Editorial: What Happened to Single-Player?

Hello once again, Lusi-derps! After last week’s post about NSMBW and cooperative games on the Wii, a number of readers and staff said they preferred the NSMBW single-player to its co-op. This, followed by a recent controversial comment by EA’s president, Frank Gibeau regarding EA’s refusal to publish games without some kind of online play, got me thinking: what happened to single-player, offline gaming experiences? Sure, the occasional big-name title goes out today without multiplayer, but for every Final Fantasy XIII it seems there are ten otherwise single-player games that feature tacked-on multiplayer as part of the game.

Gibeau’s comment seems less born out of a lack of interest in single-player and more in an interest in keeping a game updated after it comes out. From a business perspective, this makes sense; after all, if a company can keep gamers talking about a game months after it came out, then it is likely the gamer will be paying attention to what the company is doing when they decide to churn out another release. As many have noticed, though, this also opens the door for incomplete or otherwise broken game releases – why do extensive QA testing when any issues in the game can just be patched out after release?

HEY I'M GRUMP
Really, all Lusipurr.com staff members are just cantankerous old men.

While our always-online society has allowed for great progress in the creation of multiplayer games, I personally feel that the single-player gaming experience has suffered as a result. Gone are the days of simply buying a game and getting a full package; the era of paid DLC has taken the place of one-time purchases. While a number of indie games still manage to get it right, and give gamers plenty of enjoyment for their dollars, indie games have their own issues, namely lack of budget. Now, of course, this does not mean that great indie games can be created with relatively low resources, but it does mean that indie developers have to work under budget limitations that larger companies do not have to work around.

It seems today that the overwhelming majority of big-name game developers, especially in the west, feel that a game absolutely must have multiplayer or nobody will want to play it. The end result is frequently a game with tacked-on multiplayer, as many feel New Super Mario Bros. Wii and the Super Mario Galaxy games had. In cases where the multiplayer is the focus, like Call of Duty, the single-player feels like an afterthought. It is simply not true that a game needs both single-player and multiplayer to be successful; League of Legends or Final Fantasy XII are both excellent games which only have one or the other.

Na na, na na na na na na na...
Remember this game’s two player mode? I didn’t think so.

My sadly unrealistic wish is that game developers could understand that not every single game needs to have multiplayer and online gameplay built into it. Keeping single-player games and multiplayer separate is sometimes just the better option. Was Mass Effect a series that needed online multiplayer? Are people really going to buy the next Call of Duty for its story? How many gamers actually played Katamari Damacy two-player? It seems to me that games that try to have single and multi-player modes have one or the other suffer as a result.

But of course there are always exceptions. Portal 2 had both a single-player and a cooperative campaign, and both were phenomenal. However, Portal 2 is something of an exception; it is clear while playing the game that both modes had a great deal of thought and care put into them. And certainly some games are designed in ways that allow for either type of gameplay. I am certainly not going to argue that the multiplayer aspects in Pokemon need to be taken out, nor would most gamers, I suspect. What I am saying is simply that I wish developers would put more thought into the idea of only having one type of gameplay before the game is released. Not every game needs a multiplayer mode.

I cannot help but feel that I am in the minority in saying that I would prefer my games to be either single or multi-player but not necessarily both. Perhaps modern game companies are right, and games without both just would not sell or be acclaimed. Am I in the same situation as last week, where I am seemingly the only Lusipurrite who feels this way? Am I, like usual, just being a crotchety old man gamer? Or is there truth to what I am saying? What do you think, Lusi-army? Does the presence or lack of multiplayer or single-player influence your gaming purchases? Let me know how wrong I am in the comments!

10 comments

  1. The death of single-player is the death of serious, in-depth, involved storylines, full stop.

  2. I enjoy my single-player games more than their multiplayer counterparts, despite the fact that I put just as much time into World of Warcraft.

    The only nod to competitive play that I want in my RPGs are trophies/achievements.

  3. A game should either do single player well or multiplayer well.

  4. I’ve played a few games where the single player AND multiplayer components were very well done. But I’ve played far more games where one mode was clearly better. It’s a simple matter of martialing resources. If some of your time and money has to go into making a multiplayer mode, it will detract some from the single player experience. And not every development team has the talent or the means to ensure both modes are going to be worth the effort to produce. In my view, some have managed to do it.

    And the CEOs who say their games must contain multiplayer for the game to sell are fools.

  5. I tend to agree with SN overall. There seem to be a few exceptions, however rare. StarCraft being one. Although that case is a little strange in that it appears as though LARGELY the people who play single player don’t play online and vice-versa. Or while they might dabble, most buy StarCraft games for one or the other and rarely both.

    Like, some of the most respected people in the StarCraft II professional scene who spend all day every day thinking, talking, and playing StarCraft haven’t even finished the campaign.

  6. Totally agree about the SC2 thing. Some of my friends have to be dragged into playing it online (and so do I) while others only play online.

  7. I remember Katamari’s MP mode. What a disappointment. Trying to have 2 people control the same katamari was an exercise in frustration. It’s too bad, I would have loved it had there been some sort of splitscreen endless mode.

    I tend to prefer single player, but I do think that having a good multiplayer mode adds onto a title’s replayability. That said, EA’s practice of forcing square pegs into round holes, all the while claiming that it’s what we want is…well, it upsets me.

  8. EA knows what people want in the same way COCA-COLA CORPORATION knows what people want. What people want, they tell us, is coincidentally just what they happen to be making large quantities of!

    No doubt they are only giving us what we want. They are certainly not actively involved in driving that advocated desire, nosirree, and they definitively have nothing to do with the expectations upon the industry–no way, no in their position as game developers. This has all just happened, in a vacuum, and they are only satisfying our strange and mercurial desires.

    How generous.

  9. The key difference between Coca-Cola and EA games is that while both are toxic, I at least know that I will enjoy a Coca-Cola.

  10. The day they stop making single player games is when I stop playing videogames. Oh, who am I kidding? My backlog will keep me busy until I die.

Comments are closed.