In some respects, the last decade has been all about the live service game. Also known as games as a service or GaaS, the explosion of Fortnite in 2017 demonstrated just how powerful the format can be. Other examples like Destiny and Apex Legends have further cemented live-service games as the format of the future. It’s a money spinner, and games publishers are keen to capitalise on this – but does that mean that traditional single-player gaming is dead?
No, quite the opposite.
Single-player gaming remains an integral part of the gaming landscape. The proof is in the pudding: the last few years have brought a slew of critically acclaimed single-player launches, with sales figures to back it up. In 2022, God of War Ragnarök became the fastest-selling first-party game on the PS5, and Elden Ring was another commercial success, winning GOTY 2022 to boot.
A quick Google search of ‘the most anticipated titles of 2023’ tells a similar tale. Final Fantasy XVI, Starfield, Star Wars: Jedi Survivor and The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom top many of the lists, showing that consumer appetite for the single-player format is far from satiated.
Some of these titles are the cream of the crop in their respective genres. Others are the very best that video games have to offer. Single-player games often boast cinematic graphics, rich character arcs and immersive storylines, arguably placing a far greater emphasis on the artistry of gaming. The legacy of these games is undeniable, which means the format won’t be disappearing anytime soon.
Live service games have certainly received a lot of attention in recent years. When developed with care, they no doubt offer a unique experience for gamers. Final Fantasy XIV, an MMO now in its 13th year, is still widely loved and critically acclaimed. Outside of the fact that GaaS generates a lot of money for publishers, many of the games also provide a good degree of value for gamers.
But the point still stands: GaaS is a money spinner. While the games are often available for free download, they also rely on the heavy monetisation of content. Cosmetics, skins, and battle passes are all microtransactions that players can invest in within the game. Plus, unlike single-player games, live service games are designed to keep you playing for many years. With endless possibilities for alluring updates and fresh content hidden behind paywalls, for publishers, GaaS truly is a cash cow.
This is driving some (cough, EA) to view GaaS as the new standard for gaming. Standalone titles are increasingly being regarded as dated, particularly in that they don’t allow continued revenue streams. Once a player finishes a standalone title, they won’t spend any more money, right?
Not exactly. If the last year has shown us anything, it’s that the care and effort that developers put into standalone titles give these stories and characters legs. The story-driven single-player game The Last of Us is the perfect example, having recently been made into a critically acclaimed HBO series of the same name. While admittedly having a less sustained revenue stream, standalone titles garner loyal fanbases. This gives titles the opportunity to evolve and influence other mediums, eventually spreading far beyond the game’s initial consumer base.
While publishers are funneling a lot of money into the lucrative world of GaaS, there’s a big risk of oversaturation. GaaS depends heavily on continued and maximised engagement. The problem is consumers only have the time and money to dedicate to one or two live service games at most. This leaves GaaS titles vying for a limited consumer base, making competition fierce.
Plus, some gamers find the very nature of live service games to be off-putting. They’re designed to keep players spending – a trait that just isn’t present in single-player games. Exacerbated by the relentlessly updated cash shops and cosmetic offerings, live service games can often leave a bad taste in the gamer’s mouth. That being said, GaaS offers gamers with lower budgets the chance to play and experience a wide range of games.
It’s important to bear in mind that one format isn’t necessarily better than the other. Both have their merits in contributing to a rich and diverse gaming landscape. Despite the attention paid to live service games in recent years, single-player games remain an integral part of the gaming landscape.
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