Single-player games used to be the premier titles in game releases. The fact that it’s far easier to develop a game that only offers one player’s perspective is undeniable. Since games are big business and business is about making money, many developers have leaned toward this for a long time. Storylines, character development, and side quests were all easier to develop for one player.
The past year in the gaming community was a sharp shock to the system for many studios. Despite the shortage of PS5 units, God Of War Ragnarok quickly became the best-selling PS game on the market and the second-biggest game of the year. Elden Ring came in at number one, and the Lego Starwars release brought up the rear in third place. The level of success of these multiplayer games leaves releases that previously appeared successful in the single-player sphere, like Horizon 2: Forbidden West, in the metaphorical dust. The single-player games that charted last year broke several records for their publishers and platforms and essentially already provided us with an answer to our question: no, single-player games are not on their way out. Some of the best eSports games are single-player games, and they’re in good company with the multiplayer games that offer solo quests.
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Where has the question come from, then? Is something else in the industry changing that has led game fanatics to question the success of single-player games in the modern age?
What is changing in single-player games?
Commercially it’s clear that single-player games are alive and well. However, the way gamers approach gaming and what they appreciate in a game has evolved, so how have single-player games developed to accommodate these preferences? Well, over more or less the last decade, all video games, but notably simpler, single-player ones, have moved further and further away from that “fire and forget” mode; that only offered up a limited amount of hours of gameplay in one title. The rise of “free to play” single-player games like Farmville and Clash of Clans has been meteoric and commercially incredibly successful, so this alone should demonstrate the industry’s health. However, these aren’t typically what gamers think of when mentioning single-player games.
EA, in particular, has come to the table to further the evolution of beloved single-player titles like Jedi Fallen Order and Dragon Age. Compared to about five years ago, the level of character development that now goes into these titles is simply stunning. Instead of just offering up decent plots and fun pyrotechnics, modern games offer a far more human experience. Multiplayer games provide more connection, so single-player games come to the table with intricate stories and characters to match. They have meticulously crafted physical appearances that bear the mark of the newest engines and motion capture tech, backstories that draw players in, and outcomes that are something to work towards. All of these factors make single-player games irreplaceable in true gamers’ hearts everywhere.
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Story and character-driven games are still and will always be a huge draw. Without massive team missions and battles, stories and characters take the limelight. It’s no longer impressive enough to have explosions worthy of a Michael Bay film and rely on those the whole way through the game; humanizing the characters, the NPCs, and the situations are where it’s at.
These facts aside, some longstanding facts remain as well. Single-player online games work incredibly well for gamers who prefer not to have to bear responsibility for the actions of others or consider the effects of their actions on other players. Whether you’re playing more online or offline, single-player games are often just less hassle. Soundtracks have also stepped up over the last few years to fill the potentially empty silences that appear when there are no other players to chat to. Game soundtracks are now and have been for some time on par with the best film soundtracks available. No world is complete without the sounds and music to bring situations to a head and cause hearts to swell with emotion!
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It is clear that single-player games have a lot of life left in them yet. The care taken to create the characters, their histories, and the layered storylines developed over months or even years of development draw players into emotional quests to create truly unique experiences. Single-player games are an institution and are certainly not going anywhere anytime soon.