Single player games are in an interesting spot. Many people are already predicting that they are going to die. This, however, has already been discussed. Our writer Nick Banks already explained why he thinks single player games are an endangered species. So instead, I'm going to talk about why I think single player games are going to be just fine.
SUCCESS OF HELLBLADE: SENUA'S SACRIFICE
I find that Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice is a great example of how single player games are going to evolve and adapt as necessary. Ninja Theory set out to craft a single player game with the Triple-A polish at a cheaper price. Instead of going for $60, Hellblade started at only $30. This stopped it from facing competition from big $60 games and allowed it to flourish on its own. With the game industry being a follow-the-leader type of industry, knowing that this type of model sells and can make money will have more developers jump on board so they can carry out their vision of their game without publishers getting in the way.
I actually think that this is the perfect model for single player games to take. They don't always have the big costs of larger multiplayer games and can easily make their money back if they aren't being sold as direct competition but rather a nice in-between purchase. Cuphead is another great example of this. It launched for just $20 and quickly sold a million copies. There is a large market for interesting single player games. and they are still being very successful.
Even if most developers don't take to this model, I'm not worried. To see how good single player games are doing one only has to look to earlier this year. Earlier this year we had Resident Evil VII, Nier: Automata, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Prey, Mass Effect: Andromeda, and plenty of others. It is clear that publishers and developers are not giving up on single player games.
A FICKLE INDUSTRY
The game industry is a fickle beast. What was popular quickly becomes boring and what was boring quickly becomes popular again. That is important to remember when addressing something like single player games. Just a few years ago, modern shooters were the big ticket. Call of Duty and Battlefield both took this route and competed against each other for a good while. Before that, we had the World War II shooters made popular by Call of Duty. There were World War II shooters coming out constantly as publishers and developers all tried to get a piece of the pie. The pie made of money. Now, however, we find ourselves going right back to World War II shooters.
A huge reason for this happening is market saturation. Suddenly consumers find themselves with so many games that are very similar that they just stop buying them. They turn to the games that are offering something different at the time and suddenly that becomes a new trend for a little bit. This was highlighted perfectly when Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and Battlefield I were announced. Call of Duty got a ton of hate for being very similar to what gamers were playing for years while Battlefield got plenty of love for offering something new to the players.
The worst case for single player games is that they become less popular for a while until gamers get sick and tired of the same-old-same-old and single player becomes highly popular again. The industry is a fickle business that never sticks to one trend for very long. Even if it seems that single player games are falling out of favor, that is likely to change as the market fluctuates.
MICROTRANSACTIONS ARE NOT GUARANTEED TO STAY
The big reason this whole debate got started was because of the extreme popularity of microtransactions in these big $60 games. It is far easier to put these types of economies in multiplayer games than it is in single player games. This got people wondering if publishers are even going to bother with single player games anymore because they will not make as much money as the big multiplayer games where they can easily stick microtransactions in. This thinking, however, has a problem. It is assuming that microtransactions are going to stick around. I'm not completely sold on that just yet.
While microtransactions are very popular at the moment, it doesn't mean it will stay that way. This goes back to the industry being a very fickle beast; things change so quickly sometimes it can be hard to keep up at times. A perfect example of this is the online pass. The online pass is used to be huge. Publishers thought it was a great way to strong-arm users into buying new copies of their games rather than buy used. It looked like they were here to last and that they would never go away. Now? They don't exist anymore. That whole market of online passes crashed. Just because microtransactions are working now and make money, doesn't mean that they will always be around. Even if they do stick around, which is a possibility, Warner Bros has already proved that you can stick microtransactions into single player games with Shadow of War.
THE BOOMING INDIE SCENE
Even if microtransactions are permanent, even if the market doesn't saturate and people become tired of only multiplayer games, even if developers don't use the Hellblade strategy, single player games are going to be just fine. There are some great indie games out there right now, and I don't see that changing anytime soon.
These indie devs don't always have the resources to go out and build these large multiplayer games where. Instead, they tend to focus on unique single player experiences. Limbo, Inside, Bastion, Braid, Undertale, and so many others are all great single player experiences that are all vastly different from each other. Unless the indie game market suddenly crashes so terribly there are no survivors, there is little chance for these types of games to stop coming.
Single player games are not going anywhere anytime soon. There are far too many variables at play and they are still very popular to just assume that they are in any sort of trouble. Even looking at future releases show that they will be just fine. In 2018, you have Detroit: Become Human, God of War, Spiderman, Darksiders III, and so much more.
Yes, EA did close down Visceral partly because they didn't like the way their single player Star Wars game was progressing. However, it is very important to note that EA has a huge history of shutting down devs. This isn't something new from them and it should not be treated as the downfall of single player. This should be treated as normal EA business.
The worst case for single player games is that they fall into the hands of indie devs alone. Of course, that would require developers not to jump on the Hellblade route of releasing games, for the market to not change its mind randomly, for microtransactions to be a permanent fixture of games, and for the gaming market to not over-saturate to the point where consumers stop buying. While this is all technically possible, I think single player games are going to be just fine.