Why is gaming shifting to LiveOps, the Metaverse and who does not need it

How did games as service emerge, what are they used for, what are LiveOps in games, why does CS not change with years and stays popular, what else will be created in Fortnite and what is awesomeness inflation?

There are so many questions that I decided to arrange them into a small FAQ. And this is because a whole chunk of games which aim at years of life are becoming games as a service (GaaS) and shifting towards the Metaverse.

It became more evident when Fortnite began creating global in-game events, content for them and collaborations. This system is not suitable for everyone (and doesn’t appeal to everyone), but the trend is obvious. Even separate LiveOps for featuring modules have appeared in mobile stores. It means that stores themselves began giving developers marketing tools for events promotion inside games. And such games as CS don’t almost change and still stay popular. Does it mean that using LiveOps can spoil the game? It certainly can.

FAQ

— What is LiveOps in gaming?
LiveOps is a relatively new term. In Game Dev it refers to a number of in-game events, content, narrative and promotions. It is necessary for maintaining the project life when players have already mastered the core and meta — then they need events to refresh the experience, get new emotions not to turn the game into a routine.

— How did it emerge?
At first developers created some content connected with holidays merely for a change. Even eight years ago my team was creating content for a mobile game which was connected with Halloween and other holidays. We added theme weapon and decorated the lobby — it was enough for that time.

Seeing the interest of gamers and a burst of activity developers began to create more unique content for holidays — temporary locations, dungeons etc. It was almost always tied up to the world events and gradually, starting with separate items of content, it began to be packed into a narrative wrapper.

It partially started with the Battle Pass. If you buy the Battle Pass, the longer you play the more prizes you get. It was a purely commercial idea but then it was tied up to a certain event. As a result commercially successful algorithm mixed with the effectiveness of the event season and it began to turn into carefully crafted game seasons. For example, there appeared a global enemy in a game universe as well as monthly quests, locations and content connected with it in particular.

So, at some moment it became clear that it was possible to generate your own events without tying them up to the real world. Gamers inside the project have their own independent life — they relax, socialize, make friends, simulate situations and create their own content based on games.

— Why does it work?
In most games, if there are no changes for a long time, gameplay turns into a routine and gamers start leaving the game in spite of the progress. These are objective metrics and that is why in Fortnite there appeared UFOs arriving for a month, the Cube Queen destroying the island piece by piece etc.

[ Here is a video about Fortnite’s storyline ]

If you dig deeper, you can see that it is all about the human biology. Novelty and suspense reward brain. Just catching pokemons or shooting for a whole year is for the most part is boring.

If in the game at some point everything becomes made of jelly and there is a giant ball gliding over the area and throwing bazookas — a gamer would want to see it with their own eyes and return to the game. Especially, if all other gamers in the game community start discussing it.

Pokemon Go, for example, do all of it in reality. They rent the whole parks in different parts of the world and organize huge events. People come just because they can catch certain pokemons only in these locations. These are also LiveOps (and they happen to be literally Live).

[ This is an example of quite a recent event: Pokemon GO Fest 2022 ]

When Arcane was released, they made a collaboration with с PUBG — added a flying city, a new mode and a content pack, getting branded LiveOps.

[ You can find this collaboration video there ]

— And what about CS? I’ve been playing it for 20 years and still not bored!
LiveOps model is not suitable for every project. CS:GO practically doesn’t change with years and still remains super popular. But even CS makes steps towards events, new modes and content. It just does it very carefully because the game core is strongly tied to sport. The main goal of CS is building personal skill to take part in ranked games.

In CS or Dota 2 not much can be changed because players gain their skill, they spend a lot of hours on that to get into a rating system or a tournament. Аnd Fortnite is a fun service which provides the environment where players do simple things but at the same time their experience
changes.

If in CS Glocks are changed for water guns, a few people will be happy about it. If the game rules are changed, it is still worse. But it is possible to carefully introduce new modes without distracting from classical matches as Valve did.

We can’t say that games as service are bad. Originally, those were gamers who got interested in this system. It isn’t just suitable for every project.
For example, a part of players left mobile Lineage Revolution. I happened to enter this game a year later and saw Batman driving by on Vespa. It was not what I expected from an anime MMORPG. Although even in League of Legends there is a skin of a meta-courier from KFC.

[ In some regions they made a promotion with local delivery services ]

But if such content is supplied in big amounts, there will remain only a thin layer of players. Events themselves are necessary and important but you shouldn’t cross the line when the context of the project, its special features and the basis get changed. For example, in CS this is special forces against terrorists with real weapon. It is acceptable to change the colouring because it doesn’t break the specificity. But if you add inflatable guns, adult audience won’t accept it.

