Have Reports of Single-Player Games Death Been Greatly Exaggerated

Have Reports of Single-Player Games' Death Been Greatly Exaggerated?

Richard Walker

In recent years multiplayer games have been increasingly on the rise at the expense of the traditional single-player campaign. Yesterday, EA's Patrick Söderlund announced that the now defunct Visceral's linear narrative-focused Star Wars action-adventure game is being re-tooled as a "broader experience" with "greater depth and breadth to explore." With BioWare's Anthem following a similar model (arguably to the detriment of Mass Effect Andromeda), you'd be forgiven for thinking that single-player stories are bordering on extinction.

You need only look to games like The Witcher 3, The Last of Us, Uncharted, Horizon Zero Dawn, Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Persona 5, NiER Automata, Watch Dogs 2 and others to see how well a primarily single-player focused game can still perform in the current market. Linearity is becoming almost something of a dirty word, however, bringing with it certain negative connotations. The Evil Within 2 recently managed to sandwich in some open areas alongside its more linear sequences to some degree of success, while the likes of Uncharted 4 and spin-off The Lost Legacy chucked in large, open environments too.

Brilliant single-player titles like Arkane's Dishonored and Prey haven't managed to do well commercially despite being critically well-received, adding to the notion that single-player games are on their way out. One could attribute blame to the game's marketing, or lack thereof.  With Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus' marketing seeming to be far more effective, tapping into current political unrest in the world, it'll be interesting to see how that fares as a resolutely single-player FPS game - something that's quite rare these days. Assassin's Creed has ditched its multiplayer over the past few years too, with Origins expanding its solo open-world to massive proportions. You can expect Red Dead Redemption 2 to be another huge single-player offering too, probably one with a significant multiplayer component like Grand Theft Auto V's ever-expanding GTA Online.

And while many games are pursuing the Destiny, The Division et al. model of loot-filled, multiplayer-based, always online offerings, there are multiplayer titles that still deliver a solo campaign, like Call of Duty and Battlefield, or in the case of Star Wars Battlefront II, even add one for the first time since the reboot. Clearly, there's an audience out there that still craves the single-player experience, and one of them is Xbox boss Phil Spencer.

In an interview with Giant Bomb during E3 2017, Spencer explained his own motivations for eagerly wanting the addition of original Xbox backward compatibility features for Xbox One. It comes down to the increasing prevalence of the "games as service" model and the ostensible decline of single-player, more story-focused experiences -  something that seem to be lacking on Xbox One, bar titles like Halo, Gears, ReCore that still include a solo campaign.

"One of the things I worry about - and I've talked about it a little bit - are the single-player story-driven games," Spencer stated at the time. "It's hard when so much of the gameplay that happens on a daily basis is on these games that are long and growing and service-based, and then you get a smaller single-player game and what… how does it find its audience when so many hours are taken up?"

Spencer goes on to mention the popularity of games like Destiny and The Division, which offer potentially hundreds of hours of gameplay, while smaller games with a narrative-driven campaign seem to be on a downward turn. "One of the reasons I like bringing the original Xbox compatibility, the 360 compatibility back, is because I want... some of those old games should also get played in this time," he explained. "Maybe I don't want to go spend $60 on a game that I think has a beginning, middle, and end that I can actually see. I hope it never gets to that but certain people might have that mentality."

Spencer is hopeful that backward compatibility on Xbox One will breathe new life into old, mainly single-player focused titles, which in turn will hopefully drive demand for similar experiences in the future. With the Destiny-type model becoming more and more popular, it's easy to see why Spencer longs for more story-led games. The Xbox boss acknowledges that the 'games as service' model is well-suited to doing business, but adds that he's right behind a market that can offer gaming experiences of all types.

"I want all kinds of games to be successful," he said. "I don't think we want to see the death of games that have a beginning, a middle, and an end." And that's really what's most important: that there's a future for games of all types, be they single-player focused or broader online multiplayer services like Destiny and its ilk.

Some people have been saying single-player games are dead and have been for some time, but clearly that's not the case. There's definitely still a place for solo, narrative-led games and an audience out there that wants them. Yes, there are instances where single-player titles have failed to deliver, a recent example being the story of Dead Space 2, which cost a colossal $60 million to make and sold 4 million copies. Normally, 4 million units would see a game deemed a roaring success, but with heightened expectations (Square Enix expected its 2013 Tomb Raider reboot to sell 10 million, but it took until April 2015 to reach 8.5 million units sold), Dead Space 2 simply didn't sell enough.

