Gamers are playing less new games than ever as live service titles take over

Gamers are playing less new games than ever as live service titles take over

Everything was Fortnite (Picture: Epic Games)

A new games industry report reveals that a handful of live service titles are responsible for well over half of all games played in 2023.

Trying to make sense of the last few months of industry upheaval has been very difficult. A lot of it is due to publishers failing to manage the end of the pandemic properly but that’s been on top of the growing costs of making modern games, which has only increased further in the new generation.

One answer to this problem has been to focus more on live service games, which have the potential to be more profitable, over a longer period of time, than traditional single-player titles.

However, a new report shows that publishers have other reasons for focusing on such games, namely that the majority of gamers are playing nothing other than well-established, free-to-play, live service titles.

The data shows that the market for console and PC games grew 2.6% in 2023, which sounds good until you look into exactly what people were playing and for how long.

Included in the report is a number of top 10s for each platform, ranked by their average number of monthly active users. Almost all the games are primarily multiplayer titles, that are an average of seven years old, with Fortnite being the most popular game on every single format.

Roblox and Minecraft also rank highly, along with the likes of Grand Theft Auto 5, Call Of Duty, and Rocket League. There are no primarily single-player titles in the PlayStation or PC charts, and Starfield is the only one for Xbox.

That certainly explains Sony’s interest in live service games but the report by Newzoo makes it clear that it’s not as simple as just switching from making single-player games to live service titles.

The percentage of live service games that are a hit are very small, with 90% of new game revenue in 2023 belonging to just 43 titles. On top of that, a mere 66 games accounted for 80% of all playtime last year.

These charts make for sober reading (Picture: Newzoo)

Games that have been out for six years or more are responsible for over half of all playtime, and that number is going up instead of down.

Just five games, all of which are over six years old, accounted for 27% of all playtime in 2023: Fortnite, Roblox, League Of Legends, Minecraft, and GTA 5.

Even then, half of the time spent playing ‘new’ games (defined as a maximum of two years old) was on annual sequels – primarily sports titles, such as EA Sports FC and NBA 2K, and Call Of Duty.

Only a miserable 8% of overall playtime was spent on actual new, non-annual titles. That, and many of these other issues, are no doubt a result of the ongoing cost of living crisis, with customers’ reticence at paying £70 for a new game also pushing publishers towards live service games.

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Only ‘modest’ growth is predicted for the games industry next year, which is expected to flatten in the years beyond that – which is precisely what Sony and Microsoft are worried about.

As should have been predicted by publishers, the total amount of playtime has decreased by 26% since 2021, at the peak of lockdown, and much of the problem with the recent layoffs is because they thought (or were happy to pretend to investors) that demand would stay at that unnatural high.

The report insists that ‘competition is fierce, but opportunities do exist’ but it’s clear that the problem is not so much that the gaming landscape is changing but that it’s becoming fossilised, with just a small number of evergreen titles muscling out everything else.

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