Feature Article
The Extinction of the Single Player Experience?

Microsoft almost ushered in the end of isolated single-player gaming.

The Black Rhino, the Leatherback Turtle, the Sumatran Tiger, and the single-player sports video game experience.

All have something in common: they are all inching closer to extinction.

The biggest problem is the fact that unlike the previously mentioned animals, single player video game modes are on no one’s endangered list so that it can be protected and saved. In fact more and more developers and publishers are advocates of single player’s removal from games, as they feel the co-op and multi-player mode is the wave which will sweep next-generation consoles.

While the above statement may seem odd seeing the amount of outstanding single player games that were released during this current generation, if you listen closely to the interviews, released statements, and even the individual E3 press conferences: there were very few titles that seemed focused on the single-player game.

Buzzwords like “always connected” and “social sharing” were bantered about conference halls as the leaders in the gaming industry casually let the gaming world know that ‘it’ is coming, and ‘it’ is coming quickly.

The PlayStation 4 has a heavy-leaning online bias too -- with UStream integration and social sharing at its core.

Goodbye single player?

With incredible single-player titles released on the PS3 and Xbox 360 such Bethesda’s Skyrim, Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto and LA Noire, and Quantic Dreams’ Heavy Rain, this generation did a wonderful job of providing some awesome game titles for the gamer who just wants to sit in their comfy chair, turn on their television and favorite game console and sit in the blissfulness of dead silence – assuming they have the TV turned all the way down of course. Even though we are coming close to seeing the end of this generation, we are still seeing great single-player experiences being released such as 2k’s BioShock:Inifinite and the PS3 exclusive The Last Of Us from developer Naughty Dog.

With all the single player experiences listed above, along with the classic experiences available on sports games, it would seem easy to assume that this is a typical over-reaction. That the single player title will be just as prevalent this upcoming generation as it was during this one, but that would be a bad assessment and assumption.

While we saw some evidence of single player games and titles that at least will include single-player story-lines during E3, in no way were they the majority or even a large minority of the experiences that were being described at the show.

There will always be a market for games such as Batman:Arkham City, Mass Effect, and Far Cry. My hope is that developers will continue to churn out the awesome titles with amazing single-player experiences during the upcoming generation of consoles.

My fear is that we will start to see less and less single-player experiences the deeper we progress into the lifespan of the Xbox One and PS4 across all genres.

Madden Share is one example of an attempt at always connected gaming.

The Industry’s New Standard

The extinction of single-player gaming experience was on the verge of occuring even carrying over into the consoles and how they were made.

Microsoft had initially confirmed their new gaming system, the Xbox One, would need to be connected at least once a day online in order to even enjoy a single player game. For all intents and purposes this meant the old ways of doing gaming -- sitting in our living rooms isolated from the rest of the world with just ourselves and our games -- was on the verge of extinction.

Because of the infrastructure and used game policy of the Xbox One, I somewhat understood why they chose this path. It seemed like Microsoft was trying to accelerate and force this new frontier of always connected gaming on the general public instead of gradually leading us down the path with ease and understanding.

Microsoft has since changed their plans, nixing the always connected requirement as well as DRM for physical games.

It wasn't just in hardware where this trend is being hyped by executives. Third-party software companies are touting the future centering around multiplayer and always-on connectivity.

Frank Gibeau, President of EA labels, said this recently, “[We're] very comfortable moving the discussion towards how we make connected gameplay — be it cooperative or multiplayer or online services — as opposed to fire-and-forget, packaged goods only, single-player, 25-hours-and you’re out. I think that model is finished. Online is where the innovation, and the action, is at.”

Online Dynasty was just the beginning....

Coming to the Digital Gridiron/Court/Pitch Soon

While this co-op and multi-player direction the industry seems to be taking doesn’t immediately affect the sports video game genre, it truly can’t be that far behind for sports gaming.

We started seeing signs of this shift away from single player experiences last year when EA introduced connected careers into their Madden franchise, while also pushing the new features of their Country Club mode in the new Tiger Woods 14. Country clubs feature gamers from Tiger Woods joining a digital country club of their choice, and competing against other digital golfers week after week in an always connected type of experience.

Let us also not forget Online Dynasty mode in NCAA Football, Ultimate Team modes in NHL and FIFA, and Online Association in NBA 2K.

All of these features are very popular and profitable for companies producing sports video games. So popular and so profitable that you see attempts at Ultimate Team modes being forced into games like NCAA Football, where a natural fit really isn’t evident.  

The pessimistic view of sports gaming’s future is upcoming iterations of each title will feature more work and effort dedicated to online components of said title, and less dedicated to the single player modes.

Microsoft developer Turn 10, turned heads when they announced Forza Motorsport 5 on Xbox One will incorporate the users’ (and members of his/her friends list who own the game) driving characteristics to mold the AI racers or "Drivatars" for the single-player portion of the game.

