Through the independent scene, even the old-school has found a new lease of life. Traditional computer RPGs like Planescape: Torment and Baldur's Gate have seen a resurgence through spiritual successors, as games like Torment: Tides of Numenera and Pillars of Eternity take off - in Pillars case even turning to crowdfunding to help show just how much support there is for a single player experience.
The indie market has revitalized more than just that specific genre, however. In particular, horror games have been brought back from the dead by the independent games industry. Games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Five Nights at Freddy's became darlings of the YouTube let's play scene, bringing with them hordes of fans while the AAA industry was flailing for ways to soften the horror of series like Resident Evil and Dead Space with more action-adventure tropes in order to attract a greater audience.
One result of this was former AAA devs moving away from the mainstream gaming industry. Red Barrels, a studio created by former Ubisoft and EA developers, formed and released Outlast, one of the most frightening and least apologetic horror games in recent years. Even some of the oldest of gaming companies sat up and took notice, too - Resident Evil 7 was as far a departure from the franchise's slow decline into campy adventure as possible, with a tense and isolating experience that took far more from the likes of Amnesia than from the survival horror games of old.
It was another game of 2017 that perhaps pointed towards the future of the single player linear game, however. Ninja Theory's Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice brought something entirely new to the gaming scene: an independently produced game with AAA design quality. On the surface, Hellblade simply felt like a AAA experience, particularly from a visual perspective, but Ninja Theory took a huge gamble on the game as an independently-published venture.
The gamble paid off. The developer was freed from the confines of an involved publisher, and so could create a game pure from a thematic perspective. Hellblade was thought-provoking, profound, and dangerous, and those who played it adored it. A critical smash, the title has now turned a profit, with further sales expected as word of mouth spreads. As such, it wouldn't be surprising to see many other developers burned by massive publishers taking a keen interest in exactly how Ninja Theory pulled off this feat.
It also provides something of a lifeline should the unthinkable happen, and mainstream games move away from the linear storytelling experience. However, it does seem unlikely that single player is dead even at the largest of companies, even though multiplayer games can be massive money spinners. That's because simply creating a multiplayer game is not a recipe for success. The AAA industry is spotted with the shipwrecks of unsuccessful multiplayer games: those games with ideas beyond what was capable at the time, or those that failed to tap in to the popularity of other multiplayer trends.
At the moment, Destiny and Overwatch are being held up as 'perfect' examples of the future of gaming from a business perspective, with various publishers attempting to emulate those gameplay styles or financial models. However, capturing that lightning in a bottle is proving more difficult a prospect than some may have expected.
Take, for instance, Tom Clancy's The Division. The title had early sales successes, with the game beating Bungie's MMO shooter as the biggest new IP launch. However, it wasn't long before the title ran into problems, with the game failing to keep any kind of longevity when it came to continual play. Within three months, the player base had dropped 94%, and the title has never truly recovered or kept pace with the biggest hitters in multiplayer.
Overwatch has also proved to be a difficult game to compete with. Battleborn is a hero shooter from Borderlands developer Gearbox Software, which released just ahead of Overwatch in May 2016. However, there was only one winner in the race between the two, and Battleborn is now effectively run by a skeleton crew with no further updates expected for the game whatsoever.
Even some studios and developers with a fantastic pedigree for multiplayer don't have sure-fire successes when they move on to other projects. One such example is Evolve, an asymmetrical shooter from the former developers of beloved zombie co-op title Left 4 Dead, which had a hugely successful beta period and a decent launch before seeing a dramatic drop-off in concurrent users which was only steadied by moving to a free-to-play model. Meanwhile, Gears of War creator Cliff Bleszinki's LawBreakers may have solid reviews, but its dismal player base is certainly a cause for concern.
Quite simply, a multiplayer game is no less of a risk than a single player game. For every PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, there's an APB: All Points Bulletin or Defiance. For every League of Legends, there's a Dawngate: EA's failed MOBA that failed to even get out of beta testing. There is no guaranteed success in video games, and multiplayer is just as vulnerable as single player from a financial perspective.
Instead, it's likely that there's always a place for single player, linear experiences in the market. In just the last few years, the independent scene and AAA scene together have created some of the most thrilling games of all time, from Hellblade and Undertale through to Bloodborne and Uncharted 4. If you removed these games, as well as other narrative-led titles such as Firewatch and Tacoma, the gaming landscape would look very different.
There's also something that single player games can provide that multiplayer will never be able to: a level of total escapism. Multiplayer games can become enthralling, of course, but it's hard to get lost in the same way as a single player adventure. Multiplayer, particularly the MMO, gives users a tick sheet to complete, and an immediate codependent relationship with other human beings. The single player, on the other hand, delivers something deeper, and much more inscrutable - relationships with characters that are entirely unknown and so very different from other players.
It's this kind of interaction that may be the reason that single player games never truly go away. They provide a unique opportunity for creators to tell a story not available in any other medium, and give players the opportunity to explore a setting away from the experiences of any other person. There's a permanence to the solitude of the single player game, and this cannot be overstated no matter how much industry chiefs seem to disagree. And, as long as people keep playing them, that permanent shift away from single player will be kept at bay.