Almost two years ago to the date, I had taken to the site with my fourth article for Frantic Talks. The topic was whether or not couch co-op games were slowly “dying out” due to the ever-rising popularity of multiplayer games. Back then I didn’t think they were completely dying but I also acknowledged the fact that they were becoming less and less frequent, especially in the triple A world of game developers and publishers. Today, I’m discussing something similar but minus one player.
I’m talking about the single player game. This is something I feel that is dying out. While it is true that I’m all for socializing in games and it is a huge part of why I play games; personally, there are times where I just want to relax on my own with a good single player game. There are many reasons one can come up with as to why single player games are becoming less favorable to their more popular multiplayer focused counterpart. As with co-op games though, there are developers and publishers that are willing to continue to keep these games going.
Back in December, Bethesda unveiled a sort of campaign (if you want to call it that) that is geared towards saving single player games. While I am fairly certain that this campaign was strictly a marketing move, as they announced a sale on several of their latest single player games at the same time, I do have to give them some credit for semi-acknowledging the fact that single player games are on the decline. They also used this opportunity to announce they would be donating to the ESA Foundation’s scholarship program, which is designed to give scholarships to students going into game development. So again, I can’t help but feel this was mostly meant for marketing and a boost of good PR but the underlying message is still the same.
That message being the fact that new single player games are dwindling. While there are developers that still create games that are solely meant for the solo person, you have seen many games start out as single player centric then eventually have an element of multiplayer added to them. Take a gander at Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood where they introduced a multiplayer element, granted by introducing it and keeping it for the next three games it did help keep the series alive long enough. However, keeping the series alive isn’t my point. My point is I don’t think it was necessary to add in a multiplayer element in an otherwise single player focused game. Irrational Games did something similar with BioShock 2 in which they added a multiplayer mode when the prior game had not had it. While it was fun and didn’t really detract from the rest of the game, I don’t think it was something that went over too well and partially as a result it was not present in BioShock Infinite.
Of course, adding in a multiplayer component to a single player game is not easy. It costs resources, those being time and people. You need the time necessary to develop the multiplayer aspect and on top of that, you need the team to actually build the multiplayer aspect. You could say that people who work on other parts of the game that are pertinent to the solo experience can also work on the multiplayer portion. When you do that though, things start getting crazy…and not in a good way typically. Employees get frustrated because their workload is essentially doubled (even with schedules) and mistakes are more likely to happen when things become rushed. While it may be a good idea to add multiplayer to your game you do have to take into consideration a lot of other, bigger things when deciding to do so.
Speaking of time, I have to admit that in recent years as my personal life has gotten busier I have found at times it is just much easier to pop in a game for a couple of quick multiplayer matches or a short activity like a strike in Destiny. Obviously if you have limited time to play, you’re not going to decide to play a game like Skyrim or Fallout in that time frame. In scenarios like that, you’ll most likely play a few games of Rocket League or a similarly short activity and save the extensive dive into the single player game for when you have more than 20 minutes to dedicate to it. In a way, I feel this is another reason that is leading to the “downfall” of the single player game. Now obviously I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a social life or a life outside of gaming…because then we just bring up the whole “gaming disorder” thing and…I’m not going to get into that. What I am saying however, is that as people get busier in their personal lives their gaming habits change to reflect this. They start playing more Call of Duty or Rocket League because they can fit more matches of them into the short time they have to play and start playing less Elder Scrolls.
As time moves on, much like it does, people will find themselves having an abundance of free time and going back to games like CoD or Rocket League for numerous reasons. We can typically reason this away as to what I mentioned near the beginning of this article: people want to socialize with their friends while they play games and playing with your friends is a great way to do both. Well, you can’t really do that while playing a single player game. I cannot consciously sit here and put blame on wanting to interact with your friends while playing games because that goes against my belief that gaming is just as much about interacting with friends as it is experiencing the game itself. Plus it would be me basically saying “You should be anti-social to save the games!” which is also a bad mindset to get into in my opinion.
However, this can translate to market data and statistics when game developers or publishers try to figure out what is popular amongst gamers. In this sense, that is where I feel playing multiplayer games just to socialize with your friends can be harmful to the single player game. This is also one point where I feel there is no real “solution” for the cause. You either stop playing games with your friends to only play games that are single player in order to save them; or you just keep doing what you’re doing and play the single player game when you can. If we’re being honest, the former option doesn’t sound like too much fun and on top of that, it essentially encourages an anti-social-esque mindset. Which isn’t healthy for people, or so the internet tells me.
To summarize, I feel that the single player game is slowly dying out. For what reason? Several, but the blame can’t really be put fully on one over the other. Much like the co-op games I talked about a couple years ago, there are developers that are trying to keep these games going. The question I bring up in response is; are they actually trying to keep single player games alive or just doing it to look good? The answer to that question will most likely never be answered or at least never have a definitive answer. In the end, I feel that this is a situation where there is no real solution that will make everyone happy. Just remember to enjoy what time you spend with your “solo virtual gaming experience”.