Single Player Games Are An Endangered Species

With the release of Wolfenstein 2 right around the corner, many of us have come to a sobering realisation. Where have all the story based, single player games gone? Indeed, as Wolfenstein 2 looms, it almost feels like a special treat from a bygone age. The gamers among us with an ear to the ground will have likely seen lots of news outlets reporting on this sudden and concerning phenomenon. However, in this piece, let’s take a look at the web in as broad a spectrum as possible and take it all in at once.

Single Player Games Are An Endangered Species

The Wolfenstein 2 Sobering Moment

Let’s stick to Wolfenstein 2 for starters. The idea of playing a first person shooter that focuses solely on a story is fast becoming a foreign one. Of course, if any franchise is going to survive, it’s Wolfenstein. After all, it’s been around for a staggering thirty five years and can afford to stick to its literal guns because of its much loved name alone. It’s for this reason that Bethesda have been smart in acquiring developers of veteran titles like iD for DOOM and Machine Games for Wolfenstein. Don’t forget that Machine Games are actually fairly inexperienced at designing shooters. Thanks to what they call a sincere focus on storytelling, they have been able to design the most solid shooting mechanics I have experienced this generation. 

Back in the day, when I was reviewing for another site, it was Wolfenstein’s diamond solid shooting mechanics that made me lament a lack of multiplayer. In a recent interview at GamesIndustry.biz, we learn that the current Wolfenstein franchise is not afraid to stick to its roots. Wolfenstein’s Narrative Director, Tommy Tordson Bjork, goes on to praise single player, solo oriented games, stating "The only way we can create these super immersive narrative experiences is if we can solely focus on the single-player,"
he says. "Having a multiplayer component in this work process would just dilute it all. That's the danger if you try to do two things at once.". Anyone who played Wolfestein: The New Order will likely agree with the sentiment. 

Single Player Games Are An Endangered Species  - The New Colossus

Of course, insisting on focusing on a solo experience bucks the trend of today, as publishers look for more and more reasons to cram in long term profit plans. We’ve gone from DLC to microtransactions in just two generations of gaming. They tend to be easily implemented in multiplayer set-ups. Yet, once Wolfenstein 2 is released, the question I’m sure will be on the tips of any gamer’s tongue will be “are they really necessary or are games publishers just greedy as hell?”.  

A Note Of Optimism From Xbox

Head of Xbox first party publishing, Helen Loftis, seeks to answer that question. She seems optimistic, stating "I don't think that there is ever going to be a time when there aren't single-player, story-based games."In an interview over at Gamespot, Loftis vaguely muses on the complexities of the games industry. By vague, I mean phrases like this – "Game development in general is about a couple of things. It's about delivering an experience and it's about telling stories. Storytelling is as central to game development as it ever has been." And statements like this – "I don't think that it's dead per se. I do think the economics of taking a single-player game and telling a very high fidelity multi-hour story gets a little more complicated. Gamers want higher fidelity and they want higher resolution graphics.".

I would love to share in Loftis’ optimism. However, her statement to Gamespot just doesn’t seem to hit the right notes. It’s that last bit that really pinches me. To say that gamers want higher fidelity and higher resolution graphics is a huge assumption to say the least. Of course, this mentality over at Microsoft is what has led to to the Xbox One X. Which may be very successful; who knows? What I mean is that console gamers, for the most part, couldn’t give a hoot about the highest end graphics available. Otherwise, they’d be PC gamers. Loftis does go into how single player titles need to find a new hook in the current economy of gaming. On that, I agree. After all, it would appear they are getting drowned in competition that offers microtransactions and, at the very least, co-op play.

Single Player Games Are An Endangered Species  - Xbox Game Pass

Suffice it to say, Loftis’ interview with Gamespot was the only ray of optimistic light I could find out there. That, and the fact that Xbox aren’t exactly killing it right now, especially with first party exclusive titles, is hardly an authority to take positivity from. The most encouraging thing I could see from Loftis was how Xbox Game Pass, which costs $10 a month, allows a subscription to play from a library of currently one hundred games. This is a great preemptive strike for when gaming goes fully digital (and it will). 

