Battle passing on to the other side
Online game closures are nothing new to the industry. New multiplayer and purely online games come and go with the seasons. But we’re a month into 2023, and have seen a heavy smattering of live-service games announcing their imminent closure.
Live-service, or “games-as-a-service” games, constantly update. They find life in the churn, and for some, it’s an extremely lucrative prospect. Look no further than Fortnite, Call of Duty Warzone, or Genshin Impact for examples. Heck, even MMOs — which existed a bit prior to the prominence of live-service titles — could fall under this umbrella. Games like Destiny 2 and Final Fantasy XIV are, and have been, going strong.
Still, this past week, we’ve seen a number of newer games announce their imminent closure. Fellow media outlet Gematsu put together a handy list over on Twitter, but here are just some of the ones we covered just this week:
And this list doesn’t even include Crimesight or Echo VR. And if we expand this out further, many other live service games have been shutting down since the start of this year, with Marvel’s Avengers planning to close by the end.
Some, at least, get a neater conclusion. Turtle Rock Studios has confirmed it’s not working on any more Back 4 Blood content as it moves onto its next game, but the servers will stay up for the foreseeable future. Others, like Rumbleverse, have a limited window of time for its players and any lapsed fans to hop back on and play.
It’s disheartening, to say the least. For one, I’d like to think all these games had developers working on them who cared about their project. Look no further than the letter that Iron Galaxy developers wrote for the Rumbleverse community, which has been stuck in the back of my mind through all these closures:
“When you work on a video game, you imagine the community that will show up to play it someday. For years, we dreamed about a lively city filled with people fighting to become a champion. We strived to create a vibrant place that celebrated the competitive spirit. Our goal was to bring joy back to online multiplayer gaming.”
“The people who gave Rumbleverse a chance and took it on as a new hobby have validated every day that we put into bringing our ideas to life. We have loved watching you play. We have learned from your stories and your insights. We even passed around the art you’ve created to immortalize your best moments in the streets.”
That’s the dream, right? I’d like to think that’s the hope of every social multiplayer game, at least before a Multiverse-chasing CEO gets their hands on it. The vision of just having some players hop in, meet each other, socialize, and enjoy the systems of play you’ve created in an interactive world is incredible.
But live-service is also the lifeblood for large publishers. A constant stream of revenue from one, especially one that’s popular enough and lucrative enough, can keep companies thriving. Take Ubisoft, for example: the massive publisher recently cancelled three unannounced projects, on top of four previously announced cancellations from the year prior. Speaking on the matter, CEO Yves Guillemot cited a shift in the industry:
“We are clearly disappointed by our recent performance. We are facing contrasted market dynamics as the industry continues to shift towards mega-brands and everlasting live games, in the context of worsening economic conditions affecting consumer spending.”
Guillemot goes on to note the back catalogue of Ubisoft and “robust activity” around Rainbow Six Siege. These can’t just be good games, though They have to perform, become long-lasting, and provide offerings across multiple platforms and business models.
“We expect our strategy to build long-lasting live games and transform our biggest brands into truly global phenomenon with multiple offerings across platforms and business models, to ultimately generate significant value creation, with strong topline and operating income growth over the coming years.”
So, where does that leave a live-service game that doesn’t become the biggest brand? Babylon’s Fall felt like a surprise when it closed, with such a quick turn from launch to closure. That narrow window isn’t quite the outlier it was, though.
I’ve seen dozens of games come and go, but it does feel like live-service games are under more pressure than ever to sink or swim. It’s disheartening to see, as someone that loves these surprises as social spaces to connect with friends and excuses for everyone to hop on a Discord call on a Thursday night.
Not everything needs to be a “forever” game, but I also hope some can have opportunities to float or even tread water — like Back 4 Blood has — for the communities that latch onto them. A game disappearing into the ether of the Internet doesn’t inspire confidence in our ability to preserve and commemorate the medium.