Rise of the Lifestyle Game: Gaming as Your Second Job

Some of our games have become so big that you'll be playing them forever.

Article by Mike Williams, .

Over the past week, I've seen the same sentiment three times. While I played The Crew for USstreamer last week. Jaz mentioned how hard it was to play multiple games because most major titles are now "lifestyle games". Then there was this Nerf Now, which talked about games as a second job. Finally, I was talking to a friend who casually plays that admitted that he'd probably only get to one or two games this year and that'd be enough because those games would probably take all his free time.

For our larger titles, much of the gameplay time is taken up by the stuff surrounding the core game: online play, social hooks, downloadable content, achievements, item collection, and virtual currency. These are features that make players load up the same game every day or every other day. Back in the day, you could play through most titles and once you had beaten it, you were done (even if most of us probably didn't finish all our games). These days, developing a big game is expensive, so publishers and developers want to make sure you keep playing until they can release the next big thing.

These days, there's more to the game than just the game.

The industry has a term for this development trend: Games-as-a-service (GaaS). A game that you play until the end and then put away? The business side of the industry views that as a product. They sold it to you and that's the end of the transaction until the next game comes out. Games-as-a-service is about garnering more money and more attention from gamers, keeping those eyeballs on a product forever if need be. It's all about making sure you never stop playing. Here's former Sony Computer Entertainment Europe executive producer Simeon Pashley talking about the point of GaaS:

"Why not just package up your game and move onto something new?" asks Pashley. "Well, I'm sure you've slogged your guts out and put a lot of sweat, blood and tears into making this the best game it can be and you hope your audience appreciates it. Why not maximize all of this effort and keep it going for longer. It's almost trivial to make this content. Making add-on content can be a fantastic way of focusing the team, stopping them adding stuff to the version that's shipping and allow them to expand and maximise the experience."

"All of these extras help create an attachment with your game and a thirst for more content, it's up to you if it's free or paid for," he continues. "Bolting on upgrades and DLC also makes it harder to part company with the game itself when it comes to trade-in time and you'll see lower trade in figures for games that actively promote a long-term connection with the game."

The earliest mention of Games-as-a-service that I can find comes in 2007. Two employees of the Ann Arbor District Library in Michigan wrote an article about running local gaming tournaments, which had the added benefit of bringing young people into the library on a regular basis. The idea pops up again in 2009 at the DICE Summit, with Valve Software founder Gabe Newell talking about his company and entertainment-as-a-service.

The Dota 2 and Team Fortress 2 stores keep players coming back and make Valve a ton of money.

"So I'm going to be talking about entertainment as a service, and our experiences at Valve, as we tried to having a connected relationship with our customers," said Newell. "Once you start thinking in terms of a service perspective, once you stop thinking about how can we get as many seats in the theater or have that huge initial rush, it starts to help you understand some of the phenomenon that are out there."

A lot of the early games-as-a-service talk was driven by the ongoing success of MMORPGs. As social and free-to-play started to become larger and AAA publishers saw that there was no reason to have a single boxed product. Titles like League of Legends showed that players had no problem with free-to-play and the returns were clearly worth it. EA transitioned to the model in 2011, for better or for worse.

"We're transforming EA to a games as a service model," said former EA CEO John Riccitiello. "Over the coming years, we will transform EA from a packaged goods company, to a fully integrated digital entertainment company."

None of this is particularly evil. In fact, if you love a certain game, why wouldn't you want more of that game to play? A large of number players are content to buy Call of Duty and play just that for a year until the next Call of Duty comes out. I certainly can't fault or demonize them for that. And it solves a big problem for the industry: high turnover and burnout caused by firing talented developers after a game is shipped. You may need hundreds of people to make a AAA title, but you don't need them in the planning and pre-production phases. If you're always producing new content, there's no need for lay-offs. Studios like Valve and Riot Games can hold onto staff for much longer than other development houses because they're always churning out valuable content.

