Over the last few months, there have been a lot of discussions over single-player games. Particularly, how long they should & shouldn’t be, and whether or not single-player only games are something publishers are even willing to get behind anymore.
The longer this generation goes, it seems like everything has to have a tail now. Even Amy Hennig, the woman behind the Uncharted series, arguably the most critically acclaimed single-player series of all-time, has had a hard time getting a publisher to buy into a narrative focused, single-player video game with no “live” component.
The Star Wars game she was working on for EA was canned for that reason and she is now going indie to pursue her passion.
What a difference a few years makes. It wasn’t that long ago where there was a healthy amount of both exclusively single-player games, and games that were purchased primarily for their multiplayer modes, like Call of Duty.
Late last generation, though, Mass Effect 3’s surprisingly fun multiplayer mode, as well as the incredibly popular GTA Online, demonstrated that traditionally single-player only games can have multiplayer modes that are well-received and don’t feel tacked on.
Most importantly for publishers, they make a lot of money.
A troubling trend appears to be emerging, which Amy Hennig highlighted: publishers seem too interested in games that can be converted into a live game. In other words, they’re always chasing a gameplay loop that facilitates some kind of paid-DLC and/or microtrasanction model, and a plan for long-term content additions.
Before I go on, this article isn’t designed to dive into whether live games are great or killing the industry. I love games like Destiny 2 and Final Fantasy XIV and there’s a place for them. There are good and bad games in the genre, but it’s a type of game I believe is a net positive for the industry, and it is worth seeing them continue to grow and improve in the next generation, despite bumps in the road during this one.
But I certainly take issue with them coming in hot and heavy at the expense of traditional, shorter single-player experiences. The sorts of games that can be wrapped up in 10-15 hours, such as one of my personal recent favorites, Uncharted 2.
We desperately need to drop the perception that value means length when it comes to video games.
Sure, live games certainly give you more bang for your buck in terms of playtime when compared to these shorter single-player experience. I for one have nearly 1000 hours in Destiny 2 last I checked. The thing is, though, not everyone has 1000 hours to sink into a live game.
Many people simply don’t have enough time to get the best out of these live experience games, which often require you to invest hundreds of hours into, else they feel hollow and incomplete. Anyone who plays Anthem, Fallout 76, and Destiny just for the story and never ends up finding the time to play into the endgame is going to feel pretty underwhelmed with their experience.
Even the singleplayer games that do provide great stories these days aren’t helping the issue. They’re also too damn long!
Games like Red Dead Redemption 2, God of War, Persona 5, Horizon Zero Dawn, keep you busy with either massive open-worlds or long drawn out stories, and in either scenario, they can take up permanent space in your backlog if you’re buying them all as they come out.
Where last generation there were plenty of short and sweet experiences, you’re looking at sinking at least 20 hours into your average game these days. And it’s all because shorter games are repeatedly lambasted for not being worth their retail price.
There’s two ways of looking at this recent development. If you’re someone with limited means, maybe a child or someone with only a very small budget for video games, games that are massive time sinks are probably a great development for you this generation. You can spend $60, and get a ton of gameplay out of it.
If you’re someone like me though, the type of person that up until this generation would buy and play just about every major game buzz-worthy that came out, you’re probably feeling pretty exhausted.
It’s become an almost impossible task to play every great game, worthy of GOTY consideration, to completion anymore. I want to experience new stories, characters and narratives and see their journeys to its completion as that’s what keeps games as a hobby fresh for me, but I literally don’t have the time anymore to do it as an adult and I don’t even have a kid yet.
From the perspective of someone with a job and a big budget for video games, I have no issue with plopping down $60 for a game that I could bang out in a weekend or two and probably never touch again provided they are really good.
I’m talking about games like Uncharted, Tomb Raider, The Last of Us, Gears of War, the Batman games. Of course, these feature multiplayer, too, but ultimately what really makes them attractive is that they feature a fun narrative I can feel I can complete in a reasonable amount of time.
I’m not going to be dramatic and say that this type of game is dead now, but I’m a little nervous that it could be heading in that direction based on what Hennig has said. We’ve already seen several big-name franchises drop the focus on single-player campaigns, either resulting in less impactful storytelling, as we saw in Battlefield V, or dropping the mode entirely, as Call of Duty Black Ops 4 did. Worse still, there have been several high-profile single-player games canceled altogether.
Not that I’m rooting for live games to fail, but I am hopeful the recent failures at launch of games like Fallout 76 and Anthem will send a message to publishers that it’s not quite as simple as build it and they will spend money on microtransactions.
There needs to be something unique and worthwhile to latch onto otherwise players will not stick around in the way that publishers are hoping they will.
These live games are a massive investment, and if recent failures have built a little fear into publishers that they can easily flop, publishers might decide to hedge their bet by investing in some high-quality story centric games that don’t require a super-long development time like what was seen in Red Dead Redemption 2.
At least, that’s what I’m hoping is the case. I personally don’t think I could handle a generation of games where every AAA game is a minimum 30 hour commitment.