Production values for top tier games continue to balloon, and with inflation, the purchase cost of games hasn't gone up by a significant enough margin to reflect this. Yet $60/£50 for a full-priced game still seems like a substantial outlay for consumers, and it can be, especially if it only delivers something that lasts up to 10 hours or so with little to no replay value. Unfortunately, publishers haven't realigned their expectations where sales numbers are confirmed, so a big budget triple-A title that fails to net millions in shifted units, is deemed a failure and inevitably, it's the studio and its employees that ultimately end up paying the price.

Perhaps indie games will eventually end up stepping in to fill the void, with some of the best single-player experiences in recent memory coming from titles like What Remains of Edith Finch, Tacoma, Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, Journey, Oxenfree, Telltale Games' output and a whole host others. So have reports of single-player games' death been greatly exaggerated? To some extent, yes. There have certainly been a number of successes and failures in recent years, but overall, we're optimistic that there's a bright future for single-player games. In the end, however, it all rides on what the consumer wants and how much you're willing to pay.

  • The majority of my gameplay is single player games. I really like having the option of both, some multi player is fun, but if your not an expert or put in a 1000 hrs of game play, its not fun anymore
  • Personally, I never purchase a game that requires an internet connection to access the bulk of the experience. This is one instance where the old ways truly are better. I know 10 year-old kids know no difference, but there was a time when you bought a game and that was it. The content never expanded or thinned out. Video game didn't come out in seasons either. They were more like blockbuster movies. The sequel came out when it was ready, not on a schedule. Like a movie, once you bought it, you had it all. Games that update and evolve over the following months after release are a novel concept but obviously they undermined a lot of expectations we have come to........ expect, from our games over the years.
  • Having to log in each week to several games to stay caught up is getting annoying. Destiny and Neverwinter are two that I go between at the moment, but am tired of games with those weekly grinds. When the Xbox One X comes out, I will be playing some good old get 100% and wait for dlc games that I enjoy more. Shadow of War, Assassin's Creed Origins, Wolfenstein 2, and Witcher 3 Complete will have my attention then.
  • Maybe if companies stopped spending tens of millions in marketing? Obviously the amount they are spending is not giving good returns. I don't imagine single player will completely fade, but I do imagine something online will usually be tacked on(EA already does and this and admitted this) or we get microtransactions like Shadow of War.
  • I wish the interviewer would have asked him " how come Sony gets single player right and MS can't?" Horizon Zero Dawn had no multiplayer, but it made up for it with a fantastic story and depth. Not a fanboy either way but, the PS4 has a lot of great single player games, it's the only reason I bought one.
  • I think the last time I played any multiplayer at all was back on Modern Warfare 2. I don't play it, don't care about it, and usually a game that has MP achievements is automatic don't touch.
  • Online multiplayer was a novelty for me when I bought my first 360 back in 2007, and I played for almost a year meeting some cool friends. Many of which I stayed in touch with. But I've always preferred story heavy games to keep me occupied. I get plenty more hours from them, and RPG's in particular just do it for me. I don't see these types of games dying out, although I do think we will see less and less of them as time goes by. I've been big into my Indie games the last 2 years, and while the majority are short, they've kept my interest long enough. See what happens I say. Q
  • Personally I buy for the single player. If it has a decent multiplayer then thats good but I cant be bothered with the multiplayer egos and drama.
  • I wish Xbox would invest more in their first-party games. PS4 has so many good exclusives now, many of which are very much focused on the single-player experience. MS has so few exclusive games, and the ones that are coming all seem to either focus on multiplayer or seem to have multiplayer elements awkwardly tacked on. Where are the games like Fable 4? A sequel to Quantum Break? A new IP altogether? I love Xbox, but I can’t help but feel dissapointment whenever the topic of Xbox exclusives come up.
  • I prefer single player stuff to be honest. There are far too many sweary 10 years olds playing alot mp games cos the parents let them. The only dickhead I have to put up with playing single player is me!
