For the past decade, and even longer, live-service games have been a massive force in the gaming world, and there is plenty of financial incentive for them to stay this way. When people think of live-service games, real giants in both popularity and financial success tend to spring to mind — often it’s shooters, like Fortnite, Apex Legends, Overwatch, and Destiny. However, let’s not forget that MMOs like World of Warcraft have been around much longer and still retain massive player bases.
There’s a lot we could say about these types of games, but we want to focus primarily on their status in the market. Can we expect more coming down the pipeline? Are there any signs of weakening from the behemoths at the top? In this snapshot of the beginning of 2024, let’s examine the shifts that happened last year, and how these — as well as recently reported data and analysis — could inform us on the trajectory of the genre of live-service games.
First off, it’s important to set the context for this discussion. Player counts tend to be a common gauge of a game’s health, and we can easily see why the major titles we mentioned above seem very much alive and well in 2023:
Overwatch 2 – Player count remained mostly stable, with a small loss of players in December.
Apex Legends – Retained their massive player count consistently, and even had new all-time highs at the start of 2024.
Fortnite – Slowed down in player count compared to 2022, but shows signs of recovering.
Destiny 2 – A couple rocky patches throughout 2023, but has had an uptick in recent players.
World of Warcraft – Following similar patterns of player counts that it has had for years, and a large uptick of average daily players at the start of 2024.
Note: Most studios and companies do not release their official player numbers, and this analysis was done with third-party numbers fromhttps://activeplayer.io.
You look at this information, and it’s easy to come to the conclusion that live-service games aren’t on a downswing, and, to the contrary, are debatably doing better than ever.
Yet, there is a key observation to be made here: these games are the exceptions, not the rule.
There have been many, many live-service games that have failed. The most recent example of this could be the new game, Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League. The studio has been facing so much pushback from fans that they’ve said they will incorporate an offline mode for the game, something that live-service games just don’t do. Another big one that is struggling is Diablo 4, which had a good release but hasn’t been able to gain traction since.
One main strike against live-service, is perhaps a strike for regular games. 2023 saw the release of many successful AAA games that don’t follow a service model: games like Hogwarts Legacy, Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, and Baldur’s Gate 3. I’d also be remiss in not mentioning that at the time of writing, Palworld has exploded in popularity, and it not being a live-service game is a potential reason for that.
Some readers probably watched the award shows and are thinking, “Of course, Baldur’s Gate 3won everything. This must mean that live-service games are in decline.” That’s an easy line to draw, but it’s tempered by the fact that live-service games have hardly ever won major awards and accolades. In the last decade, the only live-service games to win Game of the Year were Overwatch in 2016 for The Game Awards, and Fortnite in 2018 for the Golden Joystick Awards. Meanwhile, over those same last ten years, the usual suspects (see list above) have had huge player counts to keep them company in lieu of trophies.
If you’re starting to think that live-service games are here to stay, then you’re not the only one. A recent survey was conducted and found that 95% of game studios are working on at least one live-service game. The definition for live-service game in the survey was a little loose, being “any regular update cadence planned for a game.” However, that doesn’t take away the shock of that many studios are investing their time and resources into games they plan to continue updating.
One of the those studios is among the largest studios out there, and they have doubled down on live-service games, if only to discover they’re not easy to develop. Last year (2023) was the first full year of Bungie (developer of Destiny and Destiny 2) being owned by Sony Interactive Entertainment, and part of the reason they were acquired was to help Sony develop new live-service games — 12 in total. Well, Bungie was not impressed, and since then, half of the scheduled Sony live-service games have been put on ice.
Sony might just be seeing the future clearly, though, if Newzoo’s predictions are accurate. They believe that 2024 will see a cooling down of live-service games in the industry. Their reasoning is that licensing deals haven’t been as good for indie gaming companies and this — coupled with players having less time for grind-heavy games — indicates there will be less live-service games in 2024.
Ultimately, it seems that who you ask will greatly affect the answer to the titular question of live-service gaming and its status in 2024. What do you think? Are you planning on playing live-service games throughout 2024? Are you going to stop? Tell us in the comments!
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Kelson is a spud head from out west. He is most happy when holding a milky tea with too much honey and playing a sprawling role playing game or reading a fantasy novel. His video game tastes vary but his main genres are looter shooters, RPGs, and real time strategy games.