In 2017, the bell tolled for single player games. It was the year in which Electronic Arts shut down Visceral Games, effectively pulling the plug on the Dead Space studio's campaign-centric Star Wars project. Although the game itself apparently lives on over at EA Vancouver, its scope and structure will likely be dramatically changed, moving more towards the popular games-as-service model.
This was a gut punch for fans of the single player experience, who had been hoping for a Star Wars solo action adventure game that could rival the likes of even Uncharted. After all, the development of the title was being spearheaded by Amy Hennig, and the director's work over at Naughty Dog has left a lasting legacy on the games industry.
That game is now gone, and EA's chief financial officer Blake Jorgensen has suggested that the linear, single player experience is becoming extinct. Recently, the CFO was speaking at the Credit Suisse 21st Annual Technology, Media & Telecom Conference, and Jorgensen effectively stated that people don't like linear games anymore. In EA's mind, the future of games is open worlds, social interactions, and (of course) microtransactions.
This wasn't the only moment in the year that tested the faith of single player gaming fans, though. Visceral's EA stablemate BioWare has a long history of focusing on single player story-driven campaigns, but its next project is anything but. Anthem was announced at E3 this year, but its first gameplay trailer showed not a deep solo RPG akin to Mass Effect or Dragon Age, but instead something that felt much closer in tone to Destiny: a futuristic shooter with drop-in MMO elements.
It's true that the games-as-service model has grown in the last few years. The success of Blizzard's Overwatch has led to many imitators, both in terms of its gameplay and in terms of its loot box-led business model, and the multiplayer shooter has left a deep mark in the world of gaming as a whole. It's a title that other games, and other developers, aspire to be, and aspire to beat. Alongside that, the massive popularity of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds and the continued success of MOBA titles like League of Legends and DotA 2 showcases that the gaming community is enthralled by multiplayer.
However, that doesn't paint a full picture of the video game landscape. One look at the top trending games of 2017 shows that the single player game can get tongues wagging. Horizon: Zero Dawn is easily one of the best games of 2017, with a thrilling post-apocalyptic story, strong characters, and an immersive world. Although it gave players an open world to involve themselves in, its key narrative was one of the major selling points, with the open world a wonderful way to bring context to the story as a whole.
Horizon: Zero Dawn isn't alone, either. After what seems like an age, Cuphead finally saw release. This 2D run-and-gun shooter won hearts with its classic cartoon aesthetic, challenging boss battles, and charming story, and - perhaps as a surprise to those who proclaimed the demise of the single player - it delivers a simple, straightforward narrative. What's more, aside from a local co-operative option, the game is single player in nature.
Bethesda as a publisher is also far from giving up on the idea of single player games being at the forefront of gaming. 2017 saw the release of Prey and Wolfenstein: The New Colossus, with both games gaining plaudits from critics for their excellent narratives and compelling gameplay. Prey's sales success in particular has made good reading for the publisher to boot.
The success of the Nintendo Switch has even given some games a second lease of life. 2016's DOOM saw re-release for Nintendo's console, while Skyrim has proved to be as immortal as the game's own storyline-vital NPCs by seeing yet another resurrection on the Switch. Nintendo, not to be outdone, has also released The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey to great acclaim, with the latter seen by many as the perfect spiritual successor to Mario 64.
It's fair to say that the single player game has once again been met with challenges, this time in the face of hybrid single/multiplayer games like Destiny, while the potential to make profit from the money pit of multiplayer games is an alluring prospect for AAA studios. However, this is far from the only time that the death of single player has been announced, with the growth of online console multiplayer and even the expansion of mobile gaming bringing doomsayers in previous generations.
However, it will be interesting to see if single player linear games remain as they currently are. After all, should the mainstream industry push to erase these games from release schedules, then there's little that players can necessarily do about it. However, it's unlikely that these solo linear experiences will ever truly disappear, and this comes down to the sheer diversification of games that has happened in the last ten or so years.
Quite simply, the growth of the indie game scene has meant that there is more variety in games now than ever before - if the interested parties know where to look. Niche genres like the Roguelike have been given a new army of followers, with games like FTL: Faster Than Light and The Binding of Isaac becoming big hitters through the burst in indie game popularity. It's here, then, that the traditional linear game could live on, in the unlikely circumstance that all major publishers decide there is no future in the genre.
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