  • I have been thinking for some time now that if they are happy to dice up games into different sizes and packages, standard,deluxe, ultimate etc Then repackage and resell DLC's and expect us to pay for things separately or in season passes before they are released, whats to stop them from just splitting up the game. 30 bucks for the single-player 30 bucks for the online component. Sometimes 20/40 or whatever. People can decide with their wallet (the only vote that truly matters in the industry, clearly) and both the gaming community and the developers will be on the same page. Destiny is a great example. I want PvP and maybe the occasional raid, I am happy to pay about 20 bucks for PvP - decent set of maps and game modes and 5 bucks each raid when and if I want to. If someone wants it all they can buy the - ultimate idiot edition. They don't know what we want, there is no coherent vote.They don't have incentive. They have the analytics of players habits, but all they will watch is how many players convert to micro-transactions and how many buy the season pass, as long as those numbers are solid, they are not reading these comments or making changes. They don't care because they have your money and there is no refunds bitches. Split up SP and MP, that is my solution. We can then go our separate ways and all enjoy our games without forking out nearly a days wage for something we will only half enjoy. Lastly if single-player games completely wither away I am totally taking up knitting.
  • Not Everyone Wants Or Like Multiplayer I Prefer Coop Online And Single player Games. What Happens After You Grinded The multiplayer Game To Death Then What? I Am a Achievement Hunter And I cannot Stand Games That Force You To Play Them For Achievements Like Over Watch So I Hope They Don't Stop making Single player Games ..Don't Get me Wrong It's A Good Game But Making Games Only Multiplayer Will Drop Sales That's Just me
  • Also What happen to Good Old Co-op PvE Games
  • You would have to be a fool with no cencept of the hobby to think that single player games will ever die. The only reason people said this sort of thing in the first place is because AAA games where on a downwards spiral that we'be only seen them recover from this last year/ 2 years, hell, I'd outright say we have seen a market crash a few years back, hence why the indie scene exploded and the AAA scene has been struggling to up its quality. It's much like the morons who claimed horror video games where not wanted/profitable, only to see indie games slap them in the face enough times until they start paying attention to reality.
  • I have zero issues finding SP games to play. Outside of Destiny and Overwatch, which I love a ton and play a ton, the last few dozen games I've played were all SP. Were they all AAA games? Of course not. But they're not cut and paste 8-bit indies either. If all you play are the AAA games that are marketed to death and built to keep someone playing for months on end, then it's your fault you're not playing SP games. Video games are a business. Gamers need to wrap their heads around that.
  • South Park, a purely single player game, is the only game I bought this year, last one was MKX, but my passion for gaming has been mostly killed over the past ten years...
  • I loath multiplayer, it is the absolute worst, no story, just constant killing, nothing to accomplish. This is why I have gone away from games like AC and ME that were originally the games that drew me into gaming a decade ago, but they have had too much emphasis on MP recently. Skyrim and Fallout for me! As long as Bethesda keeps making their amazing games, I'll be happy, I only have time to game 10-20 hours a week anyway, I just need a good RPG I can drop several hundred hours into. Also can't wait for RDR2, Rockstar does a great job with the single-player, I just can't stand all of the MP cheevos, just plain stupid.
  • Never been a fan of multiplayer except when it came to gears of war original & the battlefield franchise,I love single player games with a passion & always will,South park,wolfenstein 2,elex,& far cry 5 are the only games I'm looking forward to
  • Actually believe in 20+ years gaming 2017 has been the worst year.
  • I think it’s greatly exaggerated. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the occasional MMO, when they’re good. Like Everquest where you put time and effort into your character. Not garbage like WoW that offers four characters that all look the same and if I have money, I can be a lvl 70. I support fully online games so long as there is no pay to win. I will gladly pay monthly fee than the new model many games are taking. If your purchase is strictly esthetic, fine. Getting to the single play, there will always be more room for single player games than multiplayer. Cause frankly, and no offense to anyone, plus I’m also quite confident many would agree. Some times I don’t feel like talking to any of you or anyone for that matter. Sometimes I want to sit back and take a a game in, get the story. I don’t want some [email protected] mucking that up. Can you picture Deus Ex or Splinter Cell where your going for a perfect stealth with no kills and someone jumps in your games and goes gun blazing, setting off every alarm? Plus I imagine most of us gamers, while we have a a social life, many and I include myself, are introverted. We like staying in, having our privacy and enjoying some of these games like great pieces of cinema. Can you imagine Hard Rain, LA Noire, Brothers, The Witcher series, etc with other players? You risk missing that fantastic story. So while I love both types of environments, if it came to a vote between single or multiplayer for life. Single player is my choice.