Microsoft is claiming that “Driveatars” will help instill a more realistic style of AI driving, and one that will offer a different type of competitiveness to the offline user. While this indeed sounds great in theory -- and it actually does -- if the AI capability is reliant upon gathering true user data to form its own characteristics, then it makes me wonder how much effort on realism is truly being put forth in developing the actual AI intelligence on its own.

I am willing to take a wait and see approach here, as Take 10 has always done a wonderful job with their Forza titles in the past, and the quality is always apparent.

A small part of me does remain skeptical about the future, however.

Next-gen promises more than just flashier graphics.

A different sort of gaming, Whether you like it or not

The gamer who relishes in turning on the console and using it as a refuge from the world might find issues with this path that is being decided for them within corporate walls.

Using gaming to get away from things such as work, school, and anything else that weighs heavy in the mundane routine of everyday life could be coming to an end if games continue to become more social. A lot of gamers use this time as their last bastion of sanity, and neither co-op or multi-player can offer the type of independent solace that a great single player experience can.

From our earliest video game experiences with R.B.I Baseball and Tecmo Bowl to early series versions of Resident Evil, some of the best memories many gamers have are that of the single player experiences offered within games.

Although it may sound like I am against the advancement of co-op and multi-player modes, I most definitely am not.

I am a huge supporter and fan of these types of modes, but I simply ask that the developers and publishers not cast the single player modes aside as if it they were archaic in nature. Gamer’s original love of video games originated from single player titles and it helped sustain and move forward the growth of the industry, and should be recognized for doing so -- and more importantly why.

I do embrace technology and all the advancements that come with it, but one should never forget their origins.

I fear is that this forgetfulness of what exactly got gaming to where it is today, is exactly what is happening in the gaming industry.

For those that prefer multi-player or co-op games, this isn’t a jab at you. I appreciate a great multi-player experience as much as the next person. I am just hoping that the new console generation will feature both great and revolution single-player experiences as well as multi-player experiences.

May we all game in solace with amazing single-player experiences in the future if we so choose.

Member Comments
# 1 Schmackity @ 06/27/13 11:04 AM
Good news. With all the problems facing 'dumb AI' or time spent trying to make AI realistic, it'd be nice to advance ourselves to the modern age of SP being gone.

XBOX ONE had the right idea, but it was just one console too early. I feel the next-gen after PS4/X1 will definitely be always connected and eliminate a lot of SP games. The days of just being a casual gamer on your own are coming to an end.
# 2 BoltThrower74 @ 06/27/13 11:56 AM
I'm not 42, but like footballfan41 up there, if single-player goes away, so do I. I don't wanna be forced to play online with a bunch of wannabe internet tough guys who equate beating people online as really being better than them. I don't like to play people online, period. I'm tired of the pricks online. What time I DO have to play video games, I want to do so curled up on my couch and enjoying a brilliant single player experience (I'm looking at you Bioshocks, Last of Us and countless others). You wanna include MP in games? Fine. But don't take away the SP.
# 3 misterkrabz @ 06/27/13 12:07 PM
In most video games, for me, MP is much more enjoyable than SP. Just an example of my play pattern, I've owned every Call Of Duty over the last ten years and I don't think I've played the SP long enough to get past second or third level in any of them yet I played countless hours online. Nothing beats a good, well played game against a human opponent, particularly in sports games. I've also owned dozens of sports games over the last few years and don't think I've ever completed a full season in SP in any of them, including football. I got about 80 games into a season of The Show one year but eventually got tired of it. I would hate to see the SP element go away but for me the reality is rarely play SP, in any genre.
# 4 Cardot @ 06/27/13 12:10 PM
I am also a 40-something gamer who plays single player only. Video games are my chance to get away from the world. Other than a periodic patch or roster update, I don't want to connect or socialize. I hate the idea that a connection or password issue will be an added headache to playing an offline game.

I haven't been thrilled with the shift towards online gaming the last few years. And with the recent news of the next gen consoles, I have been pretty apathetic. I am not saying I'll give up gaming all together, but the entusiasm for it is certainly getting lower, and I won't be rushing to jump to next gen.
# 5 Aggies67 @ 06/27/13 12:12 PM
Like the 2 gentlemen above me, if single player goes away I stop playing. I'm creeping up on 50 and play a lot less anyway.
# 6 LionsFanNJ @ 06/27/13 12:14 PM
The Last of Us. BioShock infinite. Batman AA. nuff said.

Sent from my Galaxy Nexus using Tapatalk 4 Beta
# 7 heater41 @ 06/27/13 12:20 PM
Once single player goes, so do I. I have no desire to play online anymore against those who "cheese" and aren't in it for a fair, quality gaming experience.
# 8 HitThatRowdy96 @ 06/27/13 12:45 PM
I'm a 22-year-old male starting off grad school, single, living with my grandparents to help with my grandfather's health stuff. I'm also somewhat of a recluse once I get into my room; I'll talk to people I know via Facebook or Twitter or text, but that's enough for me sometimes. The first experience of online gaming I had was with Saints Row: The Third when my best friend and I played co-op online. My first true couch co-op experience came when I was at a friend's house when I was 8, and moments from there were few and far between. I've grown used to playing on my own, being an only child from a family who didn't interact with peers outside of school regularly until I was high school-age. I've always based my purchase of a game on the ability of its Career/Single Player campaign modes. Those drew--and still draw--me in.

