What does it mean when your live game dies?

Who knows how long your favourite live service game has left to live

Two years, six months and one day after its release in October 2019, Ubisoft is pulling the plug on Ghost Recon Breakpoint. It was done gently enough, alongside a screenshot of four Ghost comrades standing on a mountaintop, looking out across the valley as the sun kisses Auroa’s plentiful treetops. A brief statement thanked players for “all the love and support”, and succinctly surmised the shooter’s 11 updates and crossover events. Ubisoft added that servers will be maintained even though development has ceased, but – interestingly – didn’t indicate how long for.

Two years. Six months. One day. It’s not long, is it? Not when you think some games – Destiny 2; Dota 2; World of Warcraft – have been around five, nine, and seventeen years respectively.

To be clear, even as a card-carrying lover of the Ubisoft formula (albeit not of its grotesque NFT obsession nor its alleged employment practices) it’s hard for me to describe Breakpoint as anything but broken, at least when it released. A dull, tedious world full of dull, tedious missions – that is, if you could get the missions to load in the first place – it’s to the team’s credit and tenacity that it managed to rebuild the franchise’s reputation enough to maintain a passionate fanbase for two months, let alone two years.

destiny 2
Destiny 2. Credit: Bungie

But what the hell do you do when a game you’ve loved, a game you’ve sunk your own money and time into every week – maybe even every day – for two and a half years, calls it a day? Sure, you have the game as it currently stands. You have access to your DLC and your daily missions and – if you succumbed – your NFT items, even though they were controversially added just a few months back. You have your servers, too, but let’s not beat around the bush here: how long for?

But if the developer has given up on a game, does that mean you should, too? I mean, it’s not an inevitability for Ubisoft games. Rainbow Six Siege – another fan-favourite shooter from Ubisoft – released way back in 2015, and that’s still routinely getting new content. Breakpoint’s lacklustre Metacritic rating (an aggregate of just 3.0 out of 10 as voted by over a thousand PS4 players) may indicate why Ubisoft has made the decision it has, but I can’t help but feel sorry for the fans that supported the shooter way after people like me slagged it off and promptly uninstalled it.

Sadly, Breakpoint isn’t alone. Bandai Namco‘s Fast & Furious Crossroads was recently dealt a similar blow. Yes, you’ll still be able to play online – for now – and access any DLC you’ve already paid for, but “all product sales” come to a stop at the end of the month. Fast & Furious Crossroads had barely limped over its 18-month anniversary before its plug was similarly yanked, and while it too got a roasting by critics and players alike – are we detecting a theme, yet? – 18 months feels barely enough time to have gotten going, let alone to have given up. 18 months is not bloody long at all.

Rainbow Six Siege
Rainbow Six Siege. Credit: Ubisoft

For all of the bells and whistles and conveniences of the digital age, the sad fact is, any live service game – yes, even the ones you physically own and no, I don’t just necessarily mean games with co-op or competitive modes – can suffer the same fate at any point. Any game that relies on an “always-on” connection – often touted as an anti-cheating mechanic, as per the recent kerfuffle around Gran Turismo 7 – is at the mercy of those who pay the server bills, and a game’s concurrent player count can make or break its future.

And look, I get it. I understand that companies can’t sustain the costs of worldwide servers when the fanbase has dwindled to dozens rather than thousands. But we’re offering up our money in good faith here. We’ve watched the presentations and oohed at the glitzy trailers and we showed our support by pre-ordering these games (even though I posit we probably shouldn’t) months – Christ, sometimes years – before they release. And what do we get for our early commitment and buying deluxe editions? Shafted, that’s what.

Do I sound pissed off? Good. I am. Because none of us knows what game is and is not going to make it – anyone who says otherwise, myself included, is delusional – which means every time we open our wallets for a live service game, it’s a gamble. It’s a risk. It doesn’t matter how good the marketing is. It doesn’t matter if it’s an indie developer or a powerhouse with a 30-year back catalogue. None of us knows if the game we invested in will be here in a year’s time, let alone five or ten – just ask Anthem fans.

Anthem
Anthem. Credit: BioWare

I know neither of the games I’ve mentioned here has indicated plans to turn off servers yet, but when development ceases and there’s no further way for publishers to squeeze those additional DLC pounds out of you, isn’t it a sad inevitability? How long do you, the committed fan, keep on playing; do you kick it into touch now and find something else with a brighter future, or keep riding until the wheels fall off?

Two years, six months, and one day is all it took to pump the brakes on Breakpoint. 1 year, 7 months, and 24 days was all Crossroads had before its creators, too, waved the white flag. Who knows how long your favourite live service game has left to live.

Vikki Blake is a freelance journalist and columnist for NME.

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