EA’s Take On Single Player Titles

As you may or not be aware, EA recently made the decision to shut down Visceral Games. Back in the day, these guys created Bloodrayne. More recently, they made Dead Space and the third title was the first of its kind to start flirting with microtransactions.

Single Player Games Are An Endangered Species - Visceral closure

What’s more important about the closure of Visceral, who are known for creating single player games, is what it tells us about EA’s mentality. They will focus-test the crap out of any product before launch, leaving its design phase to the mercy of a pie chart. Perhaps the popularity of one aspect comes up two percent over the other. So THAT’S what they’ll do. As a result, they can see a single player game about Star Wars being made without multiplayer or microstransactions, and shut its devs down. Make no mistake – they have stolen the project from Visceral in order to make it themselves in such a way that suits them; that has a higher affinity for profit. In PR land, they'll tell you it was "to engineer a title that will offer the best possible experience". Please…

Single Player Games Are An Endangered Species - Visceral's Star Wars Project
Creativity is sacrificed for profit. As a result, we have outrage for games like Shadow of War and Battlefront 2 prior to release. But we don’t matter – the money does. And there will always be someone out there with a bigger wallet. 

But Developers Need To Eat Too, Right? 

There is always the argument of how much a triple A title costs to make these days. The idea is that developers and publishers alike require ongoing profits after release to put food on the table for their families. The CEO of Ubisoft knows this as, shortly after the announcement of Skull & Bones at this year’s E3, Yves Guillemot stated it would be designed in such a way that players will still be on it ten years later. The problem that EA seemingly poses is that they’re so big – of course others will follow suit… Will Beyond Good & Evil 2 have microtransactions, similar to Shadow of War?

Single Player Games Are An Endangered Species - Beyond Good & Evil 2

The idea of unadulterated greed will always remain the bubbling undercurrent of controversy to these business decisions. Primarily because of the successful exceptions to the rule. 2014’s Wolfenstein: The New Order had only one DLC and obviously enjoyed enough success to warrant a sequel. The same can be said of The Last of Us. So here’s the crux of the matter…

What Do I Think?

Like Helen Loftis, I don’t believe single player games are going anywhere… For now. They are, in fact, threatened by companies like EA. Companies that believe if one thing is more popular than the other it is instantly obsolete; no longer a viable product, as seen with their Visceral decision to end the jobs of a very skilled team. 

Single Player Games Are An Endangered Species - The Last Of Us 2
Their plan is clear, now that we know Anthem will have microstransactions. But will Machine Games’ decision not to put multiplayer in Wolfenstein 2 doom them? Or will they do just fine? As the most prominent single player title releasing in the last quarter of this year (I know, nuts right?) it’ll serve as an interesting experiment to finally answer the question “Is a free to play economy ever necessary in the single player games of today?” or “Is Xbox’s Xbox Game Pass really a preemptive move?”. OK… two questions. 

So, Are You Older Or Younger?

Finally, we have the younger gamers of today to take into consideration. Older gamers like myself are bound to complain about the changing of things. That’s what older people do. So, for us older players out there, it’s important to remember that we now have a large subset of gamers who have never known games as we have. They have only ever known a games industry that asks them to spend more money after purchase. With that, comes an acceptance that a video game has an obligation to serve its owner for a very, very long time. At least they have Skull & Bones to look forward to.

Let us know how you feel on all of this in comments below. We'd love to hear from you.

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medman

Hmmmm…. God of War, TLOU Part II, Detroit Become Human, Cyberpunk 2077, Red Dead Redemption II, Days Gone, Death Stranding, Spider-Man, Wild, Ni No Kuni II…and that’s just what I’m anticipating from Sony (plus 2 from CD Projekt and Rockstar). And not mentioning all the phenomenal single player games coming from Nintendo. Single player is the best. Always has been. When gaming gives up on single player, I give up on gaming. Nuff said.

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I can’t see video games ever surviving if they were to cut out single player games. I love single player games, and really only like local-multiplayer, and I have never been worried about this day coming. Every year, a number of the best games are single player games, and genres like RPG’s and platformers have seen a massive resurgence.     I do see a lot of AAA games adding a multi-player mode to their game, which hopefully doesn’t take away from the one player portion of the game. As of now, it seems pretty balanced from what I have… Read more »

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