What is a live service game?

As recently as 20 years ago, the concept of a live service game did not even exist. Cheaper and faster online connectivity changed all that.

What is a live service game? (Definition)

A live service game is a game that is regularly updated with new monetized content, receives constant support, and typically features highly engaging gameplay designed specifically to encourage players to continue playing for as long as possible. 

Live service games have become increasingly prevalent over recent years as part of a wider movement in the global gaming industry toward games as a service (i.e. paid for via subscriptions and other ongoing monetization models).

Best live service games

Some of the most popular live service games are:

  • Fortnite
  • League of Legends
  • Dota 2
  • GTA Online
  • Counter Strike: Global Offensive
  • Genshin Impact
  • Call of Duty: Warzone
  • Destiny 2
  • Final Fantasy XIV
  • Halo Infinite
  • Sea of Thieves

How do live service games make money?

The majority of live service games are free to play. However, there’s a difference between games that are free and games that are free to play. 

With the former, you get the full game experience for free. With the latter, you get a base game for free and everything else beyond that is paid for – which is where live service games rake in the cash. 

Infographic with stylized graphics showing three different live service game monetization methods and the procasual gaming logo top right

Regular subscriptions are one way for live service games to make money. MMORPG players will be familiar with this model as it’s been the standard for major titles in this genre for decades. 

The battle pass (or season pass) is another monetization format that has gained popularity partly because it doesn’t require regular monthly outlays like a subscription. 

Some pass tiers are free, but the paid battle/season passes typically give players access to the best exclusive items and rewards. Without the pass, some content may be permanently locked or require an unenjoyable grind to access.

Another way to monetize a live service game is to use microtransactions. These can come in the form of loot boxes (paid consumables that reward players with a random selection of in-game items) or simply by allowing players to buy certain items, features, or upgrades directly.

Most live service games utilize a combination of the above monetization methods. However, there are some games that really test gamers’ wallets by implementing pretty much all of the above, in addition to charging for the base game. GTA 5 is the most obvious example of this.

Ultimately, there’ll be some players that never spend a penny on any monetization features and others that spend far more than they ever would have had they just bought the game outright at full price. 

Benefits of live service games


The most obvious benefit of live service games is that they’re mostly free to play. On consoles you may need a separate subscription to access online multiplayer features (like Game Pass) but, otherwise, you can pretty much just download the game and get going. 

This is great for both players who wouldn’t otherwise shell out full price for a game they’re not sure they’re going to like, as well as for players who enjoy the core gameplay and aren’t interested in paying for things like aesthetic upgrades or ways to skip grinding.

The fact that there’s always new content being added is the other main advantage of live service games. GTA 5 still topping sales charts almost a decade after its initial release is a demonstration of how the constant addition of content keeps players engaged (and paying). 


The inherently multiplayer focus of live service games is also good from both a social and a community engagement perspective. Entire entertainment clusters are built up around the most popular live service games with Twitch streamers, YouTube content creators, bloggers, and journalists all able to churn out regular content. 

Thanks to their huge reach, live service games are some of the most popular (and lucrative) on the esports circuit. Hundreds of thousands of Dota 2 fans shell out for The International battle pass each year, with a quarter of that income going straight into the tournament prize pool.

Problems with live service games

Live service games are not without their faults and, in fact, they come in for pretty regular criticism.

Engagement over quality

Yes, engagement is both a blessing and a curse for live service games.

A common argument in favor of live service games is that they’re free to play so if you don’t want to pay for anything then the monetization doesn’t even affect you. 

However, in contrast to traditional single purchase games, live service games are essentially designed first and foremost for engagement rather than standalone gameplay quality per se. 

That means that the quality of the experience can be pretty dire if you aren’t willing to drop serious cash on subscriptions, loot boxes, and other microtransactions. Also, content that might previously have been offered to users as a patch or a free update may now cost money.

Buggy/thin releases

Live service games also have a reputation for being buggy or poor quality on initial release. A good example of this is Halo Infinite, which was released with all sorts of issues affecting its bare-bones matchmaking experience. 

Long-time fans of the Halo franchise – used to making a single purchase for polished, fully featured Halo games – are understandably frustrated by the buggy experience and ongoing lack of new multiplayer content (not to mention the continued omission of a co-op campaign mode).

Even if full-price AAA video games feel expensive, you can usually be sure that you are buying a quality, finished product.

Fewer new releases

A broader point is that live service games arguably may result in fewer new games being released. This is because the priority of studios producing live service games is on the maintenance of existing player bases rather than exploring new IPs or projects that may not be as lucrative. 

Developer burnout

The points above are all made from a player’s point of view, but live service games also impact the roles of video game developers

One academic study of a North American studio has suggested that studios working on live service products experience growing internal misunderstandings. The study also suggests that staff working on live service games may be more susceptible to burnout than those working on traditional ‘box’ games, due to the never-ending updates and fixes. 

What is a live service game? Conclusion

Live service games are games that are:

  • Regularly updated with new monetized content (accessed for example via a subscription)
  • Receive ongoing/constant support
  • Feature gameplay designed to ensure players play for as long as possible

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