If things go to all multiplayer, I will be a much, much more select gamer. I don't mind co-op or anything (I'll still wreak havoc in SR3 and have fun in the new Animal Crossing online), and couch co-op can be great. That said, as a relative introvert, playing online with random people will not be well suited for me. And couch co-op will be far less convenient than just playing single player. They won't lose me, but they'll lose a lot of my business.

Great article, in my opinion. It's definitely something to look at for the future.
# 9 eko718 @ 06/27/13 01:46 PM
Single player will likely never be extinct. Games are also becoming more cinematic, and great storytelling is the staple of great games. That's something that multiplayer cannot really provide.
# 10 Dynastium @ 06/27/13 02:08 PM
The video game industry must hate misanthropes...
# 11 Armor & Sword @ 06/27/13 02:22 PM
Solitare game modes going away?

I highly doubt it. Seriously.

But if it did. Count me out. I play offline almost exclusively. 43 years old and playing games is my way of getting some alone time.

Would be a travesty it it indeed happens in the not too distant future.
# 12 bhurst99 @ 06/27/13 02:25 PM
There will always be single-player games. Developers who don't realize this will die a slow death.
# 13 berad88 @ 06/27/13 03:26 PM
As far as sports games go multiplayer does not solve AI issues. You can only control one player at a time while the AI is controlling everybody else.

As for other games single player is not going anywhere. The vast majority of games are single player games. They may have some extra optional multiplayer stuff thrown in (GTA for example) , but unless it is a first person shooter or mmo, or something along those lines a developer would be foolish to forget about single player.
# 14 mdiggitydawg @ 06/27/13 03:31 PM
have to agree with all my single player fan friends here...46 years old...forgive me, but unless i'm playing with people I know, I don't want to hear, talk to, or play against some ignorant, loud mouth wanna be which I find way too often with an online multiplayer experience. I love Battlefield, but don't wear the head set half the time because of the bigoted, stupid posturing. Have to say, I enjoy the old "franchise" experience and playing my team in my league with my drink near by.
# 15 Rdub33 @ 06/27/13 03:43 PM
This is the thing I feel like most critics of mp online experiences seem to miss... It's not always about playing random strangers who glitch and the b word that rhymes with glitch their way to victory. It's about me living in Chicago but playing against my lil brother in Tampa and my best friend in Baltimore and my bitter rival from the south side..... Helping to maintain and in some rare cases create good relationships is what makes mp superior to SP. I agree with the writer that SP still has its merits, but the VG industry is spot on to focus most of its efforts on improving MP experiences. Video killed the radio star and the Internet killed the video star. Just is what it is.
# 16 Schwart @ 06/27/13 03:46 PM
There is nothing to worry about. As long as there is demand for single player games, there will be a supply.
# 17 cdh72469 @ 06/27/13 03:51 PM
I have to comment as an "old" gamer dating way back and since I have a family, work and all the responsibilities and time that entails my gaming time is at a premium so I play when I can but mostly these days my 360 and PS3 sit in the cabinet waiting...So the idea of having to find someone online in order to play a game is not something I see doing.
# 18 ReadyForTheShow @ 06/27/13 03:52 PM
As long as I can play these multiplayer versions alone I am ok. For instance NCAA Online Dynasty can be played alone and it's at the point where both are similar. I haven't played in a few years but last time I checked the only difference may have been create a player in recruiting classes? If they do it where nothing is missed or "dumbed down" and like I said, it can be played alone, without others, then there's nothing wrong with it all being 'multiplayer' in my view.
# 19 prowler @ 06/27/13 03:53 PM
Of course it makes sense of a company like EA to embrace the always online experience, they are a publicly traded company. They have to constantly generate earnings quarterly and annually. Being always online allows them greater security over microtransactions as well as the ability to force gamers to purchase a newer game by shutting off the servers of the older game; both of which generate lots of money.

I can't speak for all of the companies mentioned but Bethesda (and it's parent company Zenimax) are privately-held companies. This is why they can spend half a decade building an immersive single player game, there are no shareholders breathing down their necks impatiently awaiting their dividends.

As long as their are privately-held companies and publicly traded companies like Costco (different industry, same principle) that put customers before shareholders, the single player experience is far from extinct.
# 20 TreyIM2 @ 06/27/13 04:08 PM
Personally, I don't believe SP is going away. Videogames' core is SP and there are tons of SP gamers who prefer to stay that way, including myself, so if it is to ever be phased out, so will millions of dollars.

But like I said, I don't believe it will go away. SP is also a great escape for many of us to get away from society for a while and get lost mentally in a videogame, just like many of us do with watching a movie at home. Even many online gamers elike to switch up and play a more cinematic SP game here and there. It's a great option and no need for the industry to burn that bridge.

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