Live Services – Part 3: The good, the bad and the ugly

For the final part of my three-part series on GaaS (part 1 & part 2) I thought I would list some of the Live Services/GaaS which I think do the whole service model very well. Or indeed very badly.

The good

Path of Exile | Grinding Gear Games
Often the term ‘free to play done right’ is banded around for many games. But I think here it is actually the perfect descriptor. Since 2013, Grinding Gear Games have been working on their ARPG with growing praise from those that have played it. The game does some major things right. All content is free, the game can be played as a free player with no penalty and makes you want to support the developer rather than feel you need to. It is far from perfect in that selling cosmetics limits the visual customisation options and the prices of some of its packs or in-game items feels slightly too expensive. But again it gets the balance right. And ultimately is as close to the best f2p game business model as you will find. The content on offer is fantastic and it is an outstanding ARPG as well.

World of Warcraft | Activision Blizzard
You could probably insert a few MMO’s here, but Blizzard’s 14-year old veteran game’s subscription model still works. And by retaining a subscription model there are very few in-game items to buy for real money. Whilst players moan about subscriptions, they still can provide one of the fairest business models a videogame can use. It’s also worth mentioning that WoW expansions have a Collector’s Edition but with only a few cosmetics included. There’s no Normal, Gold, Ultimate version rubbish here.

Guild Wars 2 | ArenaNet
No subscription and reasonably priced microtransactions. Far from perfect but does a lot of things very well when it comes to its business model. Unlike WoW it doesn’t have a subscription which is its strength.

Warframe | Digital Extremes
Great game, wonderful developer. F2p largely done right although the Prime Access pack are very expensive. However probably the best community manager in any videogame. And a phenomenally unique game. The fact this is the best looter shooter out there speaks volumes.

The bad

Call of Duty | Activision Blizzard
Year on year release. Season Pass, pre-order items, over £100 for the most expensive version and p2w in the form of weapons with better stats being in lootboxes. On top of that, this year’s entry has a slow grind version of Fortnite’s battle pass which has been designed to be very sllloooooowwwww at rewarding the player for obvious reasons. Eugh. About the most offensive cocktail of business models in modern triple AAA videogames.

Destiny | Bungie & Activision Blizzard
Again yearly releases, season passes and an endgame designed around lootboxes. For many including myself the realisation hit with the second game that there just wasn’t enough to justify the high purchase price. Great shooter and for the hardcore group PVE players they will be able to see pass these faults.

Grand Theft Auto Online | Rockstar & Take Two Interactive
A freemium, mobile game in structure. Everything is built around earning money which is very, very slow to acquire. It isn’t pretty. But unfortunately it has generated billions for Take 2 and Rockstar and clearly a blueprint for the recently released Red Dead Online.

FIFA/Madden Ultimate Team | Electronic Arts
I’ve written about this one before but EA has come under increasing criticism for its annual sports titles that appear to have only improvements in things relating to the Ultimate Team modes that are generating EA near or over a $billion every year. Like GTA V it’s effectively a freemium mobile game, with declining reasons for those not wanting to play the online mode to consider buying the game.

And the ugly

Marvel Heroes | Gazillion Entertainment (now defunct)
Marvel Heroes is a story of a f2p ARPG which was quite good fun and had a small but loyal following of fans. But is no longer around since it’s closure in November 2017. The studio and game were shut down only 12 days after Disney announced it was ending it’s working relationship with the developer. It’s a great example of where it’s possible to invest money and time in a service but unfortunately there is no guarantee it will be around that long.

I could list others like Evolve, or Lawbreakers. Indeed maybe even Fallout 76 which has turned into a big mess of a game. But ultimately I just needed one example to make the pun work!


I probably could list more examples in each category but when writing this it started to become clear that a trend has emerged over the last few years which is arguably good for consumers. And that is the rise of smaller, more dynamic studios whose games are reinventing and innovating within the industry without the pressure from publishers. And right now it’s hard to argue that the big five western publishers don’t have a monetisation problem where their greed is killing something special in a lot of their games.

Best incomplete Game of the Year is…?

So Red Dead Redemption 2 has arrived and already dominated critical opinion. On both OpenCritic and MetaCritic sites it has an average score of 97%. That puts it amongst some of the highest scoring games ever on these aggregate sites. However the reviews are all based on an incomplete videogame, or at least only part of the overall package being purchased. Because until Red Dead Online (the multiplayer mode) releases all these reviews are only of the single-player portion of the game.

This isn’t the first time this has happened, in that Grand Theft Auto 5 launched without GTA Online, which arrived a few weeks after launch. However it feels like one of the few time such an important mode has been ignored within a videogame review. Imagine reviews of Halo 5 without mentioning the multiplayer, or a review of Call of Duty which only touch upon Zombies mode etc. Indeed imagine a review of a film or a book, where the reviewer has only seen or read some of the work. It feels broken to say the least.

Unfortunately this is just part of the reality of videogame reviews. Huge cachet or financial rewards are placed on reviews and the Metacritic aggregate. And this aggregate doesn’t update upon re-reviews. So videogame developers and publishers who love to control every aspect of a products launch know that it really doesn’t matter what happens afterwards. There are examples of broken reviews everywhere, for example Halo: The Master Chief Collection got a high 85 on MetaCritic, but barely any of the reviews even mention the broken state that the package released in. Where even basic features such as online matchmaking didn’t work properly (although Microsoft and 343 Industries have recently returned to repair and update the game). Arguably making videogame reviews even more complicated is the changing nature of Live Services and online games.

It is a reason why forums, Reddit or YouTube have become more important for some in evaluating a videogame. As I noted in my recent blog post reviews have arguably improved with user generated content and the rise of more independent videogame reviewers.

Red Dead Redemption 2 might be the game of the year and worthy of praise, but it’s still curious to see barely any mention of the incoming multiplayer mode. Almost as if it’s an afterthought. Although in reality it is anything but. If Rockstar treat RDR 2 the same as GTA V then it is the single-player mode which will be static, whilst only the online component receives new content. The single-player mode will be stuck in time. Much like the reviews of Red Dead Redemption 2.