Exploring the "What-ifs" of live service games going offline

Action plans that can be taken to immortalize the legacy of a live-service game

Exploring the "What-ifs" of live service games going offline

At some point, we all learn that all good things must come to an end, and mobile games are no exception. Every year, we see titles come and go. Some had a good run spanning a few years, while some crumbled to ashes within a few months. Having bid farewell to some legendary titles such as Dragalia Lost - a vibrant game that lets you become a dragon. I still vividly remember the chorus of mourning from players worldwide the day Dragalia closed shop. On my fingers, I can also count the premature termination of promising stars such as Eternal City. Personally, the most woeful goodbye I had was for Metal Slug Attack earlier this year in January 2023. After all, it's the one that launched me into an unexpected career in freelance game journalism.

Unlike offline single-player RPGs on console where your hard work will be saved in a file, once a live service game spelt its doom, they're gone for good, probably shelved in the attic inside some dusty warehouse never to see the daylight again. This fact alone does not sit well with players like me as that means hours of grind, monetary investment and years of academy training are wasted. If you have a favourite character you fell head over heels for, kiss them goodbye as the only way of preserving them is a galleria choked full of your darling child's JPEGs to keep you company. But now, things took a turn for the better.

While most will pull the plug and call it a day, some developers defy this trend with numerous ways to immortalise their games. Based on case studies there are two ways to go about this, either by switching the monetisation model around or going out with a bang, mostly in the form of lavish in-game handouts or turning the game into a makeshift sandbox where all characters are playable to create as many happy memories as possible.

Speaking of jolly good times, I still cling dearly to the fond memories during the last hours of Metal Slug Attack, where everyone was graciously given a heap of medals (the premium currency) as a parting gift, enough to purchase any units either through multiple concurrent special edition banners or through in-game shops.

Trials and tribulations in this uphill battle

For the longest time, the most ideal and theoretical scenario was adopting an offline model. However, the underpinning hurdles that shatter this pipedream are the nature of live service games that are not feasible to transition over smoothly, factoring in any upkeep costs just by existing on any application store can turn unsustainable in the long run. As cynical as it sounds, the act of honouring a fan's devotion is often an afterthought. This has led to some dedicated fans hosting private servers at their own expense.

Let's address the elephant in the room, a live service game is inseparable from an active internet connection in its daily operations, vital for checksum validation between the server and client. While I'm no programmer whizz, one thing I'm certain of is the ungodly amount of work and cost required in shifting lines of code around to support a single-player mode. Moreover, all sorts of social elements depend on an active connection to run, so you can imagine that removing that online feature does not bode well for the ones relying on online co-op or PvP events as a marketing appeal to the competitive strategists, while also inflicting collateral damage to most that rely on FOMO as a source of revenue.

In the same realm, single-player oriented sleeper hits like Battle Cats and Soda Heroes have a set of offline content designed, but really, they're just pseudo-live service games as monetary transactions such as attempting the gacha or updating your stamina for an internet connection. However, we shift our attention to a category of developers who smoothly preserved their games on account of the best interest of every party involved, not to forget takeaway lessons to be taken from their playbook. The golden standard we talk about first is Rockman X Dive: Offline which nailed the transition flawlessly, followed by a couple more examples.

The miracle workers who did more salvation than terminating

For starters, X Dive is an independent spin-off that retains a pretty gratifying 2D platformer with cell-shaded 3D graphics. In essence, it’s a trip down memory lane with you trekking through an amalgamation of familiar stages nested within a corrupted cyberspace, with virtual avatars like RiCO and ViA aiding you on your journey to patch up irregularities and earn a ticket home. The game also seems well-to-do enough to warrant numerous collaboration events with big names such as Monster Hunter and Devil May Cry.

Despite the rosy future, it all came crashing down when its original Taiwan server gutted its service on September 22, 2023, leaving the global version under NebulaJoy’s operation in murky waters. Just when it all seemed like this would be another pawn in the "pump-and-dump" scheme associated with live service games, Capcom played the contrarian’s advocate with a bold decision to overhaul the entire game from scratch and make it a single-player ordeal, albeit at a cost. As straightforward as it seems, Capcom’s present solution is a touch and go, but astonishingly sustainable if all cards are played right.

Resurrected as X Dive: Offline with a hefty price tag of $29.90 (approximately £20), a sixfold jump compared to its mobile adaptation Megaman X1 (priced at $4.99). In plain sight, this screams daylight robbery and actively discourages anyone from splurging. But instead, it became a regular on the top-grossing charts. In hindsight, players of X Dive, indoctrinated by its draconian gacha mechanics, perceive this value as a steal. For the uninitiated, gacha rates for the highest rarity (S rank) sit at 2% (1.5% for the Nebulajoy version) and the bottom line? It's $600 (approximately £472) to trigger the safety net. That's the bare minimum without even factoring in the additional cost to perform upgrades. You'll find the proposition of forking out a measly 30 bucks to gain access to everything in the roster immediately seems like a no-brainer at face value.

Content-wise, out of the box, all the story and event stages that ran its course are available, so that's a good four years' worth of content to blaze through. As far as the plot goes, it's nothing to write home about, at least not left on a cliffhanger, stick with it and you'll be treated with a rather anti-climatic twist at the end. While the thrill of character acquisition through chance is gone, Capcom patched that void with an incremental satisfaction that ties directly to your progression in the game. Some 60 characters will gradually be available through direct purchase while characters and weapons can be enhanced with Zenny and Element Metals, which are showered generously. The exclusion of a feasible PvP (player versus player) mode is a blessing in disguise as it is a killjoy with the boatload of connectivity issues and meta fluctuation plaguing it. For what it's worth, the price point would appreciate a minor adjustment for the level of polish in the game.

A grandiose exhibition

There are still ways to go around, applicable to games where gameplay is an afterthought or sacked by budget constraints. Practitioners of this cost-effective approach include Destiny Child and Star Ocean Anamnesis, whereby both were converted into a virtual museum and any semblance of gameplay was thrown out of the window. Coincidentally, this method played to the games' unparalleled strength in the graphic department as both are enamoured by many for their roster of characters. Destiny Child with meticulously designed 2D characters imbued with gothic aesthetics, while Ocean Anamnesis houses glorious 3D eye-cand). With that said, still have the opportunity to view your favourite character or relish a memorable story segment without relying on YouTube where a good chunk of underrated characters are likely to be left undocumented.

The vestiges of entertainment that once brought joy to many

Being a pioneer in mummifying a game doesn't sound too much of a remarkable feat to crow on. Nevertheless, we hope that this initiative will bring a snowball effect as we see more developers formulate creative ways to draw graceful curtain calls.

With the departure of games into the afterlife, what follows is a list of newer games that you can check out to fill in the void.

Anderson Han
Anderson Han
A wanderlust by nature who regards video games as an artful medium for creative storytelling. I implore thee to join me on my jubilant voyage through the sea of video games. PS: I find great pleasure jamming to Touhou songs while riding on public transports.