Rautalahti emphasized the value of digital preservation, although he sees fans and institutions like the Internet Archive as more likely saviors than developers. “It would really be worth making some effort to preserve these things. It might not seem that valuable right now, but as someone working on it, it would be nice to know that games don’t just get lost in the ether. I would like to think that they are also culturally significant, not necessarily as a single game but as part of a whole. I’m sure you’ve seen a lot in 50 years of how online culture has evolved.”
Archiving options are a good long-term goal, but what can help keep more live games online today? Morris points to the increasing ease of cross-platform multiplayer to increase player counts, while Rautalahti highlights the need for good onboarding.
“One problem with live games is that they’re really hard to get to as a player. There were countless events you missed, so you’re completely lost. Are there any good ascents for the narration? Can you even witness the narration, or is someone going to shoot you in the face the entire time?”
A good story would not have saved hyperscape, but Rautalahti points this out destiny 2 League Of Legends, and warframe, All of this started with thin and obscure stories, now has countless lore and dedicated fans creating or consuming wikis and YouTube videos about them.
“When war frame came out, they were pretty weird space ninjas going around killing each other. But over the years, they’ve completely revamped their story and put a lot of effort into bringing it to a higher level. I think that made a big difference in how people see their game.”
Add to that the fact that live service games can become side jobs that take up a lot of your free time if you want to keep up. If hardcore gamers aren’t getting a constant stream of content, then they’ll move on to another game and force the developers to produce endless updates, making it intimidating for new players to delve into a sprawling game with esoteric mechanics and lore videos longer than most movies.
This constant need for content can turn live service development into a pressure cooker. Taylor loves the genre but wonders how these games are made.
“The model can be extremely lucrative. The problem is that many companies come into the market with such a poor understanding of what makes live gaming work. Planning and scope are extremely important for live games as they require updates. Players expect a constant stream of new content. Live games can be improved over time, but if you start with the expectation that you can just ‘fix it later’, many players will just drop it.”
While the overall development of AAA games is challenging, the rigorous schedule of live service games is particularly challenging. Delay an update and you could lose players to another title. Rautalahti notes: “They have no leeway. You have to keep putting stuff out. To create any content you need a programmer, scripter, artist, animator, level designer, writer, a producer to coordinate, maybe a voice actor… and if anything in that chain is delayed for any reason, it immediately leads to crunching. And you cannot disappoint investors [putting] the health and safety of your crew first.”