Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

The Death of Single-Player Games?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 6, 2012

Sounds like EA is patting itself on the back for eliminating single-player games from their publishing plans.

Not that solo players will be completely left in the cold – I’m sure most of those games will retain some single–player modes. In some cases, the solo mode will even be the focus of the game.  But EA’s Frank Gibeau brags, “I have not green lit one game to be developed as a singleplayer experience.” The era of playing games by yourself is at an end, as far as one of the world’s biggest game publishers is concerned.

Making a game for multiple players is a fundamentally different approach from making a single-player game – if you are doing it right. I’ve learned (the hard way) that making a game with both single-player and multiplayer modes is about like making two games for the price of two.  I’m sure with really clever design and for certain kinds of games, this 2x cost can be brought down a bit closer to 1, of course – which is exactly what I’m afraid of.  Cutting out all the ideas and innovations that don’t lend themselves well to the multiplayer  will likely lead to stagnant single-player experiences.

When I was a younger and dumber – particularly once I discovered Internet gaming (using a program called Kali to convince my computer that the entire Internet was my private LAN), I partly shared Gibeau’s belief. I remember getting into discussions with people about how awesome Daggerfall would be as a massively multiplayer RPG (back before we really had such things, and before I realized how empty such a huge world would be in an MMO). And yeah, it seemed there were very few genres that were not improved by playing it with a friend. Or even a stranger. Why, this was a brave new world of gaming, and everybody should be a part of it!

Then the Internet happened in it’s full… er, glory.

Playing with strangers isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, sometimes.

Playing with friends can be kind of a chore sometimes, too. It can be frustrating to find a block of mutually available time relatively undisturbed – and even then, family and other real-life responsibilities at our stage of life is inevitable and will frequently result in groups waiting for each other. It happens. It can be a pain, but the results are well worth it. Even the occasional random Unreal Tournament (various vintages) battle with strangers can be a lot of fun, even if some players can’t manage to string three words together without being offensive and sounding like a complete subhuman.

But it’s still worth it, most of the time. I’m a fan of multiplayer gaming, I really am.

But I’ve come full circle, and the bulk of my gaming time is now spent solo. I have games and other activities I play with friends. But a lot of the time, when I play a game, it’s because I want to shut off the social obligations of my daily life and just play whatever game strikes my fancy, when I want to play it, for exactly as long as I want to play it. I don’t want to have to worry about disappointing a friend if I only want to play for fifteen minutes, or feel guilty about out-leveling my friends because I want to keep playing with the same character after they have to call it a night. I want to solve puzzles by myself, or engage in some mindless three-item-matching for a few minutes to “decompress” or “recharge my batteries.”

In short, I really enjoy solo gaming experiences. Ever since I kicked the MMO and online Neverwinter Nights habits, that has made up the bulk of my gaming. I want more QUALITY single-player experiences. Quality usually means “focus” – which is not going to be coming from EA anymore, apparently.

Maybe rather than follow EA’s lead, other publishers will jump in to fill the void in making quality single-player games, and EA will prove to be the outlier (and maybe reverse its policy in a couple of years time). Or maybe we’re seeing the death of single-player games in the AAA side of the industry. I don’t know. But when one of the biggest publishers abandons single-player, that does not bode well.

(As a side note – I suggest that the emphasis on multiplayer is for monetization reasons as much as anything else. Note the Diablo III “multiplayer” emphasis working as a justification for “always on” DRM via connection to the multiplayer service…)

So there is one more reason why I love the indies.

Filed Under: Indie Evangelism, Mainstream Games - Comments: 12 Comments to Read

  • Attila Varszegi said,

    I’ve frequently blamed the downfall of gaming on EA. They bought out several of the best game companies and have only been making graphics focused mainstream games since I can remember.

    I totally agree with you about the relaxing aspect of good single player gaming. Hopefully with EA leaving that arena other FAR BETTER companies will step in.

    Ya know, I almost wonder if the AAA industry shouldn’t just die altogether. Then computer games might again return to their former greatness with companies led by creative game makers instead of money grabbing CEOs.