In LiveOps you can easily be carried away. There are no problems if from the very beginning the game is designed taking this model into account. Fortnite’s metrics soared up when the game became a shooter with battle royale and the first event took place (a meteorite fell down). After that events became more epic, a special team was hired, they began connecting characters with each other, added branded things to the game, arranged music concerts etc.

[ And in Pokemon GO there is a special collection of UNIQLO clothes, well, you get the idea ]

— What will happen when the ideas of events end up?
In Fortnite they have already made a black hole sucking the world twice. When you start epically you cut off any opportunities for development. If you have marketed something that destroys reality, it will be more problematic to make something more awesome. But the problem of awesomeness inflation is quite common nowadays including the film industry.

Spider-man used to simply fly web but now he meets himself from different universes. «South Park» broke the fourth wall, in «Rick and Morty» Morty went beyond the reality established by his granddad.

It becomes obvious that the spectator’s mind has already matured to consume more complicated
concepts.

It is now necessary to make things more and more sophisticated to spark interest. But at the same time it involves analyzing and planning further on to be able to slow down at any moment. If one creates a complicated event in the very beginning, they won’t be able to compete with themselves. After a season about traveling in space one can create an event about spies. Imaginary context can be changed into real — it is important to create contrast and it doesn’t have to be necessarily about the meaning, it has to provide a new experience.

On the whole, it is a self-complicating process, and it seems to me that there will be a serious crisis in two years, it will become difficult to impress people. Developers will have to aim at the lowest biological levels. For example, the authors of Gravity Falls made Inside Job (drugs, sex, death).
They did it for the sake of contrast and competition. The next who will use the same context will have to do it tougher. Or, on the contrary, everybody will get sick and tired of it. In design, for instance, everybody has got back to eco and minimalism again.

In their turn, the authors of Rick and Morty released even tougher Solar Opposites.

— Are there any peculiarities of creating a big event?
First, you need a preparatory part. You should announce, make teasers, spoilers — that is to prepare people. Then you should gradually develop (if gamers don’t get the idea, they won’t get interested), sustain and during a certain period of time give out the content in portions so that gamers couldn’t get it all quickly. That is why events connected with one storyline start off with pauses. The clearer a story is told, the more content will be consumed.

Then you should create as many points connected with each other as possible. For instance, we are creating an event with an alien in a shooter. In a free game mode, without any timing, when people just run around, we hang up plates which teleport people between maps. And in the main mode you create a reskin of the map for the context.

It turns out that in all modes where monetization works gamers got a piece of a new content. At the same time the pack should relate to everything: the lobby, the screen, loading, all the modes, the content etc. Ideally, you should add unique mechanics for this season. It is very important so that
all the groups of players felt the changes.

There are also buffer events (or secondary) between main events in a big pack. They are inserted between main seasons. If there is an ancient event (the Vikings, Egypt), we carry out spin-off sales of the relevant content, and the event starts working more efficiently. If people run around an arena
among gladiators, it becomes clearer to them why they need swords in a shooter.

As people consume it in cycles, you should supply the content in turns. If you had a Sci-Fi season, next you should make a historical one, then in a cartoon style or a weird one (food, a virtual word). Then you make a real-life one. If there is a constantly playing core of people, you shouldn’t give them one and the same theme twice in a row. And on the contrary, if they’ve just had blasters and then they are given live guns with eyes, they will be more eager to get a new content.

— Where is everything moving?
To metaverses. Facebook was renamed into Meta and is preparing a base for people to log in with a physical avatar wearing a helmet (yes, they are not very successful yet but we are speaking about the future). Some people are preparing a platform allowing to log in from one metaverse into another, but it is a different story.

[ And this is a teaser of the next article about what shouldn’t be called by name so far this year… ]

In Fortnite there appeared Balenciaga clothes, Nike sneakers, Ferrari cars etc. Something similar once was in Second Life. Nowadays you won’t get far with a fancy shooter as the audience has become more demanding. Even Apple, when asking game developers about their plans for their stores, they ask particularly about LiveOps, moreover about plans for a whole quarter of a year. Studios plan events for upcoming months, membership, marketing. It means that all the major developers gradually start thinking about these categories.

Useful links

Liveops modules from stores:
> https://play.google.com/console/about/programs/liveopsbeta/
> https://developer.apple.com/app-store/in-app-events/
Traffic sellers’ perspective:
> https://www.applovin.com/blog/what-are-live-ops-and-why-are-they-important
Super useful tool for comparing trends and their impact:
> https://trends.google.com/trends/explore?date=today%205-
y&q=minecraft,fortnite,roblox,genshin%20impact,brawl%20stars

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P.S. If the article sparks heated debate, I will throw even more provocative material, so stay turned.

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Anton Finiukov (Paraphyn)

Anton Finiukov (Paraphyn)

Lead Game Designer of the world-famous mobile FPS — Pixel Gun 3D. More than 10 years in mobile game development. Designed over 2000 items from idea to release.