Xbox Boss Phil Spencer recently claimed in an interview with theguardian that the future of gaming lies in the service-based games model. It prompted numerous very passionate debates online with good reason as what the Xbox head definitely describes a trend that is emerging and becoming more widespread by the minute. Spencer's words specifically sent shock waves across the gaming industry when he said,
"the audience for those big story-driven games… I won't say it isn't as large, but they're not as consistent, you'll have things like Zelda or Horizon Zero Dawn that'll come out, and they'll do really well, but they don't have the same impact that they used to have, because the big service-based games are capturing such a large amount of the audience. Sony's first-party studios do a lot of these games, and they're good at them, but outside of that, it's difficult – they're become more rare; it's a difficult business decision for those teams, you're fighting into more headwind."
This news is old but it still had me pondering what Phil was saying. That quote alone is a mouthful and will continue to have serious repercussions in the gaming industry if others see the state of things the same way. It is very concerning for me who grew up playing mostly single player linear games with or without story. When online multiplayer arrived on consoles I largely ignored it as no gameplay time that I spent playing games online could compare to the quality of what I received from numerous single-player story-driven experiences. That much is clear to me but I am part of a hardcore group that is surrounded by an army of gamers that opt for the service-based games instead. I understand business and it will always go to where there is the most money to be had.
The advent of dlc came and brought micro-transactions to consoles and its here to stay. The truth is that the majority of console users and gamers in general play online and participate heavily in micro-transactions. These transactions are tolerated by them in the service-based games and Phil Spencer is right, there would be an uproar if these were also incorporated in the story-driven single player games. So because micro-transactions can only be done in these service-based games and it allows developers to reap a great amount of profit from an existing game, making these type of games is now becoming the smartest business decision. For better or for worse, most developers are now pursuing this model with great eagerness.
Sorry I couldn't resist. Check AngryJoe's reviews for further hilarious context on how far micro-transactions sometimes go. The deniable truth is that consumers are ultimately responsible for the direction that the gaming industry is following. Single weapon, additional skins, maps, etc…these are all being bought by millions of gamers on their favorite games. This will continue to be the path followed by most developers as a result. Will the three first-party houses follow suit. Let's see below.
Phil Spencer's statement seems to spell that Xbox may be departing from making further narrative-driven single player games. This is very telling for the future and their currently line-up attests to this of late as well with games like Sea of Thieves, Crackdown 3 and State of Decay. These are all service-based games as will likely be the next Forza. Phil goes further by praising Sony's first party because of their narrative-driven games, "and they're good at them, but outside of that, it's difficult." It's very plausible to believe that with Phil Spencer's words may come the end of narrative focused single player exclusive games for Xbox. They will nonetheless have whichever few third party multi-platform ones are made. Yet this is not the end as I'm sure newer Halo and Gears will be made but as seen in the latest installments, the online multiplayer experience outpaces the campaign for both. What is likely is that no further narrative-driven single player exclusives will be made for Xbox platforms moving forward. E3 will test this prediction soon enough.
What about Nintendo? Well, perhaps they are actually following Microsoft in that direction. Their latest new IPs seem to all be games that fit the service-based model. Games like Splatoon and now Arms seem to be heading in that direction with Nintendo embracing micro-transactions to some of their most popular franchises new or old. Whether it's worth it value-wise is outside of the argument being made here. Still the fact remains, Nintendo has not made a narrative-focused single player new IP since the GameCube days of Eternal Darkness. Their focus is gameplay over story and that's fine but it's also easier to head the micro-transaction route that way. Like with Xbox, Nintendo platforms will always feature new Mario and Zelda games but how about new IPs in their vein? We've been waiting on that for awhile.
That leaves Sony as the only fish bravely going against the current. With new narrative-driven exclusive games such as Detroit: Become Human, Days Gone, Death Stranding and Sucker Punch's new IP the strong current might be overcome. If you then add upcoming entries into big-hitters such as God of War, Uncharted, Spiderman and The Last of Us we then get a picture of a company betting mostly on narrative-focused single player games as opposed to most other developers. Not only betting but producing in-house and funding the rest.
The future is uncertain but it seems to be clear that for the best AAA narrative-driven single player experiences the Playstation is the platform to stick with. Microsoft and Nintendo are deviating in the mean time as far as risking is concerned. They've both played it safe for some time and seem intent to continue doing so. With E3 just around the corner, will Sony announce new unknown narrative-focused experiences to add to their vast upcoming portfolio? Will Microsoft and Nintendo prove me wrong and risk on new narrative-driven single player experiences? Let us see.
I would love to read your thoughts on this matter below. Cheers.