Warner Bros. CEO David Zaslav has set out the company’s plans for the future, and, surprise surprise, there’s yet more live service stuff on the horizon.
The company’s latest ambitions were revealed in an earnings call yesterday (thanks, Eurogamer). Zaslav states: “We recognize that we can do a better job of managing and maximizing the value of our blue chip franchises like Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, and Superman.”
He then goes on to say that the company’s “focus is on transforming our biggest franchises from largely console and PC based with three-four year release schedules to [including] more always on gameplay through live services, multiplatform and free-to-play extensions.” The goal? “More players spending more time on more platforms.”
Earlier in the call, Zaslav celebrates games like Hogwarts Legacy: “Our Harry Potter fans have immersed themselves in Hogwarts legacy, playing more than 700 million hours to date. That engagement helps not only our games business, but also helps build and revitalise the entire Harry Potter franchise and we know our fans want even more.” Confusingly that game’s a self-contained RPG and not very live service at all, despite its Destiny 2-style equipment screen.
For obvious reasons, Zaslav didn’t mention the weirdly on-hiatus MultiVersus, which I’m still scratching my head about, nor the tepid reactions to Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League in February. PC Gamer’s Robin Valentine described taping superheroes onto the live service treadmill as a “fundamentally awful combination”, and I’m inclined to agree with him. A similar approach with Gotham Knights led largely to disaster.
So far, the live service elements jammed into these games feel more like afterthoughts. Suicide Squad is standing on the crumpled shoulder of Gotham Knights, adding weirdly granular percentile modifiers to its stat-sticks. MultiVersus nipped at your heels with annoying daily quests. Hogwarts Legacy, which is the least live service of those examples, still had you equipping different rarities of gloves to make your magic hurt real good. And hey, remember when 2017’s Middle-earth: Shadow of War released with loot boxes? And Warner Bros. wants to pivot to live service now?
There’s also the underlying motivation here that I’m sure most gamers are tired of hearing, even if it’s technically a good way to make money: ramping up playtime. Live service games hinge on keeping you playing in perpetuity, drip-feeding rewards while stapling you to their underbellies with FOMO mechanics and steady grinds.
I don’t even hate live service stuff on the whole. Sometimes the loot treadmill can be satisfying, I am not immune to Pavlov’s digital treats. But we all love games that are eight-to-ten hour joyrides, and I’m sure most of us are tired of seeing potentially great games get hit with the money-making live-service doom ray.
I think it’s why Kill the Justice League caused such a tepid response, and I think it’s why these quotes make me groan now. Some days I wonder if, ten years from now, the live service model will be a distant memory—granted, we might just have something new and horrible to deal with.
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