So here we are today with a quintessential first world problem. There's so much to do and it's hard to even figure out where to start. Everything has online play, deathmatch, co-op, achievements, DLC, daily quests, and more.

The Crew Beta doesn't even have all of the final game's content.

The Crew Closed Beta offers up an shrunken version of the entire United States for you to race across, with random challenges and missions for you to complete to level up and get more parts for whichever car you're focused on. Want to upgrade your Atma weapon to Animus level in Final Fantasy XIV? Complete nine books, each with various tasks including monster kills, FATEs, and guildleves. World of Warcraft has a host of daily quests you should complete for reputation or specific gear, and the system is growing even bigger with Garrisons in Warlords of Draenor. Want to play Dota 2 or League of Legends? That requires taking the first steps down a road that will literally never end. You might be a big FIFA fan, but you should probably stay far away from the massive timesink that is Ultimate Team. There's also the endless sandbox experiences like Minecraft, Starbound, Day Z, and Rust; there's no "ending" in the classical sense, you just play until you're done.

If you're trying to play three or four games, it all starts to become a handful. Back in the day, I could knock out a Mega Man X or a Devil May Cry in a week. On the high side, maybe you jumped into an RPG like Baldur's Gate, Final Fantasy, or Dragon Warrior/Quest for 40-60 hours. But on some of the biggest games this year, you won't be done for a long time. There will always be something to do, another quest, another mission, better armor, another achievement.

That's not to say there isn't hope. You'll still find blissful solace in shorter titles. Shovel Knight can be completed in a single day and it's a satisfying experience from beginning to end. Telltale's The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us have five-episode seasons, with each episode being around a couple of hours long. Broken Age's second episode will completely wrap up the series. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt will be big, but there's no randomly-generated quests, so once you've finished everything, you're done. Huzzah!

Shovel Knight can be completed in a relatively short amount of time.

For me, it's all about managing personal expectations. I used to be the kind of person who could spend hours grinding for a new item or achievement. Now, between work and life, I just don't have the time. Final Fantasy XIV's Atma weapon? I can't even put that on my radar anymore. It's just a beautiful idea for me; once I finally reach that mountaintop, it's likely there will be a new peak ahead of me. I'm finishing up Batman: Arkham Origins, but those extra challenges are getting completely ignored. And the legendary ships in Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag? I went up against one of them once; that folly illustrated why beating the game was enough for me.

The problem with lifestyle games is you can only juggle two or three lifestyles for limited time. Your best bet is to vacation there for a limited time and move on to something else. Sure, you may miss out on some of the naunce and action that the natives get to enjoy, but there's just so much out there to see these days. You just have to make your choice: depth or breadth. Choose wisely.

[Header Image via Howie's Gaming Shack]

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Comments 8

  • Avatar for DogNozzle #1 DogNozzle 4 years ago
    I don't fundamentally have anything against games that go on and on and on... I just don't have any interest in them.

    I've always looked at games sort of like novels: something to get lost in for a few days or weeks, then move on to the next experience. There are too many interesting games coming out to get stuck on some dumb treadmill for years at a time.
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  • Avatar for Suzusiiro #2 Suzusiiro 4 years ago
    I recently retired from hardcore WoW raiding after about seven years of it and I've been trying to stay away from games like these in the name of clearing out my backlog. I think because I played on the bleeding edge of WoW for so long I feel like it's not worth bothering to play any other games like it (be they other MMOs like Wildstar or things like LoL) unless I want to go all in on them like I did with WoW. Destiny is the closest thing to it that I'll play, but it seems that unlike MMOs you can be satisfied by treating it like a SP game, playing through the campaign, and deciding that you're "done."
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  • Avatar for CK20XX #3 CK20XX 4 years ago
    One of the reasons Minecraft is my lifestyle game of choice is because it allows you to automate a lot of the busywork. Livestock farms, vegetable farms, tree farms, iron farms, gold farms, mob farms, fish farms, experience farms, villager trading halls, and more free you up so you can do whatever you want with the game.

