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Daily Reaction: Are AAA Singleplayer Games Dying Out?

October 3, 2012 Written by Sebastian Moss

Today Blizzard’s Rob Pardo has said that he doesn’t see a future in big-budget singleplayer games as gaming business models soon won’t be able to support them. But is he correct? The Daily Reaction team of Sebastian Moss and Dan Orasomething tackle this question in today’s blockbuster edition.

Seb: So back in May I wrote an article about why the future is going to suck, and one of the many reasons I gave was that singleplayer as we know it could die, and I stand by that. Sure, it’s not going to go away in smaller, indie titles, and it’s not going to go away in the mega-games like GTA or The Elderly Scrolls. But we’re going to see a continuation of the lack of focus on the singleplayer experience on the majority of games.

Here’s the thing: publishers are in this industry to make money (understandable), and multiplayer makes a lot more money. First off, it discourages some people from trading in the game by giving them more replayability, so other consumers are less likely to find used copies available, forcing them to buy new – singleplayer-only game Heavy Rain, for example, sold 2 million new copies, but ended up with an extra million gamers playing it used. That’s serious money being lost.

Also, with multiplayer, you can charge for network passes even on used games, so that way publishers can always get money.

Then there’s DLC – sure there’s the occasional singleplayer DLC, but once you’ve got the multiplayer balancing sorted for the main game, multiplayer DLC is way easier. The more focused the original game is on multiplayer, the more likely it is for consumers to continue to play it and buy all the map packs and weapons they can afford.

I don’t foresee a full-on death of singleplayer, but rather the death of games that have singleplayer campaigns that aren’t essentially just a short, tacked on side-quest, essentially like multiplayer was earlier in this gen.

Dan: It is true, we are seeing a propensity from developers to move away from the singleplayer experience only design, and start shoehorning in social interaction. Games that really do not need to have multiplayer in them are starting to have these new modes simply to add things to put on the back of the box and to hopefully keep the product from going back on a shelf. Yet, this idea simply does not work – as people will not continue to play games that just cannot compete the major online hitters already out there. Simply, no one is going to stop playing CoD to start a GoW clan, that concept is just too short sighted to be realistic. Improving the experience over all in a way that extends the value that person will have will always be more profitable, than just tacking on something in a chance to meet the new (and failing) norms.

The singleplayer experience as a whole is dying, but personally I think it’s just being temporarily taken over by the online fad. As social gaming is adding billions of dollars, studios are trying to figure out ways to broaden the appeal of titles they are developing for core audiences. Adding multiplayer to GoW might not appeal to many of the core audience, but social interaction and social peer pressure to join your friends is a strong pull. So, until developers and publishers find more ways than just placing vs modes where characters just pointlessly kill each other – we are just going to see story and singleplayer dwindle away.

Seb: It really is sad, I hate people, so singleplayer is my favorite. And there are quite a few people like me, so there’ll be a niche that supports SP fans (although all the games will have their budgets split to include multiplayer too). But it’ll be just that – a niche.

The cost of game development on consoles, or console-like future things like cloud, is only going to go up. Publishers are going to go where they think the money is, and that’s in multiplayer. We’re going to see less big games in general, and of those games less and less will have long, in-depth singleplayer campaigns.

The best bet we have of keeping singleplayer gaming relevant is to buy singleplayer games, but sadly that’s what people needed to do to bring out Mirror’s Edge 2… and that didn’t work. So I don’t have much faith in that.

The future is about FarmVille, CoD and The Elder Scrolls Online. Sorry.

Danish: Well I agree and disagree, I hate people, but love our fans (hi guys, thanks for reading). Yes, we are going to see fewer singleplayer only titles, and this going to happen for a few years. But, the technology to actually develop those experiences will improved, dropping the cost for non-AAA developers to be able to bring out stories, ones that can capture our imagination in the way we hope. Also, as the average age of the gamer grows up, the need for mature titles that do not have 13 year old kids screaming at you is going to increase – which in turn will improve the profitability of SP titles.

We must remember that gaming in general is in a state of constant chaos, as both the age and needs of the market fluctuate constantly, and development times for games are rapidly increasing. So if there are titles that people want made, the best way is to not only be vocal on comments like ours, but to also invest in the games you want to see more of. Few gamers realize the power they hold, we do not owe ANYTHING to publishers, studios, or manufacturers – we decide where the future falls, and are the ones responsible if things fall flat.

Do you like playing with yourself, or is life better when it’s shared? Spout off in the comments below, and learn the true meaning of too much information by following Seb and Dan on the Twittersphere, and listening to us on our brand spanking new podcast.

Also, we have a brand new email – dailyreaction@playstationlifestyle.net – to send your thoughts, suggestions, naked pictures, or maybe have your letter read in a future episode or podcast.