Single-Player Games: Dead in a Decade?

Single-Player Games: Dead in a Decade?

Do you like video games? Do you enjoy the single player gaming experience? If so, prepare yourself: Industry veteran Mark Cerny believes your preferred style of gaming is going to lay down, die, and fossilize within the next three to ten years.

“I believe the traditional single-player game experience will be gone in three years,” Cerny predicted at a Sony-sponsored panel about the future of video games. “Right now you sit in your living room and you’re playing a game by yourself – we call it the SP mission or the single-player campaign. In a world with Facebook I just don’t think that’s going to last.”

Cerny then went on to cite 2009’s Demon’s Souls, an action RPG that puts a unique spin on the single player experience. “[E]ven though on one level it’s a single-player game, as you’re walking through the world you’re seeing the ghosts of everybody who died in that world via the internet,” he said. “You can leave messages for them. They can leave messages for you. There’s actually a boss you fight in that game which is controlled by another player.”

Cerny is correct in one regard: The nature of the single player game is changing to become something more complex, like the aforementioned Demon’s Souls. Even Nintendo, a famed hold-out on the multiplayer experience, has been giving way a little bit in recent years: New Super Mario Bros. Wii is meant to be enjoyed with two to four players, and last year, the company filed a patent application for a mysterious-sounding “massively single-player game.”

But is it realistic to assume that the utterly lonely single-player game will be off the map by 2014 or so? Or that developers of single-player games will, as Cerny puts it, have their games blasted for “lack of innovation?”

While multiplayer games and games with elaborate single-player options will become more widespread over the next handful of years, it’s hard to believe that bare bones single-player games will just up and die. Some genres, like the Japanese RPG, has never gone very far with multiplayer options, and still manage to retain a fanbase. What’s more, living in such a networked world gives us all the more reason to retreat into a single-player game once in a while. Players know, that and reviewers know that, too. While games designed within the boundaries of some genres might be criticized for lacking multiplayer options–a shooter, for instance–an engaging story and solid gameplay trump those options every time. How many of us look back on a game like BioShock and say, “Yeah, that was pretty okay, but it really would have shone with some online death matches?”

Another good example is Nintendo’s Metroid series, which has always thrived on simple, quiet environments and the feeling of isolation it gives its players. There’s no great demand to make multiplayer commonplace within the games, nor is there even a big outcry for an enhanced single-player experience. As long as Samus can run, jump, and shoot her way through huge, maze-like environments, we’re happy (and if she can hold back on the inner monologues for more than an hour at a time, we’re golden).

So while we can expect single-player games to stick around for a while longer, those of us who prefer single-player games shouldn’t despair too hard about the changing landscape, either. After all, multiplayer experiences aren’t a new thing: They existed even before we fought with our siblings over who gets to be Mario, and who gets to be Luigi. We should keep a little faith that developers (and, hopefully, publishers) will always subscribe to the mechanics that best suit their games. In other words, multiplayer is fine and dandy, and an enhanced single-player system works beautifully for a game like Demon’s Souls–but there will always be an audience for the offline single-player game, and that audience shouldn’t be neglected. People typically don’t scorn Solitaire just because they can play Go Fish.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

1 Comments

  1. This is great! I totally agree. Right now Deus Ex: Human Revolution is making waves, and it is a single player game. And one of my favourite games this year was Alice: Madness Returns — also a single player!

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