    Ironically though, some people view the farms as the goal and stop playing when the power to do whatever they like becomes overwhelming.
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  • Avatar for touchofkiel #4 touchofkiel 4 years ago
    Great read. I do enjoy how even simple action titles have longer legs than they used to; but on the other hand, it has negative results. It can be used to hide mediocre gameplay at best, but at worst it leads to microtransactions and the worst sort of artificial (and costly!) padding.

    I do feel like FFXIV can be a second job sometimes, but ultimately it's just a matter of freeing yourself from the pressure of weekly grinds, scheduled raids, and gear competition. Keep working at your atma weapon; there's no rush, so enjoy the grind at your own pace! (I sorta miss having atma books; they ALWAYS gave me something to do while queueing for DF).

    Long games, and MMOs, though... they certainly contribute to backlogs. I find I still don't finish as many games as I used to, though I still buy them. I'm a fool, clearly.
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  • Avatar for metalangel #5 metalangel 4 years ago
    I blame my backlog on 'lifestyle' games like Minecraft, Wurm, as well as simulators like Run8. I have plenty of compelling singleplayer games waiting for me but I just want to go and tend my farms or build my base and suddenly my evening has passed.
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  • Avatar for hal9k #6 hal9k 4 years ago
    Good thought-provoking article, Mike. I wonder what the typical lifespan of these games is; in other words, how long most people play a game before moving on to something else, regardless of DLC and online content. Excepting outliers, I feel like there must be a pretty well-defined "attention span" for most people - and I'll bet publishers have statistics on it. Maybe I'm wrong, and people just play what they like until something new comes out in the same genre. Maybe gamer interest follows seasonal or other patterns - I'd be really curious to know about all the other factors involved, besides simply the quality of one game vs. another.

    Also, not to belabor a point I've made before, but if companies want people to really invest in a game for more than a couple of weeks then they need to spread out releases throughout the year. The quotes above indicate a more long-term business model, but publishers still schedule AAAs like blockbuster "events" in the fall, and sometimes seem to evaluate them mainly on opening week sales. If someone's trying to sell a lifestyle game, then that competing lifestyle coming out next week is going to hurt sales, because no one has time for both.
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  • Avatar for Jinqs #7 Jinqs 4 years ago
    I think this article provokes some interesting thoughts and discussion, but as long as you are enjoying yourself, who cares if you are playing a "lifestyle" game, some kind of procedurally generated experience that is different each time, or an extremely linear story-centric RPG? Every time I open up Steam and launch a game or pick a disc to put in my PlayStation, I am making a conscious choice - I'm picking one game over an (admittedly obscene) number of other titles at my disposal.

    I used to obsess over the number of games that I have yet to beat or complete. The reality is that there is never going to be enough time to experience all of the great games that are available. I already have two young kids and have come to terms with the fact that I will never make it through my backlog or even put any kind of significant dent in it. As long as you enjoy yourself when playing, what does it matter if you are not progressing towards a specific end/completion point? If I am playing a game just so I can say that I finished it, that probably means that there is a more deserving/fun game that I would rather be spending my limited time on.

    I've got about seven God of War games that I would still like to complete at some point, but if I am fighting Medusa and one of my friends pings me to group up for an online Dota 2 match, you can rest assured that I'll have my PlayStation shut down and Steam up and running in a heartbeat.

    Backlog be damned.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #8 VotesForCows 4 years ago
    @Jinqs I hear you. The arrival of kids changes things, to the extent that I generally now only own the game that I'm currently playing. There's no point buying something if I'm not going to play it right now, cos its quite likely that I never will.

    Good article anyhow. If its the right game for you I think its great to sink into it and achieve mastery of it. Thought I suppose this perspective rules out end-games that are just treadmills.
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