GameCentral provides a counter to the worry that single-player is going out of fashion and finds its actually never been healthier.
For a few years now theres been a lazy, semi-researched narrative developing online about the death of single-player. Its mainly reported by journalists in need of a sweeping generalisation to act as clickbait, a trigger for the kind of sweet, obliging outrage that makes readers share things on social media. That tired trope is that single-player games are a dying breed. Its time to put this fatuous story to bed. Forever.
But first, lets look at the evidence that underpins these articles claims and see whether its been naughty or nice. The most frequently cited proof of single-player games demise is the fact that Electronic Arts closed Visceral Games, in the process nixing the very promising upcoming Star Wars title that was being directed by Amy Hennig, famed for her work on the excellent Uncharted series. Whilst a blow for fans of galaxies far, far away, this isnt so much the death knell of a genre, as EA being EA.
Before closing Visceral, Trip Hawkins old outfit shut down Peter Molyneuxs debut business, Bullfrog; Westwood Studios, creators of the Command & Conquer franchise; Origin Systems, famous for the classic Ultima adventures; NBA developers NuFX; Pandemic, the people who made Full Spectrum Warrior and its sequel; and Playfish, a mobile games company it had previously acquired for $400million. And thats only the start of the list.
EA has a long history of buying and then accidentally killing world leading developers, in the process ending much loved and often blockbusting franchises. Does that mean that real-time strategy games, adventures, sports sims, military strategy games, and mobile are dying too? Of course it doesnt, and in the case of Viscerals sad demise it would be a mistake to see that as a sign the industry is turning against the genre that started video games.
The other commonly used verification for single-players early bath is the sudden rise in games as a service. These are online multiplayer games that continually feed in new content to keep audiences happily engaged. The reason publishers love them is that they reduce second-hand sell-through, which they believe erodes potential sales, but more importantly they also generate steady revenue long into the future. Look at GTA Online, they say. Look at the Supercell games on mobile. Theyre making people rich!
However, thats only one side of the story. For every Clash Of Clans, there are dozens, if not hundreds of PlunderNauts and Space Miner Wars, games that launched full of hopes, dreams, and expensively produced art assets, only to slump into rapid disuse and closure. The AAA world is littered with carcasses too, including EAs own Star Wars: Battlefront II, a costly mistake that suffered from financial gain being placed above player experience.
Thats not a mistake youd uncover at CD Projekt RED, hugely profitable makers of single-player games, most famously The Witcher series and the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077. And actually, if you look even slightly deeper you realise that not only is the world of single-player thriving, its winning. 2018s Game Awards Game of the Year was God Of War, a title that you can only play alone, despite being accompanied by boy. The runner-up in most peoples minds was Read Dead Redemption II, another lone wolf, albeit one that carries the promise of a persistent multiplayer world grafted on top of it.
But thats the tip of the iceberg. If you examine PlayStations dominance this generation, most will tell you it was driven by Sonys dedication to nurturing platform exclusives, almost all of which were single-player: The Last Of Us, Uncharted, Horizon Zero Dawn, and The Last Guardian are unarguable. You might quibble with the inclusion of Detroit: Become Human in that list, but its a unique experience that has as many boosters as it does critics.
In fact, in recent memory solo games have been doing much of the running. Zelda: Breath Of The Wild invigorated Nintendos newest console at launch and continues to be a source of wonder for its players. Dark Souls remains peerless in terms of its scale and terrifying gravitas, and Ubisofts blockbusters like Far Cry and Assassins Creed have multiplayer components, but at their heart theyre about you vs. the world.
The indies are onboard with it, too. Look at Inside and Limbo, two wonderfully atmospheric and original titles that sit comfortably alongside gems such as Braid, a game that was mechanically and narratively in a class of its own. Or this years Dead Cells, a roguelike that just refuses to let you go. You might have been too busy playing Subset Games indescribably addictive Into The Breach even to have time. Or perhaps youre enjoying Subnautica, the joyously spooky survival horror-meets-Minecraft game.
So no. Single-player games are alive and well. In fact, theyre better than theyve ever been, thanks to the onrush of technology that gives rise to more beautiful, detailed, and interactive worlds and ever more believable computer opponents and companions. They let developers tell stories and develop characters, and lead to the kind of emotional connections that are fleeting at best in a multiplayer environment laden as it often is with racial epithets and splenetic pre-adolescents.
The next time you see a headline spewing misconceived twaddle about single-player just sigh, shake your head, and move on. Clicking will only encourage them.
By Nick Gillett
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