Reports About the Death of Single Player Games Have Been Greatly Exaggerated
If you do a cursory Google search about single-player games, you will find that someone, somewhere is saying that they are dead. However, reality paints a different picture. In an ever-evolving industry, the idea of the gamer’s ideal experience has changed time and time again. In this latest year, a single player experience is seen as a luxury of sorts rather than the idealistic norm, according to certain game publishers. Yet, I can’t help but feel that these reports are not only a gross misrepresentation of the truth but also a dangerous precedent being set by these executives.
In the last few years, the single-player campaign has gone through an evolution of sorts. Some developers have used the gaming medium to tell an invigorating story meant to touch the player at their core. On the other hand, others have used single-player campaigns to lure in prospective players wary about the more robust multiplayer offerings. While both of these uses have led to various outcomes, the multiplayer based game with a single player campaign tends to bring much more criticism upon the publisher.
Electronic Arts has been a noted advocate of the multiplayer based game method. For the past four years, three of their AAA games have had story modes that could be considered lackluster, or just non-existent. Both “Battlefield 1,” and “Battlefield V” have story campaigns known as “War Stories,” mini-campaigns with self-contained stories that can each be completed in under an hour. While Battlefield 1 launched with five War Stories, Battlefield V only launched with three, with a fourth additional story released later as DLC.
While these two games launched with some sort of campaign, EA launched 2015’s Star Wars Battlefront with no story campaign whatsoever. This decision angered many Star Wars fans, leading them to suspect that EA would not handle the Star Wars license in a way that represents what the fans want. After this wave of criticism, EA implemented a story mode into Star Wars Battlefront II, though that story mode was criticized for being a simple story, as well as a short campaign lasting only four to five hours.
These trends are becoming more and more troublesome as the years go by. The aforementioned “War Stories” campaign mode has cropped up in different iterations. Activision’s Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 has adopted this form of storytelling, rather than having the typical campaign that Call of Duty is known for. Though the Call of Duty story campaigns have been a simplified experience in the past, these campaigns were a fan favorite due to their stories and challenge. The removal of a standard campaign was criticized by many fans of the series, and could possibly affect future sales.
Though these trends are problematic, there are a number of exceptions to consider. For instance, these publishers are behind a large number of games with yearly releases, such as Madden for EA, and Call of Duty for Activision. While these studios pride themselves on the quality of their work, there is a clear financial goal within both of these companies. With the rise of battle royale modes becoming popular, these companies decided to forego the typical story campaign to lure gamers who would prefer a multiplayer based experience. While this comes as a shock to most players, this is to be expected as companies try to cash in on the success of Fortnite and Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds by any means necessary.
That being said, the single-player experience cannot be considered truly dead. While games are launching with a single player and multiplayer campaign, a large chunk of these single player campaigns are treated with respect, and full single-player story modes are not lacking in features. Rockstar Games’ Red Dead Redemption 2 launched only on October 26th of this year, yet two weeks after its release sold over 17 million units and made over $725 million in that same timeframe. While Red Dead promised a multiplayer mode a month or so after launch, the game launched with only a single player campaign, echoing the method used by Rockstar’s previous release of Grand Theft Auto V.
Furthermore, there have been numerous attempts by certain studios to preserve the single-player experience. Sony has made their PlayStation 4 the go-to platform for single-player games, be it with multiplayer or as a true solo experience. In the last three years alone, Sony has revolutionized the single-player experience in a number of titles. These PlayStation 4 exclusive titles include From Software’s Bloodborne, Atlus’ Persona 5, and Guerrilla Games’ Horizon: Zero Dawn are just a few of the biggest single player games on the platform. Furthermore, Sony’s own first party developers, Naughty Dog, brought their Uncharted franchise over to the PlayStation 4 for a thrilling conclusion with Uncharted 4, also a single-player focused game.
These games pale in comparison to two of the biggest gaming success stories in 2018, God of War and Marvel’s Spider-Man. Both of these games are single player, story-driven games with not a hint of multiplayer whatsoever, and both have been lauded as the shining example of what a single-player game can do in the modern era. Sony does not seem to be slowing down either, focusing on a number of single-player games to be released in 2019, including the sequel to 2013’s smash hit “The Last of Us,” another single player title made by Naughty Dog.
While this is just one platform, other developers have continuously focused on single-player experiences. CD Projekt Red has regularly released incredible single-player games such as the Witcher series and seems to be furthering that trend with the inevitable release of Cyberpunk 2077. Nintendo has also regularly released stellar single-player games and will continue to do so as they bolster their Nintendo Switch platform with mainline entries into their flagship series, such as the impending Metroid Prime 4, and Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Furthermore, numerous indie developers have focused their efforts on preserving single-player experiences, with standouts such as Celeste, Dead Cells, and Hollow Knight furthering their respective genres. While multiplayer experiences seem to be the overwhelming majority, single-player story-driven games will always be there, allowing you a moments reprieve from the onslaught of endless online gaming.