REPLY TO ALL: Is Single Player Dying?

Companies like Valve have started talking about moving away from single player experiences all together and combined with the recent episodes of the “internets collapsing” (PSN), do you think multiplayer games will still take over in the near future?

Rob

I really don’t think the PSN debacle will have much of an impact at all. I’m a little pissed about having my credentials and payment information out in who-knows-where, but it’s honestly not going to stop me from having a PSN account and putting in my new card number when the service comes back online. I think that’s a risk you take when you use any type of payment service… including giving your card to the waitress… and that’s why you don’t use the same password on everything. If I had bought Portal 2 for PS3 and had plans to play co-op with a buddy I would be pretty impatient about not being able to play, but also know that it’s just an unfortunate fluke.

Personally, though, I like playing online and going through co-op campaigns with my friends, but I don’t like the idea of doing away with the single player experience. I feel most absorbed by the story when I’m playing something by myself… and I can set my own hours. We all know how tough it can be sometimes to get on the same schedule to play with someone… even if you try to plan something regularly. I’m a fan of the single player/co-op campaigns like in Gears of War or Halo. That is the best of both worlds. If the storyline supports it, I think that’s the way to go.

Portal 2

Too solitary?

Justin L

I really don’t get the recent attacks on single player games, I feel like Valve’s statement came out of nowhere (especially for a company that is sitting on the biggest single player sequel we have yet to play). Call of Duty‘s multiplayer success wouldn’t have happened without an emphasis on their single player game, that is what made those original players bite on picking up the game in the first place. World of Warcraft‘s original fans came to play because of their experiences with early Warcraft games and the Diablo series. Halo went out of its way to develop a deep universe for the setting up it’s trilogy spin-offs and great base for it’s multiplayer experience. I think games like Mass Effect or even Darksiders are getting harder and riskier for every developer to take on, but I don’t think they’ll go away. The game industry will always need a way to introduce new ideas and experiment with new franchises, and crafting a rich single player experience is still the best way to build a new fan base. I think John Marston agrees with me.

Ethan

I think what the PSN outage proved was that a multiplayer game is an empty box without an internet or service connection. This may seem obvious, but we take for granted being able to log on and play a game with friends where as ten years earlier (for consoles anyway) this was not as easy or accessible. I still played my PS3 because Red Dead Redemption doesn’t require the internet to play and I had a fun time gaming, but there are people out there that only play online and companies are catering to them because they are more vocal. Those same people are still pretty vocal now, where as the people playing the single player games can deal with it for the time being (trust me, I am annoyed but not as crazy pissed as some). I just think that if anything, companies will learn that the multiplayer crowd that they’ve bent over backwards trying to please is just as ready to turn on them as praise them for their achievements if a catastrophe like this happens again.

JP

I may be naive, but I really don’t think single player is dead or dying. Turning the calender to May, we are staring the biggest pre-holiday single player title right in the face (LA Noire). Lest we forget that the yearly release window also has at least three huge single player titles in the pipeline (Batman, Skyrim, & ME3) none of which will contain any competitive online component. I guess what I am saying here is that I am siding with JDevL. I grew up on single player, and that is what I will gravitate towards first and foremost. I got into the online multiplayer craze a little late, depending on where you set the starting point. Ethan is right about the online crowd being very loud, lewd, crude, and obnoxious as all hell. Yet, in theory they of course are going to be more vocal than single player gamer. I can be very content to shut the world out and wrap myself into a single player game and lose track of a shit load of time. I strongly believe that the core single player gamer is going to be content in that vibe as well. As long as the game doesn’t contain geckos flying when they shouldn’t (New Vegas). They really aren’t going to bitch up a storm. Yet if a developer creates and online experience that has some minor to major flaws with broken mechanics and balancing (Modern Warfare 2), the online crowd is prepared to bitch, moan, and cry about it regardless if anyone is listening.

L.A. Noire

Tell me miss, where were you the night PSN went down?

I don’t think this security fiasco will have any effect on online gaming. I think it will have an effect on what systems are bought going forward. Like JDevL said, all the big online games started by creating a new, story driven intellectual property that eventually became successful online. I think each one of us could name at least one new IP from this generation that reeled them in with the primary single player experience (BioShock).

