that a live service feels complete at launch, and most roadmaps end up promising content that should have been part of the original game.
So we come to what I’m calling the “live service spiral.” Here’s how it goes: a live service game launches to mediocre reviews from critics and players, with many criticising its threadbare state and unfinished nature. Though there is a roadmap promising further content to come at some nebulous future date, many players who were considering picking up the game instead adopt a “wait-and-see” approach, biding their time until the promised updates arrive and the game is actually worth playing. But this leads to lower-than-expected sales, which in turn means that the publisher panics and decides to cancel the roadmap, ending development on the game and cancelling planned updates and patches. The game’s remaining players drift away, disappointed, to await the next title and begin the cycle again.
In 2021, having seen so many of these live services stumble out of the gate and get unceremoniously shut down shortly thereafter, I have less and less sympathy for players who still believe the hype and get hooked in with promises. If a game isn’t good enough when it launches to be worth my time – and more importantly, my money – why should I give it either on the back of vague promises? And if you choose to invest in a live service game knowing how many have come and gone in the blink of an eye, why should I offer you my sympathy when the next one follows the pattern and also fails?
So many games have been in this position. Just in the last few years we can call to mind titles like Anthem, Star Wars Battlefront, WWE 2K20, Destiny 1, and probably Marvel’s Avengers within the next few months. So there are more than enough examples to serve as warnings that this business model is not worth investing in.
Here’s the basic problem that games industry managers and executives can’t seem to wrap their corporate heads around: for every Fortnite or Grand Theft Auto Online there are a dozen or more Anthems or Destinys. For every title that adopts a live service model and makes a success of it, there are dozens more that fail. And if a company isn’t willing to put money and effort into creating a title that players actually want to spend their time playing, desperately chasing the faltering live service trend will always be a losing proposition.
Many live service games were doomed from the very moment they were conceived in the mind of a business executive. Someone with precious little understanding of the industry looked at Fortnite or Rainbow Six Siege, and without knowing the first thing about those games nor realising they’re about a decade too late, said to their team “make me one of those.” From that very moment the game was dead on arrival – but nobody realised it, or at least nobody had the balls to tell the publisher.
All the way through development and through the extensive marketing campaign that followed, dedicated developers tried their best to build a game to the specifications of some moron in a suit, and it was all for nothing. All of that time, effort, and money was pissed away chasing after a concept that’s already played out for a company that never understood it in the first place. In many cases, “crunch” and other abusive working practices saw developers and other employees suffer actual quantifiable harm, all for the sake of a meaningless, useless piece of shit game like Anthem. Imagine working yourself half to death for the sake of Anthem, only to see the game shut down months after it launched.
Hopefully the backlash some of these games generate, combined with lacklustre sales and continued failures to meet expectations, will see this business model slowly start to die off. But all of us need to be very careful about throwing our money into any live service game that comes along in future. Companies have proven time and again that they see these games as disposable and they’re willing to cut and run from a failing project no matter how many players get screwed over in the process. If they treat their own games with such little respect, why should we buy into such a model?
We have to find a way to break the live service spiral, to show games companies that this business model is no longer viable. Some noteworthy failures, like those mentioned above, will start to cause a rethink in corporate boardrooms, but the process needs to accelerate. Not just for the sake of us having better games to play, but for the physical and mental health of those in the industry working on these titles.
All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, and/or publisher. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
A couple of months ago I took a look at some of the trends I hate the most in the modern games industry. But one list wasn’t comprehensive enough, apparently, because I’ve found ten more of the worst things to look at today!
Gaming as a hobby has come a long way since I first owned a Super Nintendo. Games have evolved from being little more than electronic toys to being a legitimate artistic and storytelling medium in their own right, and many of my favourite entertainment experiences of all time are in the gaming realm. Games can equal, and in some cases surpass, film and television.
But not everything about gaming is fun! There are annoyances and problems with games today, some of which didn’t exist a few years ago, and others which have dogged the medium since its inception. As always, this list is entirely subjective, so if I criticise something you like, or ignore something you hate, please keep in mind that all of this is just the opinion of one person. If you want to check out my previous list, you can find it by clicking or tapping here.
With all that out of the way, let’s get started!
Number 1: Checkpoints
Is it 1996? No? Then let’s stop using checkpoints and allow players the freedom to save their game whenever and wherever they need to! With relatively few sensible exceptions – like in the middle of a boss fight or during a cut-scene – there’s no reason why modern games can’t incorporate a free save system.