  • I’m starting to not care for gaming as much anymore because of how the industry as a whole is. Whose bright idea was it to put micro transactions into single player games? Why couldn’t that trend just stay on shitty phone games? The devs overprice everything. Pretty much every game has a season pass attached to it these days which ranges between £20-£50 extra on top of the £40-£50 game you have just bought, how is that right? The only game that deserves any praise in terms of dlc pricing and content is The Witcher 3! That’s a dev creating a game for players and not just for money reasons. I love a single player game which has a good story but I also don’t mind multiplayer which is not pay to win. I also love online coop. I don’t think I have played a game this year in which the single player blew me away. Mass effect did try and it was just slightly off because it was rushed out! The greed is beyond a joke and I can only see things getting worse and worse because devs get lazier and lazier. I hope the fall titles will bring hope but even Wolfenstein has a season pass this year :(
  • Agree with many others here. Nearly all of the 100 games I have played for the past 8 years are single-player ones. Unless there are achievements or the MP itself is vastly fun, I seldom touch the MP part. Decades ago when the Internet wasn’t popular all those great games were single player as well. Developers ARE capable of making good SP games I”d say; it’s just that they focus on revenue nowadays that they think SP games aren’t worth it, and thus begin to shift focus to MP.
  • The game industry is just that. An industry. The only way gamers can make a dent in it is to vote with the wallet. I hate the always online/season pass and micro-transactions trend but as long as enough people buy into it the publishers will shoehorn in that garbage whenever they can. Games to them are just a source of income nothing more. If we don´t like this enough gamers need to stop buying games with these features. Until that happens nothing will change.
  • Agree with #22. Most of my games are single player games. I rarely, if ever, touch multiplayer.
  • I have no interest in online gameplay. I was on dialup forever and just recently got satellite but it's a metered connection with free time after midnight. I'm not paying for Gold because it would mean staying up all night every night to make use of it. I'm on a 360 still and won't be upgrading so I have plenty of options still for Single Player between that and my other old systems. I don't have anybody else to play with anyway so I prefer it over multiplayer. As for game prices, I have only bought 4 or 5 games at full price in my entire life and none of those were over $60 and each one were Single Player games that would give me 100+ hours of gameplay. I always figured 1hr of gameplay for $1 and I don't stray from that often, so for a game that only gives me 20hrs, I wont' pay over $20 for it. I was patient and would wait for price drops, but I usually just buy used at a little local game store.
  • Multiplayer games are good but nothing beats a well written single player storyline. People can say COD4 had great multiplayer but the reason that game is so fondly remembered is the campaign. Same for Halo 1, which had no Xbox Live
  • IMO this is a generational thing. I believe people commenting on this page are older, grew up on SP experiences. I am one of them too, but the sad fact is, we are the minority. The gazillion of kids - those that have no jobs or families and still have time to spend hours on hours in a game - couldn't care less about SP.
  • Multiplayer games have been on the rise because the market wants to push everything gaming related to a more social setting. From a marketing stand point, if one person buys the game and he needs friends to play with BOOM you have a few more sales. I remember games like CoD4 for being one of the first to do it well, but nothing beats a cold drink, a rainy afternoon, and a good single player story.
  • Though this will never happen, the moment single player games die is the moment I stop gaming. There are still a bunch of developers out there who will never add multiplayer which is good.
  • 95% of my gaming is singleplayer and I prefer it that way
  • I'm all about the single player/campaign myself. I don't mind multiplayer, but I have a 3 yr old where I have to be able to pause the game if he wakes up at night from sleeping. Also, the longevity of single player/campaign games can live on a lot longer because you can still play the game years after release without having to worry about the servers being shut down. A multiplayer only game with shut down servers doesn't quite work.
  • I always buy a quality single player game over a AAA multiplayer experience. Always have and always will. Multiplayer is no longer providing me good times like I had in the late 90s and throughout the 2000's. If single player games are coming to an end then it'll be time to find a new hobby that isn't being destroyed by the uneducated gamer or the A.D.D riddle gamer who needs to kill or be killed and have the option to gain satisfaction instantly.
  • Majority of my games are for the single player story element. Even titles like the Halo series, I barely do much of the multiplayer stuff. Mainly cause it gets repetitive quickly. GTA Online was fun until Rockstar went full COD with it, and made it a constant military warzone. If developers ditch Single Player games completely, expect huge sale drops go go along with it.
  • @15 It doesn't mean they have to like it though Pants.
  • If you ask the executives only concerned with the results of focus group testing, then yes they are. However, time and time again there are huge single player experiences which see critical acclaim and high sales numbers. Fallout 4, The Witcher 3, Bioshock Collection, The Last of Us, the Souls games, Resident Evil 7, and Metro to name a few. These games are mainly focused on their single player content and far exceeded their sales expectations.
  • Long Live SP Games!!! (as long as they are good)
