The Death of Single-Player

Back in August, game consultant Mark Cerny made waves in the gaming community when he predicted the death of single-player within the next couple years.

Pictured: Game Consultant Mark Cerny

I hate to say it, but he may be right. Even a lot of series that began as single-player-only have added or will add multiplayer in later iterations. Dead Space, Assassin’s Creed, Bioshock, Dead Rising, Resident Evil… hell, even Mass Effect 3 will have a multiplayer component.

Whether it’s co-op or multiplayer, or something in between like in Demon’s Souls, inserting multiplayer anywhere and everywhere is the trend.

And it needs to stop.

Let me be clear, I am in no way saying that there should not be any multiplayer games. What I’m saying is that we shouldn’t eliminate the story-driven, single-player game because multiplayer is the “thing” now.

Yes, multiplayer games can have stories, but let’s be honest, even in co-op, people don’t pay attention to plot when they’re playing games with others. The same way you can’t have two people simultaneously reading the same copy of a book, you can’t expect gamers to be invested in a story when others are playing with them.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Multiplayer certainly can be fun – just ask the bazillion people who just bought Modern Warfare 3, causing its profits to pass the one billion dollar mark faster than Avatar. It’s just that the experience is fundamentally different, and we shouldn’t get rid of one in favor of the other.

I understand the motivation on the publishers’ part – a billion dollars, remember? – but just because one type of game sells better, it doesn’t mean they should only make one type of game. It would be like if romances made the most money of all movie genres, so Hollywood decided to only make romances.

Noooooooo!!!!

And the fact is that multiplayer games, since they often have no set endpoint, have more competition. If you make a military FPS focused on multiplayer, you’re immediately in competition with Modern Warfare. Which means you have to be better than Modern Warfare, or else quickly fade away. And if you make an MMORPG, the time investment and monthly fee means gamers would have to choose between it and World of Warcraft, which is a hard fight to win.

Story-driven, single-player games, on the other hand, can coexist peacefully. No one had to choose between playing Assassin’s Creed II and Alan Wake because they could easily play both to their respective conclusions.

Plus – and this is less of a dollars-and-cents argument – the people buying multiplayer-focused games are not necessarily the same people who buy single-player games. There’s a common logical fallacy that if 10 thousand people buy Game A and 5 thousand buy Game B, then those who bought Game B also bought Game A.

Again, I suppose it doesn’t matter on the bottom line, but then again, maybe it does. Atlus is a Japanese publisher known for releasing niche, mostly single-player titles in the U.S. Their games can’t even hope to breathe the same air as the Modern Warfares of the world in terms of sales charts, but that being said, they have a loyal fanbase and they cater to those fans’ desires. A bazillion people will not buy the next Shin Megami Tensei game, but I will.

Knowing that they have such loyal fans, they can print less copies, spend less on advertising, etc. It’s not an issue of their games being “better” or “worse” than the more popular multiplayer games, because they are two different products for two different audiences.

But, you may ask, if single-player games are simply adding multiplayer components without eliminating single-player, then why would that bother me? Everyone gets what they want, right?

Sadly, no.

Not only are developers forced to divide their resources, thereby giving less time and attention to the single-player aspect than they would otherwise, but often the multiplayer infringes upon the single-player campaign. Games built for co-op are great for multiplayer, but they force those playing alone to be stuck with an idiotic AI companion for the duration of the journey.

Not that I didn’t love watchinig Sheva unload all her ammo into the front of a boss instead of the back where it’s actually vulnerable, but it would’ve been nice if Resident Evil 5 didn’t stick you with her brain-dead ass if she wasn’t being controlled by another player.

I hate you.

And the fact is that this is increasinly becoming an expection. I feel like every other preview I read of Batman: Arkham City complained about how it wouldn’t have co-op. Even though everyone loved the first game, and the developers explained that they wanted to instead focus on creating the best single-player experience they could, people were still upset by the lack of multiplayer.

Which leads me to another logical fallacy, which is that the most vocal fans are a fair representation of all fans. It stands to reasons that the gamers posting on online message boards are more likely than those who don’t to prefer multiplayer games, yet developers still use online forums as sources for “what the fans want.”

My point is this: the gaming universe has grown exponentially since the days of Pong. It’s big enough to contain a wide variety of experiences for a wide variety of people. Want to play a hardcore online competitive deathmatch? Go for it. Want to play a motion-controlled casual game like Wii Sports? Sure. Want to beat your high score on Bejeweled? No problem.

And if I want more of the finely crafted interactive storytelling that I have shown this medium is capable of when it focuses on the single-player experience, then you know what? There should always be room for that, too.

Wait, bad example.

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2 Responses to “The Death of Single-Player”

  1. This is one thing that really kills me. I pretty much solely play single-player story-based games, with the occasional fighter or turn-based strategy game thrown in, and most of the games that I loved from my childhood (Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross, Xenogears, etc.) are single-player games., That said, I hate that story-based games are taking a backseat to the multiplayer demands of a select audience of gamers.

  2. I read an article concerned about this trend too, in Game Informer, I believe. It is a shame because I’m more of a single-player gamer. I don’t like to play with random people online. Plus the types of games I’m into aren’t really mutliplayer friendly anyway. (like RPGs)

    I’ve also heard of games that will have a multiplayer option, but not on the same console! Some racing game is out there were you can’t race against someone split screen in your own room!

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