Checkpoints were a limitation of older hardware and software; games and consoles weren’t always able to offer players the ability to save the game anywhere, so designated save zones – or checkpoints – had to be incorporated. This was already a step up from passwords that you had to write down (remember those?) but checkpoints are simply unnecessary and out-of-date in modern games.
With gaming having grown in the years since checkpoints were the only way to manage save files, more people from different backgrounds are getting into the hobby – including many more adults, working-age people, and folks with less free time. Having to replay a lengthy section of a game because the game didn’t offer the freedom to save when you needed to is incredibly frustrating, and considering that there is no technical reason for not implementing a proper save system, in my opinion there’s no excuse.
Whine all you want about “vision” and “integrity” and that players should “git gud,” but a lot of folks simply want to play through a fun and entertaining narrative. We also want to play through it once, not multiple times because of the lack of a convenient save function. Checkpoints seemed to have largely disappeared until the likes of Dark Souls brought them back as part of its “extreme difficulty” shtick. But there’s a difference between a challenge and something frustrating; checkpoints are definitely in the latter category.
Number 2: Boring and/or repetitive side-missions
It’s no good bragging about the number of quests or missions in your game if 80% of them are the same – or equally as bad as each other! Open-world games tend to fall victim to this, but it’s a phenomenon that can plague all manner of different titles.
These kinds of missions follow one of a couple of different formulae: “go to location X and pick up item Y” or “go to location X and kill Y number of enemies.” Then that’s it. Mission over, receive a few experience points or a random, usually-not-worth-it item, and repeat. Such quests are nothing but padding for a game that should’ve been shorter and more focused.
Even otherwise good games can end up going down this route. Mass Effect 1 is a case in point. The main story missions in the game are phenomenal, and while the stories which set up some of the side-missions sound like they could be potentially interesting, each one basically consists of “drive vehicle to location, kill enemies, press button.” Because 90% of the side-missions use basically identical maps and environments, this gets old fast – even if the storyline setting up the mission seems superficially interesting.
If you can’t make a good side-mission, skip it. I’d rather play a game that isn’t as long but doesn’t have this unnecessary fluff padding it out and, frankly, wasting my time.
Number 3: Collect-a-thons
On a related note, many open-world games have recently begun being padded out with miscellaneous items to collect. Upon picking up a feather, for example, the game will tell you that you’ve discovered 1/100 – only 99 more to go! These items almost always have no impact on the plot or gameplay of a title, and often don’t even give out a reward for finding all of them. At most you might get a trophy or achievement for collecting all of them.
At least boring side-missions usually have some kind of setup. A villager needs you to kill the rats in his basement, an admiral needs you to shut down all four computer cores, etc. Though the missions themselves are junk, a modicum of thought went into their creation. Collect-a-thons have no such redeeming feature. Often the items to be collected are so random that they have no link whatsoever to the plot or character.
Why does my grizzled war veteran on a mission to save the world need to spend his time hunting down 100 feathers or 50 leaves? If the items did something – anything – like if they could be used for crafting or if they were notes or recordings containing lore and info about the game world, well at least there’d be a point. It wouldn’t necessarily be a good point, but still.
These items are added into games – often in obscure or hard-to-reach places – purely to pad out the game and extend its runtime. They serve no purpose, either narratively or in terms of gameplay, and while I have no doubt that some players find collecting every single in-game item fun, for me I’d rather the effort and attention wasted on features like this was refocused elsewhere. One side-mission, even an average one, would be better than 100 random pieces of shit to collect.
Number 4: Online cheating
If you have a single-player game and want to turn on god mode or assisted aiming, go for it. Cheats can sometimes be accessibility features, offering a route through a game for players with disabilities, as well as providing a way to skip the grind for players who don’t have much time. But when you go online and play against real people, you damn well better leave the cheats behind!
There are so many examples of cheating players getting caught and banned that it can be kind of funny. Even some professional and wannabe-professional players have been caught out and learned the hard way that the internet never forgets. But no one should be doing this in the first place.
Trying to take away the most fundamental tenet of competition – fairness – is so phenomenally selfish that I don’t even know what to say. If there were a financial incentive – like winning the prize money at a big tournament – I could at least recognise that some folks would be tempted to try to take the easy route to payday. But in a game like Fall Guys where it’s supposed to be fun… I just don’t get why someone would feel the need to cheat.