  • rioka said,

    I doubt single-player games will ever go away. If EA chooses to walk away from it, others will surely fill the void. And hey – no EA to compete with! Oh yeah! ;D

  • Dave Myers said,

    Been playing a whole lot of Civ 4 recently – solo gaming FTW!

  • Albert1 said,

    I remember reading about singleplayer’s death back in 1999, when it seemed every AAA game was going to follow the Quake III/Unreal Tournament path. id and Epic have been focusing a lot on singleplayer, lately…

  • Acrin1 said,

    I’m happy to keep playing solo games and don’t see myself ever having a preference for playing multiplayer games. I just find the solo gameplay mechanics and environments far more interesting.

  • Anon said,

    “I have not green lit one game to be developed as a singleplayer experience”

    Well, I have not bought one game developed for or by EA in years.
    Including stuff from those sellouts at Bioware.

  • Anon said,

    And I like to add the following:

    The only multiplayer games I play are with people being in the same room – for the fun aspect of it, similar to bowling or board games.

    My aversion to internet games doesn’t mean that I don’t like people. Far from it.

    It simply means that I like to delve into a consistent fantasy (or sci-fi etc.) world, defined by story/plot, the “modeling” of the world, the simulation aspect, clever NPCs etc.

    Real people with their aggessivity (boundless greed and ambition, mission to rob or kill “noobs”…) only disturb a world I’d like to play in.

    I want to play at my pace, with my goals, my alignment (being a criminal, a saint or something in between) to maximize the fun I have.

    And to be honest I’m also far too old to play with pimply teenagers having way higher dexterity and spare time to train themselves than myself 😉

  • Groboclown said,

    Making a multi-player game is much tougher (read: expensive) than making a single player game. I’m not even thinking about the “make it fun” aspect – the network code is tricky, anti-cheat code needs maintenance, and so on. Also, now there’s a general expectation that the publishing company will host some servers.

    This announcement makes me think that EA is going after the market where the barrier to entry is much more expensive. This tells me that the marketing execs actually are looking at the changes to the game market – indies and small publishing houses are able to create single player games at a low cost and get them out to the whole world.

    However, Minecraft shows us that indies can create multi-player games and make a bundle. EA still has to watch its back.

  • Xian said,

    I don’t think that they will kill single player games, but rather tack on multiplayer whether it is needed or not. I guess they could add cooperative play to Dragon Age III, but at it’s heart it would still be single player.

    The last EA game I played was Mass Effect 3, and that was what was done. There was multiplayer in the game, but I never tried it, instead I focused on the core single player portion. Ditto with Dead Space 2.

  • Anon said,

    I can’t judge if multiplayer are technically more complicated than good 3D engines or not. I understand that one can buy network code just like a 3D engine and there aren’t exactly masses of really good and commercially successful 3D engines on the market, either.

    However, I imagine that running servers is simply expensive, all in all. So you are probably right about raising an entry barrier.

    If multiplayer games aren’t profitable enough, though, their servers get shut down quickly – and from what I see EA isn’t exactly shy on this.

    So if you like to play a certain game you have to hope that enough people have the same taste…

  • Xenovore said,

    I’m all for games having multi-player, e.g. being able to play something like Crysis, but co-operative Left 4 Dead-style; that would be awesome.

    Done right — integrated into the game design from the beginning, not just tacked-on — multi-player is great and can bring a lot to a game.

    But that’s really neither here nor there; I think it’s pretty clear what the EA agenda actually is: full control of their games. “Multi-player” is just smoke-and-mirrors for “always on DRM + continuous monetization via micro-transactions”. I.e. they want games like Diablo 3.

    They can’t reasonable market that (yet?) for a single-player game, e.g. “Yeah, Battlefield Crisis 5 is single-player only but it’s got this great online shop where you can buy awesome new gear with real money!”; that doesn’t work.

    But make it “multi-player” and now you can tack on all kinds of crap like achievements and online stores, and DRM doesn’t look like DRM (“You need to register because it’s multi-player, not because we’re tracking your every move.”) It’s all been done already in MMOs (and Diablo 3), and accepted there, so now it’s okay for any other type of game, as long as it’s ostensibly “multi-player”.

  • Brian said,

    we all know how much Bethesda is suffering from it’s single player focus (snicker)