Cole

I’ve been of the mind that I don’t like the direction games are going. I was and will always be more single player focused. I love stories, and telling a great story in a multiplayer setting is damn near impossible. While I don’t think we will ever see an attack like this again (or the result of this attack) on any gaming network, I think game developers might shy away from having a only a multiplayer game. Even in 2011, more people have consoles that aren’t hooked into the internet than are, so developers are narrowing their field of possible buyers because of their online only mentality. Even though that will change going forward, how many people will be interested in playing a game like Portal 2 when they do get connected. I’m almost certain that Portal 2 will never do Call of Duty: Black Ops numbers even if every console was online.

Justin L

I just had this image in my head of a bunch of developers and producers complaining that “making video games is too hard.” They want to take the easy way out and have a repetitive cash cow and think multiplayer is a quicker way to those billions ‘o dollars.

Alex

Call of Duty

Your perks are killing me

Speaking strictly in numbers, no. Great single player games like Portal 2 aren’t going to beat out the Black Ops of the world, but I’m ok with that. I myself love an amazing story, and something I can lose myself in. The huge multiplayer games feel like they are for a different audience. Today’s single player games are for the people who love a great movie or book while the megaton shooters are the “going outside to play catch” crowd. I was never that kid, and I’m not now, I want to get lost in a world.

That being said, I understand where Valve was coming from. They just finished what will likely be hailed as one of the greater games of all time, and along with it, they added in a pretty different type of multiplayer co-op. I’m all for multiplayer if it can be done in a different way, and foster different types of interactions. Either way, I’ll still be the guy with the controller loving the feel of saving the world one boss at a time!

Andrew

We all know that single player isn’t dying. There is a huge multiplayer community out there, but I would almost say there is a larger community of introverts that just prefer to game by themselves. I can’t help but think of the Battlefield franchise. It started by only having a multiplayer option and was hugely successful for years. Several years later it’s evolved into a game that almost puts more emphasis on its single player than on its multiplayer. I think Battlefield 3 is proof that you need more than just a multiplayer option and that you can still get people super excited by plugging the single player. Gears of War is the same way. I’m loving the multiplayer beta, but I’m way more excited for the co-op campaign. I’ve played through the first and second campaigns so many times in that series it’s ridiculous. I think there is just way more variety and ways to keep gamers entertained offline than there is online. Honestly, no matter how much you dress it up its all variations of the same game types. You have some kind of deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag, or conquest mode with their own flair. We really don’t need every game to become that.

On another note, I do support developers taking more interest in co-op story lines online. I love that Valve was working to bridge the gap between platforms, and I really hope to see Xbox join in on that party. We don’t really need more multiplayer, we just need to improve the current multiplayer experience. Make it easier for us all to play together no matter what system we happen to like to play.

Justin G

Jesus. I take one day off and the R2A explodes. I’m not sure how much of value I have to add, but: I was a go-out-and-play kid AND spent a lot of time at the library. I enjoy a fun multiplayer experience, but I think I’ve made it pretty obvious that when it comes to gaming, I side on the single player or cooperative mutiplayer experience. I’m surprised to hear Valve say that, but it’s definitely where they went with the back-to-back L4D and L4D2, so I can’t say it’s shocking, either. I’m not sure how PSN, etc. is going to impact anyone’s view, but I simply don’t see the market for single player experiences dissolving anytime soon.  Most “quest” games like Metroid or Zelda (or Darksiders) will always be, at their core, single player experiences. JP also points out three massive titles that underscore that point coming out later this year.

Truthfully, I get a kick out of developers saying, “Look, we’re not sticking multiplayer in there just to have it – it doesn’t fit.” So anyway: Valve can do what Valve wants and it’s still going to be Valve, but it was Half-Life that made me love them; but I never really got into TF2 because, well, there wasn’t any single player mode to get me into the game and teach me the mechanics. Counter-example is Gears of War – the single player campaign is significant and, as a result, I got into the multiplayer (likewise with Halo and a few others.)

Half-Life 2

Did you forget about me, Valve?

