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Sony is betting big on live service PS5 games, and I couldn't be less interested
The Japanese company wants 60% of its PS5 games to be live service titles by 2025
Sony is setting its sights firmly on live service games for PS5, and I’m not exactly thrilled by that prospect. In fact, I’m dreading it.
Live service games are a dime a dozen in the industry. From Destiny 2 and Fortnite to Sea of Thieves, PUBG, and Call of Duty: Warzone, hundreds of thousands of players flock to these titles every day to earn the latest cosmetic rewards, enjoy any new content that’s been added, and tick off their never-ending virtual to-do lists.
The genre’s appeal is obvious, particularly to publishers. Single-player games need to sell millions of copies to earn back development costs, and once you’ve sold a title for $70, that’s usually the end of its revenue stream.
DLC (downloadable content) and Season Passes can bring in additional revenue over time, but generally, the model is limited and ultimately tied to how many copies a publisher can shift. We’re also now seeing more games come to subscription services like Xbox Game Pass and PlayStation Plus Premium, muddying the waters of what consumers are willing to pay and when.
However, Sony has done extremely well with this traditional model, delivering critically acclaimed single-player, story-driven games like God of War Ragnarok and The Last of Us Part 1 that have also transcended into successful TV shows and movie adaptions. Until now, it’s largely avoided live service games, but that won’t be the case for much longer.
For the payers
Live service games are always evolving, and allow developers to constantly dangle new carrots in front of players in the hopes they’ll open up their wallets and keep playing. Battle Passes, first introduced by Fortnite, are commonplace now, and work as almost a monthly subscription fee and tap into the “fear of missing out” model that developers are reluctant to admit exists.
Ultimately, every element of a live service game is designed to keep you engaged and coming back for more. And if you’ve invested some serious time and money into a game, it can be hard to just walk away and also may deter you from playing other live service games.
Microsoft has leaned on live service games more than Sony in recent years, and it’s had mixed success, to say the least. Sea of Thieves took a few years to get going but is now one of the best Xbox Series X games, and Halo Infinite could have been a money-making juggernaut but was woefully mismanaged. It hasn’t been able to deliver the cadence of updates players demand, either.
Even though the concept is simple, live service games aren’t easy to get right. We’ve seen countless casualties in the past like Marvel’s Avengers, Anthem, Evolve, Battlefield 2042, and many more. Some titles managed to recover, like Fallout 76, but still left a bad impression and a noticeable stain on the franchise.
Sony will be all too aware of the prospect of failure as it’s dabbled with live service games in the past. Destruction All-Stars was a PS5 launch title that failed to find an audience and quickly became free-to-play after launching for $70.
Tides of change
Clearly, that hasn’t discouraged Sony as it has no less than 12 live service games in production. During a Business Segment Meeting, Sony also announced its focus on “traditional” games will shift to live service ones in a 40/60 split instead of the current 88/12 split we see today. That means the majority of PlayStation-produced games will be live service titles in 2025. Forgive me for feeling deflated by that prospect.
My biggest criticism of Sony’s first-party output and the best PS5 games has always been that they all feel overly similar. They’ve never left me feeling wanting in terms of content or quality and it’s only the new $70 which has changed my expectations, somewhat.
But playing a free-to-play God of War online multiplayer game with all the trimmings of a live service title? Count me out. That sounds about as fun as queuing two and a half hours to play Knack at the Tokyo Game Show only to find out it was rubbish. Thanks for that cherished memory, Sony.
In terms of live service games, though, we already know that Sony is working on a Horizon Zero Dawn MMO, which I’ve personally never heard anyone clamoring for. There’s also the upcoming The Last of Us Factions 2 multiplayer title, and more games are on the way that will constantly vie for your time and money with each and every update. I’m already exhausted by the prospect.
I said it’s time to stop buying video games at launch due to the dire state they now tend to arrive in. And unfortunately, live service games provide the perfect excuse for developers to deliver a work-in-progress concept that they slowly build upon without the same sort of backlash.
Live service games are also permanently online affairs, meaning Sony will be hoping you also shell out up for a PS Plus subscription every month – another passive income stream it’s keen to increase. (Use our PlayStation Plus discount code to save a bit of money if you do want to play online by the way.)
Don’t get me wrong – live service games can be compelling, and I’ve enjoyed my fair share. But it’s not the direction I want Sony to go, especially with its prized PlayStation IP in the future.
Instead, I want to see Sony working hard to deliver the sort of ingenuity and ambition Nintendo has shown with The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom – a game that surpasses almost anything I’ve played and is running on a glorified smartphone chip. Or maybe Sony could spend its resources creating a Half-Life: Alyx rivaling experience on PSVR 2 that makes the headset a must-buy instead of a luxury purchase?
I’m sure great PS5 games will still come from Sony’s in-house teams, but knowing they’ll soon be overshadowed by a growing focus on live service titles giving me less to play is a bitter pill to swallow.
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