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.