Will The End of Narrative-Driven Exclusives Really Come?

Xbox Boss Phil Spencer spells out the decline of narrative-focused single player experiences in favor of service-based games. But will this be the case for the games made in the future for all big three console makers?

Will The End of Narrative-Driven Exclusives Really Come?
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.

Will The End of Narrative-Driven Exclusives Really Come?- Angry Joe's Game Executive
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.

Will The End of Narrative-Driven Exclusives Really Come?- Quantum Break
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.

Will The End of Narrative-Driven Exclusives Really Come?- Arms
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.

Will The End of Narrative-Driven Exclusives Really Come?- Detroit
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.

Will The End of Narrative-Driven Exclusives Really Come?-Ellie
I would love to read your thoughts on this matter below. Cheers.


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    LOL. This article is insulting because Phil never said that single play narratives would no longer exist. Do people still watch movies? Do people watch TV shows? Do people still read books? There will always be a medium in gaming for narration and story-telling. Not only for the people playing games, but the people creating games.

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      Well which of their current’known line-up is a narrative-focused exclusive? How many have Microsoft own first party studios produced this gen compared to Sony? This is not insulting and it’s a future to expect. It doesn’t mean narrative-focused games will disappear on Xbox. You will still have the Halo and Gears campaign in addition to whatever multi-platform ones are made. It’s just that I believe that Microsoft exclusive efforts will no longer include narrative-based single player experiences. If you check the interview he clearly says that the service-based game model is where business is really at. I didn’t say it, he did. Pointing it out is not insulting in any way, it’s just an opinion that I would hold for Sony as well if they said the same things and acted accordingly.

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      I agree that stories will always have a place in gaming, but at the same time, it can’t be denied that they used to be more frequent in their focus of it years ago. Now, story is a nice extra for most games, and few publishers risk spending big money on proper script writers and dialogue writers to deliver a good story. It is on a downward trend, unfortunately.

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        Yes, the frankness of Phil is bad news for the industry. He points the way that it’s really going. I just hope that Sony and Nintendo don’t stop making incredible single player experiences in order to at least take the tide.

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    It is true that games are becoming more and more focused on the gameplay aspect, and less on the story. But gaming was born like that. Aside from the odd Phantasy Star or Squaresoft title, it was all 100% gameplay, with maybe some bits here and there of text-based story.



    But I’m not so certain that Sony’s single-player narratives are exempt from microtransactions or service-based models. If you take a look at Last of Us, it has a fully-functional multiplayer that is filled with micro-transactions. Sure, they don’t touch (or in this case affected) the single player mode, but it is there, almost ready to take over in, say, the next Last of Us game, even if it has a single player game.



    More interestingly, Horizon Zero Dawn does not have micro-transactions, but its built for them. All those scavenger boxes with different rarity colors and random loot: its like the system is ready and set to charge players for getting the rarer boxes for a chance at better loot. If not for this game, likely for its sequel.



    So while Sony may still have the most narrative-driven games, it looks like its also heading in Microsoft’s direction, at a slower pace. As for Nintendo, they’ve never focused on narrative games, outside the odd Paper Mario or Fire Emblem. From the beginning, they have been gameplay first. And while their micro-transaction stuff in Fire Emblem is a bit worrying, their stance on Splatoon and ARMS to just give free DLC throughout its life is something which I wish more developers would do with service-based games.

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      We will see at E3. I think that Sony knows that narrative-focused single player games are its strength. They tried a number of service-based games in the past that failed sales wise such as MAG, Starhawk, Playstation All-Stars, SOCOM, Kill Strain, etc… Also, Sony’s first party games tend to not have multiplayer and rarely any micro-transactions if any: Infamous Second Son, Horizon, Gravity Rush, and upcoming Days Gone, God of War, Knack, etc…


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