How far ahead of time do devs usually know a live service is winding down / ending? Does a scheduled server shutdown get announced to a team the same time as it is to journalists or are devs given a meaningful amount of advanced notice.

It depends on the circumstances of the shutdown. There are generally two major reasons for shutdown:

  1. The company itself is in severe financial trouble, not just the game.
  2. The company is fine, but the game is not.
Michael Scott shouts "I declare... BANKRUPTCY!!"ALT

If the company is in severe financial trouble, it is generally a surprise to the dev team. Examples might include the company running out of funding and being unable to pay their bills like what happened to Telltale Games, or the licensor yanking the license for the game like what happened to Gazillion. It’s a lot like getting the rug pulled out from under you in those situations, it’s a huge surprise and we often end up falling on our asses. In these circumstances the dev team doesn’t generally get too much time to think about the game’s shutting down because they’ve most likely also just lost their jobs. If I just lost my job, the game I am no longer employed to work on would not be on top my priorities.

Karl Mayer quickly leaves and closes the door behind him.ALT

If the company is fine but the game is not, we generally have much more warning. Most of us will already know that the end is near even before the announcement from the executives - we watch the numbers and finances as they come in, so we have a pretty good idea of whether the game is performing below targets. When the decision to pull the plug is made, we’re usually given the news weeks or even months in advance. Because it’s a live service, the game usually has finished or almost-finished content that’s queued up to launch soon. That content will usually still get launched, even after the decision to end service. It’s all of the content after that - the stuff that’s still incomplete - that gets scrapped because there’s no additional funding to finish it out. When the decision to shut down Anthem came down, the developers knew months before the news was made public.

The sun sets over the horizonALT

Most of the dev team transitions off of a zombie live service game immediately after the announcement. They either get laid off or moved to other projects that have room for additional headcount. A skeleton crew usually remains that get tasked to build out and execute the plan to sunset the game. These game sunset plans include pushing the final content updates to the live game, setting up the in-game scheduled events until the shutdown, setting up and carrying out the refund policy, shutting down the in-game cash shop and microtransactions, shutting down new account creation, automating/removing customer service features, giving out any freebies to the remaining players, and so on. After this work is done, the remaining devs move to other projects and the game is essentially left to run itself until the day of reckoning arrives and things go offline for the last time.

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