Does Single-Player Have a Future?

There’s no question that multiplayer dominates the video game industry. In fact, when looking at the best-selling video games of all time, 46 out of the top 50 have some form of multiplayer or co-op play. Even some of the oldest games on the list, like Frogger, Tetris, and Duck Hunt, allow you to play with friends in some capacity.

While the thirst for multiplayer has continued to grow throughout the decades, it has experienced a huge spike in recent years. More than 50% of the top 50 best-selling games come from the past decade. The only title on the list that doesn’t embrace playing with others is The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

This list of best-selling games of all time doesn’t even take into account the immense popularity of free MOBAs, Battle Royales, and MMOs. League of Legends and Fortnite both receive north of a hundred million players every month. Meanwhile, the “top games by current player count” list on Steam is littered with free titles: Dota 2, Warframe, Team Fortress 2, Paladins, Smite, etc.

The moral of the last three paragraphs is that multiplayer has and always will be a staple in gaming. However, the big question is whether or not a single-player experience is here to stay in the same way. While the market is dominated by an ever-growing desire to collaborate, story seems to take over arguably where it matters the most.

OpenCritic and Metacritic both seem to agree that the best games are single-player experiences that feature unique characters, moving events, and intriguing themes. From the rulers of the nineties, like Diablo, Super Mario 64, Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and Half-Life, to modern marvels, such as The Last of Us, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Grand Theft Auto V, God of War (2018), Uncharted 4, and Undertale, it seems difficult to captivate an audience with a multiplayer experience the same way solo play does.

Last year, head of Microsoft’s Xbox division Phil Spencer, stated that “We’ve got to understand that if we enjoy those [story-driven] games, the business opportunity has to be there for them,” in an interview with The Guardian. Because of Xbox’s lack of masterful single-player games, it seems pretty safe to say that they don’t believe this “business opportunity” is that visible from their perspective. Meanwhile, Sony and PlayStation seem to have not only found the opportunity, but they’ve embraced it with wide open arms. Many of their PlayStation exclusives come in the form of large-scale, narrative-driven games that explore new plots and characters that strike a chord with their audiences.

Ever since Spencer’s statements, a large portion of the gaming community has worried about the death of the single player. However, even Spencer has himself since then praised single-player games. In the same interview with The Guardian, he “applauded” Telltale Games and studios like them that have gone solely after thriving stories in video games and made them work so well. This year, he also invited the Twitter community to investigate his play history and see that “that’s mostly what I play.” This comes in response to a comment requesting that Spencer not “get rid of” single-player games.

 

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