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Live service games mean video games are no longer ending

With games becoming more like services, and with lives having to be lived by the same standards, coming to an end on a definitive note feels outdated.

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For a long time in gaming, it was considered a badge of honor to explore every nook and cranny of a game in search of its hidden endings, collectibles, and side quests. Live service models have become increasingly popular in the gaming industry in recent years, with developers committing to regular releases of new content, updates, and story arcs for their games. Does this new model of development make the question of whether or not video games need a conclusion moot?

The vast majority of the earliest video games didn’t have conclusions; instead, they featured progressively more difficult levels designed to challenge even the most skilled players. It was common practice for players to replay their favorite games multiple times, learning all the ins and outs of the game in preparation for the release of the sequel, as games grew more complex and were able to tell stories and provide longer experiences. Many games these days have a longer shelf life because they can be played multiple times and because they constantly add new content.

The promise of new content being released regularly is a major selling point for live service models. Even though it may be too much to take in for new players right now, Destiny 2’s model of providing additional seasons and content has extended the game’s lifespan beyond that of its predecessor. For multiplayer games in particular, this model of constant updates rather than creating sequels seems to have been fully embraced because it means that players can keep the items and skins they’ve unlocked in-game and not have to start from scratch when the next title launches.

The live service model also enables designers to keep in touch with their players by releasing more frequent updates that fix game-breaking bugs and counteract overpowered strategies. For example, Apex Legends uses the season format to rebalance the game’s meta every few months, giving players a chance to interact with the game’s content in new ways and preventing developer Respawn from having to make Apex Legends 2 a full year and a half after the original game’s 2019 release.

Even though multiplayer is where many games find their longevity—to the point where Naughty Dog is planning to introduce a The Last of Us factions multiplayer game—single-player experiences have found ways to always provide more for the player to do as well. The defining characteristic of roguelikes is their high degree of replayability, with each new run offering something new to enjoy.

Elden Ring is able to keep players engaged for much longer than other single-player experiences because of the game’s wide variety of gameplay, which includes a number of different and interesting endings and the option to engage in player-versus-player combat. Since its release, Elden Ring has maintained a greater level of popularity than many other single-player games, despite the fact that its anticipated DLC has not yet been released.

While this method of constantly introducing new players to fresh content has its advantages, it is far from perfect. As games expand uncontrollably, it can annoy players when developers refuse to scrap old systems in favor of more refined ones. While the Dragonflight expansion for World of Warcraft may be well received, many players have already abandoned the once-dominant MMO due to its bloated and stale nature, despite the fact that the game has undergone numerous changes throughout its lifetime.

The trend of extending the length of games rather than concluding them and moving on to a sequel is quickly becoming the norm rather than the exception. While there will always be a need for short games with definitive endings, games that give players the option to keep playing even after the story is over will enjoy greater longevity in the public consciousness.