With games as a service (GaaS) now a cornerstone of successful AAA gaming, player retention has never been more important. It’s no longer to get the sixty bucks from a game sale, now they want you hooked into the game, the community, and everything about it for years to come.

But keeping players hooked long-term isn’t just a magic button that’s flipped. The number of GaaS titles that fail far outnumber the amount that succeed. There is a formula, sure, but you can see from the various failed attempts that even great games can struggle to keep players around if the ongoing support isn’t interesting enough.

Rocket League. Rainbow Six Siege. Overwatch. PUBG. Fortnite. DOTA 2. These games do what others can’t. They all months or years old and yet their popularity never seems to wane. The big question is why? What are these games doing above and beyond everything else?

In order to be a success, GaaS need players to keep coming back day after day, week after week and even year after year. Do this, and avoid the dreaded churn of players dropping the game, and a game will grow exponentially.  

But there needs to be a core with enough to feel like players are constantly mastering systems, as well as enough updates and changes to keep it fresh while retaining as near-perfect balance as is feasible. New maps, new characters, new weapons, new modes, new missions. There also needs to be a throughline of progression, whether that’s leveling up, higher rankings, tournaments, cosmetic unlocks, challenges, etc.

All of these aspects ideally need to work in concert for a game to succeed as a service. Take out even one element and you could find yourself with a dud. Remove depth, for example, and the most committed players will have nothing left to learn. The very best arguably combine immense depth with pick-up-and-play simplicity. The Rocket Leagues of the world. Something like Fortnite arguably lacks depth outside of its building but works around this through a torrent of content updates, timed events, and special events, ensuring freshness is always right around the corner.

By now I should imagine most of us have a GaaS title that we like to fall back on. The sorts of games that we could pick up every few days or weeks, check out the changes, and immediately settle back into a familiar rhythm.

Of all the aspects that tribute to a successful service game though, which do you think are the most important, and why? Get voting for whichever you think are the most important in the poll below, you’ve got three votes!