Always online. There’s a loaded term for ya – A single quality that makes you think of agressive monetisation, intrusive DRM, limitations and spoiled fun. But clearly it’s not all bad – Destiny has its share of fans and World of Warcraft is still going strong after a decade or longer. Clearly there’s something going on here that’s something more than a noticeable turdstain on an otherwise nicely painted wall. Perhaps live services do genuinely have some reasons to exist other than to line the wallets of corporate fatcats. So, how do you do a live service right?
1) Take advantage of the online aspect
I don’t need Diablo III to be online. I simply don’t. Live services make a direct choice to sacrifice certain freedoms and accept limitations – It’s always online, which means your ability to access the game is based on your connection, and at some point, EVERYONE’S internet goes down. In return, you should make use of the new strengths you’ve acquired. A shared online world is only a good thing if you make use of it – Fallout 76 was a bad idea because Fallout 4 was a successful product without the ability to bring some chucklefuck along for the ride.
Imagine making a 3D movie. You’re requiring everyone who sees it to watch at an extra asking price while wearing a wierd pair of glasses – In return, you offer them a spectacle of 3D visuals, and you’d best deliver, because there’s no reason to see a 3D film if the 3D doesn’t add anything.
Get what I’m saying? Games like WoW, Rust, Destiny and Hearthstone are online-only for a damn good reason, and it improves the product overall. If you don’t have that damn good reason, don’t make it a live service.
2) Make your monetisation clear and ethical
Loot boxes can lick my pimply arse.
Live services do, indeed, require money over time to maintain and to justify added content; that much is obvious. How you choose to do it, on the other hand, will make or break my choice to buy your game.
Back in the day, it was the done thing to charge a subscription for these things; remember that terrifying conversation you had as a kid, where you timidly approached your parents to ask them to buy you a RuneScape subscription for £3 a month?
Nowadays, the monetisation is less clear. Game companies will fight tooth and nail to stop you from realising how much money you have spent; microtransactions, loot boxes, the chasing of the whale market by some publishers is staggering, a clear-as-day exploitation of those with addictive brains being bled dry for the sake of a quick buck.
If a game includes an in-game transaction, that transaction should have guaranteed value to you, the customer. A Hearthstone pack is worth, at a minimum, around 50 crafting dust – When you buy one, you should do so having decided that 50 dust is worth buying at that price. If not, you are literally gambling… And I don’t think I have to explain why holding content hostage behind a wall of gambling is immoral.
If need be, charge for a subscription. Sell expansions for £50 a pop. Do not exploit people, sell them a product.
3) Let me join in at any time
Right now, you can make a RuneScape account and play the game as you left it in 2007; you don’t need to catch up to a certain level, you don’t have to buy previous expansions, or learn a thousand things from the years of content additions. A good live service does not rely on a launch day. A good live service becomes a part of the cultural consciousness. Sometimes, I don’t want to watch an episode of Game of Thrones, with several seasons of character interactions and plot to catch up on. Sometimes, I just want to watch half an episode of Kitchen Nightmares. A good live service is like that – Something that, yes, can be binged for 100 hours a week, but rather works as something to be dipped in and out of over time. Do some daily WoW quests, mess around in GTA for a bit, have a look at the latest Destiny expansion because the new raid looks decent. A good live service is Kitchen Nightmares, not Game of Thrones. If you want me to play the whole thing in big chunks, just make a ruddy sequel.
But those are just my thoughts. If you have something to add, why not follow Respawning on Facebook and Twitter?