Are Single Player Games in Danger?GAMING
Since this year’s E3, there has been a lot of conversation around the topic of single player games and the shift some studios seem to be taking. Some within the gaming community suggest that we’re going to see fewer and fewer single player–focused experiences in the future, but is this a valid concern?
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 and Fallout 76 have both been put forward as prime examples of this change, the former giving up a single player campaign, and the latter being an online survival game in a series that never had an official online mode. It’s no mystery that studios earn much more money from multiplayer titles, especially those that are frequently updated. It is understandable, then, why some players consider a move in this direction somewhat worrisome.
To find an answer to whether one-player content is in danger, we must first look at the concept of “game as a service”, which has been a frequently discussed topic of late. The developers of Sea of Thieves, a pirate-themed co-op sandbox released this March, have claimed that their game could last up to 10 years. Despite some controversy about the lack of content in Sea of Thieves at launch, they’ve already planned a steady schedule of big updates for the year ahead.
Another interesting example is GTA V, which still tops charts on Steam in terms of sales and player engagement but has received no single player updates or expansions since its original release for consoles in 2013. Instead, Rockstar developers decided to focus entirely on GTA Online, which regularly receives new features, gameplay modes and cosmetic items purchasable for the in-game currency that you can grind for hours or buy instantly for real money. For this very reason, gamers are already predicting that the upcoming Rockstar game, Red Dead Redemption 2 will also have a very extensive online mode.
Truth be told, the idea of “game as a service” is nothing new in the industry, though up until now the term was mostly connected with subscription-based MMORPGs like World of Warcraft. Blizzard in particular has been following this model for a long time, and even their classic games like Warcraft III still receive the occasional patch. With all that said, is there anything inherently wrong with “game as a service”? After all, what we’re getting are free updates that increase the longevity of a game and allow us to play it for 5, 10 or even 15 years after launch, right?
Some would argue that the term is just a fancy way of excusing the constant addition of new microtransactions to games—and in some cases, there is some truth to that. But most of the time these microtransactions are also followed by new content. For me, the bigger issue is that such updates rarely incentivize storytelling, as developers would rather give you something quick, fun and repeatable than a finished piece of a story that you probably wouldn’t return to, even if it was very good.
But how does this all relate to single player games? Some gamers worry that single player-only experiences with a beginning, a middle and an end are going to become much less common, because online modes are so much more profitable for the studios. Additionally, there is the concern that we’ll see more unfinished releases, as content could be held back for future updates. This was one of the major criticisms that dogged Sea of Thieves.
Not everything is so bleak though. Many studios are still fully committed to providing us with epic one-player adventures. As long as there are gamers that would rather stay away from online chaos, prefer to play alone or simply like games that heavily prioritize storytelling, we are going to have more titles like Life is Strange, Pillars of Eternity 2, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Cyberpunk 2077 and Portal 3… well, maybe not that last one.
In any case, we’re probably going to see more multiplayer and “game as a service” releases in the coming years, but I would argue that huge single player games are safe and sound, at least for now. How about you? Do you think that we’re moving away from classic single player experiences and, more importantly, does it bother you?