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Helldivers 2 and Nightingale expose the issues all live service games face

Two soldiers hug in front of an explosion in Helldivers 2.
Sony Interactive Entertainment

With the launches of Helldivers 2, Nightingale, Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League, Foamstars, and Skull & Bones, February 2024 has been packed with new multiplayer games planned to have live service tails.

They have all released to varying degrees of success. Warner Bros. and analysts have suggested that Suicide Squad underperformed, while an Insider Gaming report claimed the same about Skull & Bones. On the other hand, games like Nightingale and Helldivers 2 have garnered much more interest from players.

But even when these live service games do well and are designed with respect for players’ time and money in mind, they aren’t free from issues, as their always online nature can lead to server problems and player frustration. February 2024 has demonstrated how hard it is to release a new online live service game unscathed.

Co-op gameplay of Helldivers 2.
Sony Interactive Entertainment

Helldivers 2 has been a glaring example of this. It’s the month’s darling surprise hit, with co-op mission design and stratagem systems that create many unpredictable, hilarious moments. Helldivers 2 has gone viral online, leading to increased player interest and helping the game to achieve all-time player count highs for a PlayStation-published PC release. Although that seems like the hit status that any game developer would hope for, the fact that it drastically overshot midsize developer Arrowhead Game Studios and Sony’s expectations has led to many server problems.

Matchmaking in Helldivers 2 has been a mess since launch, and player caps have had to be implemented to maintain stability. Unfortunately, that means some people who have spent money on Helldivers 2 and want to play it because they heard how good it is just can’t. That’s the downside to an always-online live service game: players are at the mercy of their servers. At least Arrowhead Game Studios CEO Johan Pilestedt has been very transparent about Helldivers 2’s success, issues, and how the developers plan on addressing them.

In 2024, this is an issue that players are also a lot less forgiving of. We can see that with Nightingale, a solid new survival crafting game from Inflexion Studios, a Canadian developer led by former BioWare developer Aaryn Flynn. Ahead of Nightingale‘s release, Flynn voiced his frustration with how AAA companies monetize and position their games, arguing that Nightingale came from a place that was much more creatively inspired and respectful toward players.

“It feels like in Western game development, more and more studios and publishers are starting from a monetization perspective or a total player demographic perspective: ‘We don’t have a battle royale shooter, so we’ve got to get a battle royale shooter'” Flynn told Digital Trends. “I think this industry is at its best — and you’re seeing so many smart, capable indie devs starting from this — when it’s starting from this perspective of creativity and doing something that works, that they believe in. The more our industry can focus on that, I think that the better off and healthier it is.”

A player is about to enter a portal in Nightingale.
Inflexion Games

For the most part, that ethos can be seen in Nightingale, which feels very creatively inspired with its unique “gas lamp fantasy” lore and innovative Realm Card system. Regarding the live service, Flynn told me that Inflexion would always ask if what it had planned for live service support was “of value” and “fair” toward players. That’s a commendable approach for Inflexion to have right from the get-go, but that hasn’t prevented the game from garnering a mixed reception on Steam at release.

Nightingale always requires an internet connection, even when you’re playing solo. In a blog post, Inflexion explained that it made this decision because it wanted to focus on solving the technical challenges that came with making co-op work across countless player-created custom Realms. “Looking back on that decision, we misjudged what some of you were looking for in your experience,” Inflexion admitted in a blog post shortly after release.

The studio is now correcting course and working on adding an offline mode for Nightingale. One is also being prepped for Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League, another game that inspired the chagrin of players for requiring an internet connection. It’s good to pivot and give the community what it’s desperately calling for, but Nightingale’s situation shows how even the best-laid plans can go awry if something doesn’t work properly or click with players as expected.

From there, the developers need to choose to sink or swim. Right now, Arrowhead and Inflexion are choosing to do the latter with Helldivers 2 and Nightingale, respectively, and are communicating with their communities about it. Being a hit at release is nice, but the best, most popular games can sustain that momentum and constantly expand and improve after release. In 2024, players and developers should be aware of the harsh reality that any new online, live service game will have issues at release. Keep that in mind the next time you hop into a fledging online game on day one.

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Tomas Franzese
Gaming Staff Writer
Tomas Franzese is a Staff Writer at Digital Trends, where he reports on and reviews the latest releases and exciting…
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