There’s a word you’re probably hearing a LOT these days – a buzzword, if you will. Sure, the concept of large competitive gaming tournaments being broadcast isn’t a new thing. (There was a time when ESPN aired the National Scrabble Finals, after all.) However, this concept of broadcasting massive video game tournaments has grown to heights I never would have envisioned as a child. My experiences in video game tournaments were all small mall/store-based events, but hey, I ALMOST won the Blockbuster Video Game Championship II at my local Blockbuster in Donkey Kong Country! (Alas, history doesn’t remember second place. Or second banana?) Nowadays, it’s so much more. It’s a Twitch streamer broadcasting Fortnite with Drake and getting 1,000,000+ views. In fact, even my therapist and manager know what Fortnite is now! It’s Blizzard’s titular multiplayer shooter Overwatch being big enough to have its own professional league with teams in 8 different cities – and having players get public punishments for misconduct. (Just like a real sports league!) It’s Evolution, the world’s largest fighting game tournament, broadcasting the Street Fighter V finals from Mandalay Bay on ESPN2. Perhaps most impressively, it’s a League of Legends World Championship filling a stadium and having the kind of stage that would make you think less of a video game tournament and more of a WrestleMania.
This goes beyond e-sports, though. With games like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Fortnite, and Rocket League surging in popularity and MMO/live-service games like Destiny 2 and Elder Scrolls Online getting plenty of attention, gaming as a social experience is bigger than it’s ever been. The point being – multiplayer gaming is all the rage right now – do people still say that? – and companies all around are trying to get a piece of that delicious e-sports pie. Developers find themselves scrambling to be the next great multiplayer game and many gamers are left to wonder – what about those who just want to play by themselves? Is single-player dying? It’s easy to become worried about the future of the single-player game when the gaming press seems to constantly be reporting its death. Be it EA’s decision to close Visceral Games and re-purpose their planned single-player Star Wars title into a “live service” game (read: Destiny: Star Wars Edition) or Call of Duty: Black Ops 4’s decision to forego a traditional single-player campaign and add in a battle royale mode called Blackout (read: Fortnite Battle Royale: COD Edition), single-player games seem to be dying all around us.
I’m here to tell you, friends – the rumors of single-player’s death has been GREATLY exaggerated.
Needless to say, Sony Santa Monica’s recent revival of God of War, in my opinion at least, is a stellar single-player experience. However, that’s just my opinion – let’s look at some facts, shall we? Consider the Game of the Year Award that’s been handed out every year at The Game Awards since 2014 – in that time, only ONE multiplayer game has won the Game of the Year Award and that was Overwatch. Every other year, it has been a strictly-single-player game: 2014 awarded the top prize to Dragon Age: Inquisition, 2015 gave it to The Witcher III: Wild Hunt, and 2017 handily awarded the trophy to the modern Nintendo masterpiece, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Whether you love those games or not, the trend of single-player games as king holds true. I can even take that a step further and refer you to the nominees in this year’s Game of the Year running. Of the nominees, yet again, only ONE game was a multiplayer game (PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds), while The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Persona 5, Horizon: Zero Dawn, and Super Mario Odyssey rounded out the nominees. (Here’s a comprehensive list of the winners and nominees.) If you want to step away from The Game Awards (and given some of the cringe involved in that show, I wouldn’t blame you!), consider that the current top 3 Playstation 4 games in sales are all single-player games or have very strong single-player elements: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, Horizon: Zero Dawn, and The Witcher III: Wild Hunt. (See current stats here – thanks, Wikipedia!)
Clearly, single-player still sells and sells VERY well, but why do we keep hearing about the death of single-player games? Well, given the examples I provided earlier, let’s go ahead and say it – neither EA nor Call of Duty have ever been about single-player games in recent memory. EA thrives on Madden and FIFA (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) and Call of Duty campaigns have largely been an afterthought for most gamers and for the developers as well. A recent report even suggests that less than half of people ever finish the campaign of a given Call of Duty title (See the IGN report here.). Those developers clearly haven’t made single-player a priority, so looking to them as examples of the death of single player doesn’t really hold up. Why do we only hear about multiplayer then? Why does my therapist who doesn’t play video games at all know what Fortnite is? Short answer: multiplayer games are the games getting broadcast on TBS and ESPN2. They’re the games that draw massive audiences to Twitch and TV. Basically, sponsors find those games sexy. This doesn’t make single-player games any less relevant to gaming.
I don’t know about you guys, but while I have my favorite fighting game and my favorite multiplayer shooter, I don’t always want to play a game with other people. Just like I sometimes want to read in the evenings in peace, I often just want to enjoy tearing up Draugr with Kratos or blasting zombies with Jill Valentine by myself. Sometimes, at the end of a long day, all I want is a hot cup of evening tea. A good single-player game is like the gaming equivalent of that cup of tea – I can enjoy it peacefully and on my own time and get just as much enjoyment out of it as I would a cold pint with friends on the weekend. Single-player games will always have their place in gaming – they’re what started gaming, truly. Those long nights in front of a glowing monitor stomping Goombas, gobbling dots, or even running from Evil Otto (That’s a Berzerk reference, kids, and no, I don’t mean the anime!) are what I remember most from my youth. In fact, I even recall times with friends and family, huddled around game consoles as beating a game became something to bond over and accomplish together. In a strange sort of way, I guess even single-player games can be multiplayer. Funny, that.
At the end of the day, gaming will always need both single and multiplayer games – games to play with friends and games to lose ourselves in. Single-player games aren’t going anywhere.