Brandon Williams / November 18, 2023
Many companies are yearning to invest more in live service games. Since Epic Games’ massive success with Fortnite, other developers desired to achieve the same status, including Sony and Warner Bros. The future lineup for the two companies mainly supports online multiplayer games.
Sony Delayed Goal
Earlier in the year, Sony announced its intention to buy Bungie, the developers of Destiny and Halo. Recently, the acquisition was successful. This partnership was necessary for Sony to progress its roadmap for its current gaming platform.
Initially, Sony planned to release 12 live service games by the end of FY25 (by March 2026). Despite the successful acquisition, Sony is undergoing an intense review process with its Bungie partnership. This process forced them to change their plans, which made Sony president COO and CFO Hiroki Totoki state,
“We are reviewing this…we are trying as much as possible to ensure [these games] are enjoyed and liked by gamers for a long time” Sony president COO and CFO Hiroki Totoki said. “[Of] the 12 titles, six titles will be released by FY25- that’s our current plan. [As for] the remaining six titles, we are still working on that.”
Some of the online games will include The Last of Us, Horizon, FairGames, and an original IP from PlayStation London Studios. Despite Sony’s recent work on single-player, narrative-heavy games, PlayStation declared to know what makes a live service game successful.
It’s a major shift in tone for Sony to develop online multiplayer games, so they must depend on Bungie. The review process is necessary to make sure the newly acquired company is capable of accomplishing Sony’s roadmap plan.
Warner Bros Main Goal Shift
Warner Bros is commonly known for its developed engaging IPs, such as Harry Potter, DC Universe, Cartoon Network, and Mortal Kombat. The great success of Hogwarts Legacy and Mortal Kombat 1 significantly impacted the company’s view on the gaming business.
WB views itself as small compared to other gaming companies, though it believes in building itself, especially for its IPs. Gaming is more important for them as a business, which made WB CEO David Zaslav state in a Q3 earnings call,
“Our focus is on transforming our biggest franchises from largely console and PC based with three-four year release schedules to include more always on gameplay through live services, multiplatform and free-to-play extensions with the goal to have more players spending more time on more platforms. Ultimately we want to drive engagement and monetization of longer cycles and at higher levels. We have put specific capabilities. We are currently under scale and see significant opportunity to generate greater post-purchase revenue.”
This viewpoint is clear with the recent decisions for Mortal Kombat 1. The game does have a premium store that advertises and sells exclusive outfits, customization, easy fatality tokens, and bundles. Everything in the shop has a time limit before changing its cycle.
All the premium items and cosmetics can only be purchased with the game’s premium currency, Dragon Krystals. Unfortunately, players can only acquire this currency with real money. Each 100 Dragon Krystals is $1, though bundles can give small discounts. For example, players can acquire 1250 Dragon Krystals for $9.99.
Netherrealm also recently showcased the holiday fatalities, which are also heavily monetized, similar to a free-to-play game. They sold the Halloween fatality for 1200 Dragon Krystals, which caused a huge backlash from fans.
These complaints influenced the devs to allow anyone who purchased the expensive fatality to earn the two future fatalities for free. This welcoming change, however, is short-lived as they continue to monetize and lock more content, like new cosmetics and items.
Worrisome Future of Live Service
One of the most recent WB live service games was Multiversus, a platform fighter released on July 26, 2022. It had major success at launch, with over 20 million players playing the game (over 140,000 on Steam). Despite its grand start, Player First Games couldn’t meet the promised demands.
The inconsistent updates and lack of communication concerned the audience, especially with the game’s state. Many issues plagued the game, including fragile online connectivity, little new content, expensive microtransactions, and mismanaged balancing. Many players and content creators who supported the game slowly lost interest, dropping the player count by 99% in early 2023.
After the traumatic drop in player support, Player First Games announced the closure of Multiversus on June 25, 2023. Any consumer with an account of purchased goodies can still access the game. To this day, it’s still playable offline, but the online servers are down. The devs planned to re-release their game in early 2024.
Inevitable Closure of Online
Interest for developers shifted in 2022 from the abundant releases of live service games. Apex Legends Mobile, Crossfire X, Rumbleverse, Knockout City, and many others came into the market. This amount of live service games made the live service business grow more strict and demanding.
The major issue with live service games is the need for constant attention and commitment from players. Live service constantly needs updates, cosmetics, roadmaps, and changes to make players happy. Its simplistic, approachable main objectives can’t satisfy players for long.
Microtransactions and long playtime are the saving grace to keep online games running. Live service depends heavily on player involvement, which can increase when players spend on locked cosmetics. The game’s content and daily quests must keep players engaged and satisfied. If enough players aren’t invested in the game, it can shorten the game’s budget, which could hasten its end.
The live service industry didn’t have enough room to fit all the online games. Players have little time to participate in all of them, let alone invest money in multiple premium cosmetics and characters. This ultimately led to developers announcing the end of their games simultaneously in early 2023, including releases that were just under a year old.
Some developers gave some compensating offers, such as running private servers on PC in Knockout City or refunding all purchases in Rumbleverse. Sadly, the year was overrun with online games closing down servers, leaving most of their supporters with little to nothing left.
The Truth of Live Service Business
The live service market is very rewarding for developers when making games as good as Fortnite. Though they’re more beneficial for companies than the audience, they can still be fun. Unlike an actual game, they can’t last forever.
Not every company should shift their focus to live service. Two live service games are releasing in 2024, Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League and Multiversus. A player can’t commit to every game, especially when the games depend on the company’s online servers. Developing more online multiplayer games will only raise the market demand again, forcing the servers to close.
There are a lot of requirements to make an online multiplayer game as consistently approachable and effective as Fortnite. The battle royale formula worked well with the game back in 2017. Making complete video games sounds better than taking a chance in a crowded, unstable market. There’s very little room for multiple developers to earn the same success as Fortnite, which seems too late for anyone to get that same Epic dub.