Shamelog #028 - “The Death of Single Player"
Small aside - this past Monday we received word that an ex-workmate of mine, who finished up at my work about 6 months ago to live her dream and travel the around country, lost her life in a car accident involving her car, one other and a road train (a truck with a lot of trailers on it,) so I haven’t been overly keen to jump into the final act of The Witcher. This week is a little off topic as a result.
What a loaded phrase. “The Death of Single Player”. It’s a little bit dramatic to be honest, and generalises a much finer idea - that AAA development of games focused on a private experience has come to a stop. It comes up every now and then, with the most recent being this year. At the end of the day, the game industry pendulum has swung back and forth with this notion, always swinging back around to producing some pretty stellar single player games (see: games of 2017.) Though I agree that calling out the death of single player is a little premature, I feel there actually is a little more base in those thoughts than usual.
Honestly, I feel like we’re in a peak for gaming. 2015, 2016 and 2017 have been a continual upward rise for games, with so many wonderful experiences being released. I also feel that this trend won’t continue - the gaming industry just can’t seem to keep a good thing going for too long (see the late 90s, around 2007 etc). This time around, much ink has been spilled over the astronomical costs of development, the rumblings around shitty workplace practices has grown to a more coherent argument, and the ever increasing need for capitalistic growth pushes back on the art of game making. All of these factors seem to be converging to a point right now that could be on it’s way to changing the gaming landscape as we see it now. We’re sitting on an inflection point - larger publishers are looking to make more and more money, and the way forward seems to be less single player focused, more loot boxes opened.
So, to break it down - the assumption that the biggest AAA publishers are moving away from single player games is essentially truth. We’ve already seen it from Blizzard and Valve. EA’s single player games are being crushed with the weight of profit expectance, while Ubisoft and Square Enix have stated multiple times in investor calls their intention to focus on “continued player engagement” and “continued player investment". Sea of Thieves, Anthem, Skull & Bones, likely even Red Dead Redemption 2 will be all focused on retaining your attention as a multiplayer experience, with one goal being to get you to spend more money. Rare, Bioware, Ubisoft, Rockstar - all developers beloved for decades for their single player games. If the developers of these companies are working on these games, they can’t be working on other potential single player games.
That, at least, is the argument.
I do agree with that logic. This is correct, these massive AAA companies are moving away from the types of games that a lot of us are super passionate about. But to say that means the death of single player games? Hardly.
Where the companies already mentioned falter, others take their place. As of 2017, it looks like Bethesda is bearing the torch for AAA single player development, particularly with FPS’s. Nintendo is of course going to do Nintendo. We have also seen a rise in smaller publishers taking up the mantle - Paradox, PlatinumGames, NIS and more have been doing an excellent job with more smaller budget yet fantastic games. Most importantly, small to mid sizes indie devs round out the single player space - Ninja Theory, Supergiant, Fullbright, Klei Entertainment, Playdead, Frictional and many, many more are just about household names. These developers are the future of single player, and I for one am super happy for it to be in their more than capable hands.
I could go on, but I think that’s it for tonight. What do you think - are we at that point where single player changes? What’s the future of gaming? Sound off below!