Live service games like Minecraft, Fortnite, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, League of Legends, and Dota 2 dominate the gaming world. Ever since the live service model became popular in the early 2010s, it has dominated the top of the gaming charts.
Now most developers are forced to go the live service route because it’s the only one that makes economic sense for them.
How Live Service Games Dominate the Market
The video game market and the pharmaceuticals business are surprisingly similar. Great games take an incredible sum of money to develop, just like new medicines. Most of that cash goes to salaries of legions of coders and designers, rent, utilities, and marketing
Game and drug development exist on totally different scales as the average drug costs well over $2.5 billion to develop and go through approval process but both industries require massive investments early on.
This is why both pharmaceutical companies and game development studios have to juice as much profit out of a successful product as possible. This gets at the heart of why live service games are the new darling of game studios.
Instead of spending millions of dollars on multiple different games, hoping that they all sell well for the first few weeks, they try to build a single game that they can profit off of for years if not decades.
This video showing the top 15 games on Steam in terms of player count from 2015 through 2018 shows why live service games are so desirable.
When a regular game comes out, it will see a massive spike of players for a few days, weeks, and if it’s lucky, months. After that, the dominating live service games will retake it and stay on top consistently.
These games are further enabled by the rise of in-game purchases. They no longer have to make money from the sticker price of the game. Instead, they can sell in-game items like cosmetics, better weapons, loot boxes, new playable characters, and more.
The most dedicated players with enough money can spend 10s of thousands of dollars on some of these games instead of a measly $60. Most players won’t but they don’t have to because the top 1% of buyers more than make up for them.
Live service games are often cheaper to make too. Minecraft, the best-selling game of all time, was made by one man, Markus ‘Notch’ Perrson, for essentially no money.
Because of the incredible success and reliability of live service games, nearly all of the top game studios are pivoting to make them. Electronic Arts (EA), which is known for its yearly Madden NFL Football and NBA 2K Basketball games, now makes a vast majority of its revenue from live service titles.
Live service games may be the best model of games developed so far but they don’t always succeed. For example, Ubisoft’s The Division was a blockbuster live service game that died out in a matter of weeks.
An All-Live Service Gaming Market is a Dismal One
Live service games are obviously some of the most entertaining in the industry or else millions of people wouldn’t be choosing them over regular games. However, they have to fit a few certain criteria that they have to meet.
The first and most important is that they have to be extremely replayable. The game can’t lose too much entertainment value on the 2nd, 3rd or even the 100th play-through. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, one of the most popular games of all time, is so successful because the fun is in the competition and improving your skills with every match.
The second vital criterion is that they have to have a good way of getting money out of their players for years to come.
Some of the best games of the recent decade wouldn’t work in this model. Elden Ring, which likely cost an exorbitant amount of money, has decent replayability value but not as much as Minecraft or League of Legends. Secondly, the game only makes money from the initial purchase and can’t be monetized for years and years.
The game development market seems like it’s only diving deeper into live service games, gamers can only hope that it doesn’t affect their favorite studios like From Software, Bethesda, and CD Projekt Red.
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