Dear Live-Service Developers : Quit Devaluing Your Gameplay Loop

On a normal weekday evening, you sit down at your computer or console of choice and log into your favorite game. You queue up, or pick your level, or perform whatever other series of clicks and button presses it takes to start playing. At the end of the game, you collect your rewards. Standard rewards drop, your XP bar moves a bit, and a satisfying scroll of numbers shows how much progress you made toward the next reward in the current event. If you passed a milestone, another message pops up, or an alert message shows in the corner when you get back to the home screen, letting you know you have rewards to cash in.

The next day, you sit back down and log back in. You set up and play another round of your favorite game. You get the standard reward drops, your XP bar moves a bit. But then, instead of showing you the rewards for the event, the game bumps you back to the home screen. You’ve done the same amount of work, for the same amount of time, but you got less in return. Objectively, factually less. Maybe that doesn’t bother you. Maybe this is your game, the game where you dump all your free time, and just playing is reward enough. But there are dozens of these games competing for your attention, and this one just became demonstrably less rewarding.

This is the problem I see skimmed past during discussions of live services and whether/why they succeed or fail. You can find a dissertation’s worth of information and argument about the market and what it will bear. You could spend a year without a break watching YouTube videos opining on the value of a “release now, finish later” model of game development and not even have to repeat one of them–in fact, you’d probably find that, by the time you were done with that year of watching, there were actually more hours to watch than when you started. There’s probably more content debating the merits of Destiny 2 than there is in Destiny 2 itself (especially after vaulting… okay, I know, that was a low blow). But the thing that most frustrates and concerns me about live services, as I play endless rounds of rhythm games and set my gacha-RPGs to auto-repeat until my phone dies, is that the very nature of their rewards is so often to devalue the game they’re selling you.

Since most of my game time happens on the go, during breaks at work or while waiting in a doctor’s office, I mostly play mobile games. So I’m going to use an example that has both a mobile and non-mobile version and is a pretty darn good game: Genshin Impact.

Genshin Impact has a few forms of monetization, but, for this article, I’m going to ignore those. Here, I’m not talking about micro-transactions and whether gacha just means gotcha or whatever else. All I care about right now is the value of play. For that, we turn to that staple of live services, the Battle Pass–the free version, not the deluxe premium upgraded version, since, again, I don’t care about monetization here.

Aside from version-specific events, Genshin Impact’s Battle Pass always has the same tasks, including:

  • Complete 4 daily commissions (daily task)
  • Spend 150 stamina resin (daily task)
  • Complete 15 domain challenges (weekly task)
  • Complete 3 Trounce Domains (weekly task)
  • Get 12 stars in the endgame dungeon (season-long task)

Now, let’s go through what those activities are for outside of the Battle Pass:

  • Daily commissions are your primary source of primogems, which, as the name implies, are the game’s premium “gem” currency, used for the gacha (and a few other things that are not the gacha and that I have, therefore, never used them for).
  • Resin is, essentially, stamina and is used for resource quests.
  • Most domain challenges are resource quests, although the endgame dungeon also counts.
  • The Trounce Domains, in particular, are needed in order to fully upgrade characters and tackle the hardest challenges.
  • The endgame dungeon is another source of primogems.

Oh, and there’s one last thing: The Battle Pass has a cap on how much XP you can earn in a week, and, yes, there is more Battle Pass XP available in a week than you can earn.

So what does that do to the game? A few things. Some of them might feel good in the short term. Daily commissions now have extra rewards attached, for example. Cooking food, which gives useful buffs and emergency heals, is part of a weekly task, as well. Those three Trounce Domain challenges will get you a full level on the Battle Pass, which is awesome when you’re trying to max out your core team, anyway. There are good things. But not everything is good.

Let’s start with that endgame dungeon. The quest is to obtain twelve stars (beat twelve objectives), not just meet the requirements for twelve stars. This means that the levels you already beat and got the stars for don’t count. That, in turn, means once you have those twelve stars, any more that you get are ones you can’t get rewards for in the next Battle Pass (At least until you’re far enough into the endgame to farm them in the ultra hard levels that reset twice a month. That’ll be a while.).

It’s the same with the general domain challenges. Depending on which characters you’re farming for, you can probably use well over 15 runs’ worth of rewards… but after those 15, you don’t get as much for them. And speaking of domains, that Trounce Domain weekly quest specifies three of them, remember? If my memories don’t betray me, at last count we have six challenges that qualify, which means that the first three you do in a week are worth demonstrably more than the last three. And if you happen to max your weekly XP before Sunday (the last day of the week in Genshin), even your daily commissions lose value.

The end result is that every time you complete a Battle Pass objective, everything you would normally do to get resources drops in value. Not because you did something wrong, and not because you got greedy, but because the game tied extrinsic rewards to those activities, and those are gone. The game made each activity worth its normal rewards plus the Battle Pass rewards, then took away the Battle Pass rewards.

This, to me, is the most concerning thing about live services. Games are supposed to be for fun, which is an intrinsic reward. By tying the normal activities to temporary extrinsic rewards, the game runs the risk of devaluing the intrinsic value of fun. And if the game’s fun value isn’t enough anymore, well, there’s a dozen other live services waiting in the wings with more of those extrinsic rewards.

Oh yeah. There’s one other reason that I worry about the devaluation of the gameplay loop. Look up at that list of tasks again. What do you not see on there?

Go ahead. I’ll wait.

It’s not a trick question. Go on.

If you keep scrolling, I’ll tell you the answer. But you’re smart; you can figure it out.

Give up?

Got it?

Alright, here it is:

There are no rewards in the Battle Pass for playing through the story.

As long as there is a Battle Pass running, the main storyline of the game has less worth than building furniture and cooking food.

(Yes, I know the story is worth primogems. You know what else is worth primogems? Commissions. There’s more of those, they take less time, and they give you BP XP. And that’s another thing I can and will argue is worth more than the main story’s primogems–the rewards in the Battle Pass.)

And when the Battle Pass ends? Well, then the game has just removed a whole host of rewards that it was baiting and bribing you with before. How tempting is it really to stick around and play after that, instead of flipping to something that still has that bait? When all of the other rewards that were being piled on top of those gameplay activities are gone, is what’s left really fun enough to keep you playing?

This is a guest opinion piece from Sardonisms

By Seasoned Gaming

Covering the videogame industry with daily content, unique opinions, and as always, no ads or filler.

1 Comment

  • Not a bad breakdown and yes you are right there are no rewards for completing the story at all. Kind of feel like that with Destiny 2 when they hype up the next story and it is over within an instant and you are left with a bland feeling. I hear great praises for Genshin Impacts mechanics even with the Gacha system. But, what can be done is usually my end thought.

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