Some games have a bigger problem with cheating than others, and games that don’t get a handle on a cheating problem fast can find themselves in serious jeopardy. It’s unfortunate that the anonymity of the internet means that a lot of players simply get away with it, with some even going so far as to use “disposable” accounts, so that if one gets banned they can just hop to another and keep right on cheating.
Number 5: Overly large, confusing levels
We kind of touched on this last time when considering empty open worlds, but some games have poorly-designed levels that are too large and almost maze-like. Getting lost or running in circles – especially if no map is provided – can become frustrating very quickly. These kinds of levels are often repetitive and bland with little going on.
Some games have levels which are simply not well laid-out, making it difficult to find the right path forward. I’ve lost count of the number of times I was trying to explore, thinking I was investigating a side-area, only to find it was the main path forward, and vice versa. Advancements in technology – particularly as far as file sizes go – have meant that levels and worlds can be physically larger. Sometimes that’s a good thing, but sometimes it isn’t!
If a game has a map, or if a level is well-signposted (either literally or figuratively) then it shouldn’t matter how large it is. Players will be able to figure out where to explore and where to go to proceed with the story or quest. But too often that isn’t the case, and getting lost, backtracking, or not knowing where to go are all annoyances! Not every level has to be massive. Some work far better when kept concise, especially if the number of things to find or do in the level are limited.
Obviously I don’t include in this category mazes or levels which are deliberately designed to be puzzling. Some games make clever use of deliberately puzzling levels, where exploring and figuring out the right path is all part of the fun. Others just screw up their level design and leave players wandering around, confused.
Number 6: Orphaned franchises/unfinished stories
Though the phenomenon of a story being abandoned partway through is hardly new – nor even unique to gaming – the rise of more cinematic, story-driven games since the turn of the millennium has brought this issue to the fore. The first encounter I had with this was in 2001 when Shenmue II dropped off the face of the earth (following abysmal sales in Japan and elsewhere) meaning that the saga was never finished.
But it isn’t just financial failures that don’t land sequels. The lack of a third game in the Half-Life series has become a joke at this point, more than fifteen years after the last mainline entry in the series. Fans have been clamouring for Half-Life 3 for a long time, and the recent success of VR title Half-Life: Alyx proves there’s a market and that the game’s audience is still here.
Sometimes a studio gets busy with other projects. There hasn’t been a new Elder Scrolls game, for example, in part because Bethesda has worked on the Fallout franchise and Starfield in the years since Skyrim was released. But there are also plenty of cases where a developer or publisher finds a cash-cow and abandons all pretence at making any new game so they can milk it dry.
Look at Rockstar with Grand Theft Auto V’s online mode, or Valve with its Steam digital shop and the success of online games like Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Those studios could make new games or sequels to existing games, but instead choose to focus on older titles. Similarly, studios like Bethesda found success by porting existing games to new and different hardware, as well as releasing new or updated versions of older games.
Number 7: Ultra Special Super Extreme Deluxe Editions
I’m not talking about so-called “collector’s editions” of games, which are often simply the game plus a statue or other memorabilia. Those can be fine, because if someone is willing to part with silly money to get a resin statue of an in-game character who am I to judge? What I greatly dislike are games that are sold with multiple “editions” – i.e. a “basic” version with missing features, then several progressively more expensive versions with those missing features added back in.
Some games take this to silly extremes, with a “basic” version retailing for full price (£55/$60) and the most expensive “deluxe” edition being far more expensive for the sake of adding in-game content (extra skins, missions, etc.) that were literally developed alongside the main game then cut out. Some of these ultra extreme special editions can retail for £80, £90, or even £100 in some cases, and that’s just deceptive.
This is an evolution of the “day-one DLC” phenomenon that was present a few years ago. In the case of Mass Effect 3, for example, an entire main character, a mission to recruit them, and all of their scenes and dialogue, was literally developed along with the game, perfectly integrated and designed to be part of the game, then cut out and sold as downloadable content literally on the day the game launched.
In multiplayer titles, the extreme special supreme editions can come with in-game advantages, making them literally pay-to-win. In free-to-play games, perhaps a degree of paying for an advantage is to be expected – but some of these games are asking full price, then giving a competitive advantage to players who pay above full price.