  • So many are way too quick to write off indie games as "trash" and miss out on a lot of very strong SP titles. Headlander, Songbringer, Battle Crashers, Enter the Gungeon, and Time Recoil just to name a very small few are fantastic titles worth hours of your time and most won't even give them a chance because it's not a game made by a developer they recognize. Then a lot of people complain that popular titles are more MP focused than they used to be and they are lacking SP games and experiences. All you have to do is look, there's a ton on the marketplace that I bet half of you haven't even considered because it's indie. I think the issue is too many gamers have gotten snobby and stubborn and ignorantly overlook a lot of gems for these reasons.
  • Looking at the state of the gaming industry today, where they try robbing people with micro transactions etc, if they stopped making single player games and just focused on multiplayer games, then that will be the day I completely stop gaming. That would be the final nail for me.
  • @27 I would be inclined to agree but surprisingly demographics show as of 2016, the average age for a video game player is 35. Hard to believe right ? I do think that sometimes an older person is buying the game for a younger person and I question is this taken into account. Either way, we may be dinosaurs, but we are not extinct yet. Young people play games but old people buy them, lots of them. I have faith in the developers of the world catering for the mature gamer for this generation and the next but we have to expect them to follow the money. Kids may play a lot of games, especially online, but as long as we buy them we have the largest vote. Plus the percentage of crossover is larger on our side meaning that young gamers buy more mature games versus mature players buying younger targeted games, another reason we dominate the market. Long may we reign brethren!
  • as much fun as I've had play mp in overwatch, halo, destiny, gears, cod etc, nothing beats the single player experience. it's just so much more immersive and memorable. multiplayer gets boring and repetitive quick, it's great with friends in spurts for a change of pace. I'll never forget the sense of wonder getting completely lost in the worlds of games like Bioshock, Fallout, Fable, Mass Effect, Oblivion, Splinter Cell, Grand Theft Auto, the Witcher, Uncharted, Assassin's Creed...too many to mention. The singleplayer game, at it's best, is the medium as art. the multiplayer game is really just the medium as a party, a fun party, but just a good time. The immersion of single player is where the most interesting ideas are presented.
  • While I do play Destiny, Neverwinter & Minecraft. I mostly play single player games. I spend 90% of my game time playing and enjoying single player. As far as I'm concerned games like Skyrim, Fallout, Dragon Age, Witcher, Assassin's Creed, Bioshock, Fable, etc. Are some of the best games out there. Even when playing Minecraft I spend most of my time by myself building.
  • Almost all my playing is single-player offline games. I only use online for a few achievements here and there. Other than that, I just use the Internet connection for downloading digital games, updates, and apps like YouTube and Netflix.
  • Great arttical and a fantastic read, Richard. I really hope it’s not the end, maybe we’ve tolerated shorter SP modes bolted onto solid MP for too long. Some fans have chastised publishers for releasing MP games only but gush when Blizzard do it. I was starting to think the same thing reading all the doom and gloom but after seeing the PlayStation conference yesterday I strongly doubt they’re or ever will. If certain Devs/Publishers won’t to try the MP market only then I shall only rent those titles. The F2P model has changed and so they must move with it. Loot crates in SP games can not be tolerated at all! Consumers need to stand up for what they want by voting with their wallet. Dead Space was never AAA imo and loot crates soured it. Story ran its course and became generic. Went from a great survive horror to a run of the mill corridor blaster.
  • I hate multiplayer and co-op and generally try to avoid games with them in like the plague. The people in charge, who think that MP is the way forward, need to read reactions like those given about this article, to truly realise that most people couldn't care less about MP. Long live SP only games.
  • Being at sea most of the time, this impacts me a lot. Online only games are a no go, so single player is all I have. It disappointments me that most games are going the MP route. But, everyone here is right, there are a slew of SP games out there and with BWC games I've been able to replay some of golden oldies. With that being said one of the most disappointing things I encounter is the fact that I can longer earn achievements without internet.
  • I agree with most of the people here in that I truly only enjoy single player games and 2 player co-op campaigns. I despise multiplayer achievements, and generally avoid them like the plague. I will in most cases not even play a game if I don’t think I can 100% it. I don’t have a good internet connection because I’ve chosen to buy a house out in the country on acreage that makes internet nonexistent. I have to WiFi from my phone to play, so I’m just lagging all over acting as a free kill for people. Basically if there are competitive mp achievements it’s an auto pass for me AAA title or not. Thank you Bethesda for producing awesome single player experiences.
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