Justin L

We keep using Gears as an example on the single player side of things, but that was kind of Valve’s point, Gears is more of a co-op game as most design decisions for that game are made with co-op in mind. It’s not the solitary single player experience that makes Gears great, it’s meant to be played with others. That being said I prefer the story mode (co-op or otherwise) in that game to the traditional “multiplayer” mode.

Ethan nailed something I’ve been trying to articulate for a while now, not to continue to rail on Call of Duty players, but I will – the majority of that crowd (and honestly the majority of the new gamers coming in through the Wii, apps, and social games) are fickle. The game industry is freaking out seeing the $$ that Call of Duty, Angry Birds, and FarmVille are making. Naturally, they all want a piece of that, but don’t realize those gamers have what they want. They don’t want to buy something else similar. They are happy where they are, buying what they know. They are not a business model. The rest of us want a full in depth experience, that includes a multiplayer component, but not at the sacrifice of a great adventure.

Justin G

Fair point on Gears, so here: Mass Effect 1 & 2; Uncharted 1 & 2; Batman: Arkham Asylum; Red Dead: Redemption; Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, San Andreas, IV; Darksiders; Elder Scrolls/Fallout

It’s kind of strange hearing that come out of Valve, the more that I think about it, because they’re…I dunno, I guess I think of them as a slightly more hardcore company since they have PC roots (and have never made a music/rhythm game)? Anyway, I think it’s a false argument and I think you’re right: the casual gamers keep downloading more Angry Birds levels because they like Angry Birds, not “Like Angry Birds! But With Better Controls! And Funnier Animations! And Boobies! And Romance!”

Justin L

Angry Birds

Boobies? We got em.

Angry Birds with Boobies? Now that’s a funny bird.

Coop

Haha, That game might actually sell. Anyway, I guess it really depends on what Valve means. For me the co-op experience in Gears isn’t really even in the same category as the multiplayer for Black Ops. You can still play that game by yourself even though it was designed for 2. Going down the Black Ops only path isn’t going to work because like you’ve said, people are loyal to their franchises. For example, I don’t really think Battlefield 3 is going to to steal many Black Ops multiplayer fans because they’re going to play it, and even though it may look amazing its isn’t going to be the same feel their familiar with. On the other side I am intrigued if Valve is just taking what they did with the co-op side of Portal and applying that to each of their games. I do think there’s a market for that. People like co-op games, and honestly there’s a shortage of really good ones out there. More power to them if they can start adding a lot of titles with a solid co-op storyline. I still think its a risky move though not letting someone play the game by themselves though. I just feel like that’ll hurt sales more than help.

Ethan

I am a fan of co-op play and again, I do like multiplayer but I hope the PSN outage calms down this “mulitplayer is god” mentality that people have. Like Alex said, comparing single player games to movies and books is great, but like both those mediums the money makers tend to win out (i know it’s business) because of the drive for a casual audience and a quick buck as opposed to the work that goes into molding a franchise and gaining fanfare because it’s genuinely superb. I would rather have 5 solid single player games come out each year than 30 mediocre multiplayer ones. My concern is that the gimmick of multiplayer outweighs the thought that goes into a solid game.

JP

I think Coop raises a good point here. There are people who buy and play only 1-4 franchises at most. I for one don’t understand the logic, but it’s true. I use the word franchise because they may have 10 games in their library, but it’s the last five installments of Madden and Call of Duty. I think we all know that these individuals make up a large portion of these games sales. I really like to think that Call of Duty is lightning in a bottle. Eventually it is going to fade away and there will be a new franchise that stands a head above the rest of the industry. Keeping up with the Jones’ usually leads to failure. I’m glad that there are developers that are going to continue to make single player focused games, because in most cases they are really good at it. I’ll tell you right now I am not interested in Bioshock Infinite because of multiplayer. As long as the industry has people like Tim Schafer, Jade Raymond, and Todd Howard, all will be right in the pixelated world.

BioShock Infinite

Savior in the skies

Conclusion

I can’t tell if we are jaded, stubborn, or ahead of the curve on this one. We all grew up connected to the single player experience, and to us the best multiplayer games build off of a successful single player core. Without it you’ve got nothing, even if you are online.

Sources:

Giant Bomb (images)