Discussing: The Death of (EA’s) Single Player

Last week, a statement from Electronic Arts executive Frank Gibeau for the Cloud Gaming Conference cause controversy as it was revealed that the publisher was actively only releasing titles with some kind of multiplayer component. Furthermore, Gibeau conveyed this news with pride, commending EA for making this the strategy going forward. This means that games with only single player modes like the original Dead Space or Dragon Age: Origins would not have been released today.

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Now that alone would’ve caused enough ire from gamers to propel EA in front of Activision and Zynga in their ongoing battle for the title of most evil video game publisher. It did evoke the wrath of devout gamers and the internet was ablaze once again with fresh new forum topics and comments about the horrors EA has wrought upon the gaming community and how it’s the end of the gaming world as we know it (and no one’s fine). However, that wasn’t enough. It wasn’t over. A beloved developer had to follow their example.

A couple of days ago, Insomniac Games CEO Ted Price told GameSpot that the studio is “finished with single-player only games.” He cites the changing industry and the improved technology as reasons why the developer will always include some form of multiplayer in its future games. Insomniac has a partnership with EA and is making a new title called Fuse (originally announced as Overstrike) with them. The two companies have also released a title on Facebook called Outernauts through Insomniac’s social gaming focused division, Insomniac Click.

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While the evolution of online multiplayer games is easily the biggest innovation of this generation, building on the popularity of party games and the four player ready consoles of last generation, the market has shown that people still love their single player experiences. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was one of the most played titles this past holiday season and Darksiders II was the highest selling title for the month of August 2012. Personally, there’s nothing I like more than just sitting down on my couch or office chair and loading up a game that I and I alone am chipping away at to completion. Just recently, I finished an extremely enjoyable play through of the aforementioned Darksiders II, a near-exclusively single player game with 30+ hours worth of content, not to mention a New Game+ mode and a hard Apocalyptic difficulty still left to keep me entertained.

Now while I respect the appeal of multiplayer experiences that games like Call of Duty: Black Ops and Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 provide, I rarely play them. I enjoy the feeling of completion that I get when I finish a single player campaign more than I do the feeling of superiority when I best another player in competition. To me, it’s almost a novelty to be playing with people around the world that I don’t know nor care about. Playing with someone I know makes the experience more enjoyable but even that doesn’t compare the playing with that person while their sitting next to you and even still, that doesn’t happen often at all. However, I get it. Some people really dig playing with other people. However, others don’t and I am not alone in my preferences, not by a long shot. Many of the gamers I know or have conversed with feel the same was and the ratio between the two preferences appears to be fairly even.

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So is multiplayer really the direction the industry is going? NO! While the onset of online multiplayer is a welcome addition to our industry, it’s not in any way meant to be the replacement for the model used in the past. Online multiplayer is merely an option for developers to take a game their making should the concept fit it. The only reason it appears this is the direction the industry is going is because publishers and developers want it to go that way. Shoe-horned in multiplayer is rapidly becoming the norm because the average uninformed consumer who buys only a few games a year is more likely to buy a game with online multiplayer because they’ll get more for their money, regardless of whether that extra content was needed or any good. I mentioned that Darksiders II was nearly an exclusively single player title. There is an unnecessary online feature to share loot you acquire with other players online. I never used it and I don’t feel I’ve missed anything by doing so.

Ted Price also said in his interview with GameSpot that gamers have always been social and that technology has now given us an easier way to play together. I don’t want to speak for the gaming community concerning such a general characteristic (and neither should Ted Price) but I own only one controller for my PlayStation 2 because I don’t anticipate my friends coming over to play that with me. I have my wired Xbox 360 controller exclusively plugged into my computer because none of my friends really come over to play SoulCalibur or Medal of Honor with me. Same rings true online. I wouldn’t call myself anti-social but I am not what I would categorize as social. I play games because people suck. If they didn’t, I’d go outside and be with them as often as I can. I know that there’s others like me who love games where I am the only one playing and only I can complete the challenge presented to me. As inspired by a comment on a recent episode of the Destructoid Show, a great video game idea to me would be a game based in Fiji where I’m the only one there and everyone else can fuck off. Basically, for better or worse, gamers have not always been social so don’t try to say we have so you can justify your new direction as giving us what we’ve always wanted.

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The most obvious and damaging problem with this strategy going forward is for developers who haven’t made this their MO. This kind of standard is stifling to ideas that involve just one person experiencing a cohesive vision. Titles like BioShock would never have existed and titles like the Mass Effect series have been compromised because of it. Games like Street Fighter are better for their inclusion of online play but others like Ratchet and Clank are not. This of course leads to resources that could’ve been used to make a better game instead being used to make a feature-rich game of mediocre quality. Worse, sometimes an online connection is forced on a title even when it is unnecessary, like the always on DRM from Ubisoft for single player exclusive titles like Assassin’s Creed II or the required internet connection for single player play in Diablo III. The point is options should be the norm. This concept of multiplayer being the focus is great should you choose to use that tool. It’s suffocating if you are forced to use it.

So what should we as gamers do? Nothing. I’m serious. Maintaining multiple servers for various multiplayer games is expensive and eventually the bubble will burst when companies like EA realize that can’t profit from making all these multiplayer games. It’s not a market that can be financially sustainable at the rate they’re going at so they’ll just learn the hard way. In the meantime, just support the single player games you enjoy, as well as the few multiplayer games that deserve it, and makes sure the message is clear when Dead Space 3 and its tension killing co-op, as well as that tower-defense Ratchet & Clank game no one asked for is released.

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