Number 8: Unrepresentative trailers/marketing material
I used to work in video games marketing, and I thought I’d seen every shady trick in the book! But some of the trailers and marketing material that publishers show off in the run-up to the launch of a new game can be downright deceptive. Some games, like notorious failure Anthem, even went so far as to create fake “in-game” footage to be shown off at marketing events, which is incredibly bad form.
Cyberpunk 2077 is another example. That game was developed to run on high-end PCs and next-gen consoles, and the Xbox One/PlayStation 4 version was so poorly-optimised when it launched that many folks considered it to be literally “unplayable.” The trailers and marketing material hid this fact, and developer CD Projekt Red deliberately kept those versions of the game away from reviewers. The result was that no one realised how broken the game was until it was too late.
Mobile games are notorious for putting out trailers that are entirely unrepresentative of the games they’re selling. Many mobile games are samey, basic tap-a-thons with unimpressive graphics and mediocre gameplay, yet the trailers make them seem like big-budget console-quality games. In a way this isn’t new; 2D games in the 8-bit era were often marketed with cartoons and fancy graphics that made them look far better than they were!
The thing is, unrepresentative marketing always comes back to bite a company. Just ask CD Projekt Red, whose implosion in the aftermath of Cyberpunk 2077′s abysmal launch will enter gaming history.
Number 9: Massive patches and updates
Last time I criticised ridiculously huge file sizes for games, and this time I want to pick on updates and patches in particular. There’s no feeling more disappointing than sitting down to play a game you’ve been looking forward to all day only to find that either the game or the console needs to download a stupidly large update before you can jump in.
Some updates can be dozens of gigabytes, and if you’re on a slow internet connection (like I am) or have limited downloads, it can take forever to update the game – or be outright impossible. Once again, folks with limited time for gaming are in trouble here; even on a reasonably fast connection, a massive update can cut into or erase the time someone set aside for gaming.
The stupid thing is that many of these updates appear to change absolutely nothing! I’ve lost track of how many times Steam has updated itself on my PC, for example, only to look exactly the same every time. While it’s good that games companies can roll out bug fixes, patch out glitches, and even fix cheating issues remotely, these things can happen at the most inconvenient times!
In the run-up to Christmas it’s now commonplace, even in mainstream news outlets, to see advice given to update new consoles and games before giving them out as presents. Little Timmy’s Christmas would be ruined if he had to spend all of Christmas Day waiting around for his new PlayStation to update before he could use it!
Number 10: We’re drowning in sequels, remakes, and spin-offs
It’s increasingly rare for a games company to produce a new game that isn’t based on an existing franchise or property. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an issue unique to gaming – it’s happening on television and in cinema too. We’re 100% in the era of the franchise.
As great as it is to play a sequel to a much-loved title, it’s also great fun to get stuck into a completely new story with new characters and a new world. Unfortunately, as is the case in television and cinema, companies are increasingly viewing brand-new stories as risky – if fans don’t respond well then their investment will have been wasted!
Sooner or later, I think this franchise and sequel mania has to break. It can’t go on forever, not least because existing franchises will run out of material and fans will lose interest. But right now it shows absolutely no signs of abating, and some video game franchises have become annual or almost-annual fixtures. The Call of Duty series is a case in point – there’s been a new game every year since 2005.
I appreciate studios willing to stick their necks out and take a risk. Control is a good recent example of a successful new IP, and Starfield will be Bethesda’s first wholly new property in decades when it’s finally ready. But there’s certainly less storytelling innovation than there used to be, and fewer new games in favour of sequels, franchises, and spin-offs.
So that’s it. Ten more things that bug me about modern gaming!
Although we’ve now found twenty annoying trends in modern gaming, the hobby is generally in a good place. Technological improvements mean games look better than ever, and the increase in gaming’s popularity has seen more money enter the industry, as well as quality standards generally rising rather than falling. There are problems, of course, but the industry as a whole isn’t in a terrible place.
At the end of the day, it’s fun to complain and have a bit of a rant! The last list I published seemed to be well-read, so I hope this one has been a bit of fun as well! Now if only someone would make a Star Trek video game… perhaps the lack of one warrants a place on my next list!
All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their studio, developer, and/or publisher. Some screenshots and promotional art courtesy of press kits on IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.