Let’s entertain the idea that Triple-A gaming studios are starting to shy away from truly Single Player experiences. You only have to think of the current top games on Steam, or even the best- selling games on consoles right now. I’ll wager a good deal of the titles that popped into your heads were mainly online games (and yes, Call of Duty counts as one).
It’s good news for many gamers out there that so much time and effort is being poured into great multiplayer experiences, and I’m all for it. Just so long as the publishers aren’t trying to milk something for all it’s worth (nothing to see here). However this week I was reading through some gaming news articles, and one in particular almost had me shedding a manly tear.
Eidos Montreal announced that they were shifting into an “online” focussed development cycle. Snuffing out hope of there being a Deus Ex game as good as the original. This also made me worry about when we’ll ever see the next Tomb Raider or Theif game. It seems Eidos Montreal is jumping on the same bandwagon we see many big studios do these days. While it’s a sensible move financially, I feel the more this happens the less likely it is we will see a high budget masterpiece of a single player game anytime soon.
There have been a few bad news stories for single player games this year, but taking Deus Ex away from me hits hard! Many of you who have only taken up gaming within the last decade will not have seen what I consider to the be golden-age of PC Single-Player games. Within the space of 5 years (thereabouts), we saw the release of the original Deus Ex. A game which brought a seemingly bottomless layer of depth to the First-Person Shooter genre. Half-Life 2 which really pushed the boundaries of story-telling, characters and the use of game-play mechanics in new and meaningful ways.
Metal Gear Solid released on the Sony PlayStation in 1998 and redefined what a single player experience could be. Hell, it redefined gaming in general for me especially. Games started to become more than merely games, they became stories, memories, a new medium for the worlds best creative works.
Now it’s all far too common that Single Player modes are often something that feels tacked on to a game ( eg Battlefront II, Titanfall 2). An after-thought that occurs when the developers are done with padding out the multiplayer portion. These online sections of games these days are often sprawling, bloated things. Laden with equal parts free content, and unlockable paid goodies in the form of premium currency or loot boxes. We’re all used to this now, but sometimes this behaviour actually pays off in a big way.
Who can blame game developers for moving towards the shining beacon of online success?
GTA Online, for example, is a truly fantastic online experience which has made its counterpart Story Mode into its starved-for-attention little sibling. It just has some unfortunate caveats such as needing a tonne of real money to unlock any decent gear anytime soon.
But who can blame game developers for moving towards the shining beacon of online success? Online gaming is taking over the world right now. It’s producing “sportsman” that earn more than Footballers. It’s getting hundreds of thousands of players at any one moment playing their games. New and exciting genres have spawned out of multiplayer such as the MOBA and Battle Royale-em-ups. Many will consider certain online games to be a much deeper and meaningful experience than many single player games we are receiving right now. So it’s easy to see why many Publishers are starting to favour this new world.
Just look at the other disappointments this year. Bioware’s Mass Effect Andromeda, we all know about that one, or if you need to be brought up to speed, Jason Schreier over at Kotaku gave a fantastic write-up. EA chucked a lot of money at it, so I can only imagine what boardroom meetings would have been like on the day the bulk of the critics’ reviews came out. Although this didn’t impact the game’s revenue too heavily, it does spell disaster for future Single Player Bioware titles. Bioware’s next title is actually going to be an online game.
We now have a culture where it’s acceptable to release half-finished games
EA’s closure of Visceral Studios was also a massive hit to the industry this year. These were the creators of the Dead Space series and who were also working on a new Star Wars game (Project Ragtag as a working title). More evidence that when a high budget game looks like it may fail, the plug will get pulled fairly early on. Now we’re left a Star Wars multiplayer game (Battlefront 2) which has questionable ethics, and an endless sea of early-access Survival and Battle Royale giants.
Now I’m a sucker for these multiplayer giants, don’t get me wrong. There aren’t many things in gaming that can beat an amazing laugh with your mates whilst you’re driving around in your favourite online game, causing chaos. But mostly these games lack the quality, the polish and the uniqueness that proper Single Player titles bring to the table.
How could unfinished work ever be classed as a masterpiece?
The same is true for many successful games released in the last few years. We now have a culture where it’s acceptable to release half-finished games, keep the money coming in and to pull players along with a tiny thread of hope that they will get the next awesome feature that is always promised. How could unfinished work ever be classed as a masterpiece? How can PUBG, or GTA Online or Sea of Thieves come close to how awesome it felt being Master Chief escaping in a Warthog in the finale of Halo? Or how it felt being Gordon Freeman getting hold of the crowbar for the first time in Half Life 2?
So am I saying that, eventually, we will lose Single Player gaming all-together? Hell no! Just look at some of the gems we’ve had released this year alone. Horizon Zero Dawn, Breath of Wild, and just two years ago came my favourite single player game of all time (Witcher 3). Major developers continue to work on truly-awesome looking titles, but maybe we have lost too many great IPs to this new trend.