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The Death of Single-Player Gaming

VO: Adrian Sousa
coming out, and even big franchises like GTA and Halo going the multiplayer focused route, is single-player gaming dying?

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MP Editorial - We Need to talk about “Live Service”

In the last few years, there’s been a talk about whether or not single player games are a dying market with multiplayer games being “The way of the future”. And while It’s easy to point at Sony and Nintendo exclusive lineup to counter this point, the thing is: It’s an oversimplified look at how to approach the current gaming industry, and a distraction to a bigger issue of what lies ahead.

Multiplayer games are as old as gaming itself, with the oldest arcade game Spacewar being a 1 on 1 multiplayer experience. And Single Player games are as relevant in gaming culture now as they’ve ever been, with more critically acclaimed titles in the last decade being mostly Single Player adventures. So the idea that the two genres of games won’t be able to coexist in the future is a ridiculous notion. No the debate shouldn’t be about Singleplayer vs Multiplayer, but rather: Traditional Self-Contained Games VS Games as a Service.

Games as a Service, or Live Service Games, are an evolution of the form of free-to-play titles that have been present in mobile gaming for the past few years. They’ve now since started to take on a more large scale form in the $60 AAA Console and PC gaming markets, usually consist of the following traits:

-They have frequent in-game events or updates,

-they’re often a shared world with other players either on a small or large scale,

-they harbour some form of revenue stream usually with microtransactions or subscription services,

-it relies on personal reactive experiences as opposed to narratives stories,

-they includes a slow RPG style progression system to entice players to grind more,

-and they may offer rewards for playing daily.

Arguably the most successful to handle Live Service titles is Blizzard, mostly thanks to World of Warcraft and its endless list of in-game events and expansions, while also earning revenue through subscriptions and eventually a microtransactions. Diablo III is also a prime example of a live service game that constantly receives new content updates and in game events, while also generating a health revenue stream, even if it got off to a very rocky start with it’s Auction House.

Nintendo also had a successful live service title under their belt with Splatoon 2, thanks to it’s frequent content updates that been mostly free, with the only paid content being for major expansions. I say had because Nintendo’s recent online subscription service may had put a damper on its player-base if initial negative feedback is anything to go by, though we’ll have to wait and see those effects in the longrun.

Then of course there’s Fortnite, the game that took the world by storm, and continues to maintain a successful player base due to its seasonal events and unique experiences. And really is there anything that can be said about this game that hasn’t already?

However while there have been a few success stories, there are sadly far more middling or failing stories that counteract this. Let’s start with the obvious punching bag EA, the number of games they’ve been releasing on a yearly basis has slowly been declining, yet their market value has been increasing, with June 2018 being their highest trading price on the NASDAQ. That’s because the games they are releasing have lucrative ways to keep players coming back, and spending money, so it’s easy to see why EA has this “Single Player is dead mindset when their bringing in all that moolah.

Ubisoft has also seen a similar trend, and while they still offer strong single player offerings like Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry, those same titles now also include monetary schemes and weekly challenges to keep players coming back. That of course is to say nothing of their major multiplayer titles in Rainbow Six Siege and The Division. Yet despite their yearly releases becoming slower, once again their market value is booming. In fact their CEO Yves Guillemot openly admitted that their growth in revenue has mostly been attributed to live service titles.

Same goes with Activision, in 2017 they only release 3 new in: Destiny 2, Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy and Call of Duty WWII, and only two this year in the Spyro Reignited Trilogy, and Black Ops 4 … but … you guess it: their stock is going up. Yeah you get the idea.

So while investors may be swimming in pools of cash and living it up, gamers are getting the short end of the stick, after all less titles means less variety, and the titles that do remain have suffered a blow in terms of quality, and/or are pushing for more lucrative ways of getting players to drop more real world money. “Destiny” for example has had a very rocky history with its playerbase with features being taken away from players and locked behind expansion paywalls, or progression systems being rebalanced to accommodate the real money driven “Eververse”. Something players have been really vocal about. “The Division” has been frequently been marred by technical issues and constant cheating, and then there’s EA … oh boy did EA land themselves in hotwater with their lootbox fiasco last year in Star Wars Battlefront.

The thing is however that while these titles receive frequent backlash, it doesn’t change the fact that their profitability is extremely enticing, to the point that other publishers are slowly catching on. Do you want to know why Microsoft’s exclusives have been struggling as of late? Especially compared to Sony and Nintendo: They seem to be diverting a lot of their resources into Live Service titles, most notably two of their biggest titles earlier in the year were Sea of Thieves and State of Decay 2. Both games designed to be shared world experiences with frequent expansions … and both suffering critically for not providing enough content from the offset. Even Forza Horizon 4 seems to be focused to have frequent in game events, though fortunately they seem to be ditching Microtransactions. Most importantly though, it was recently discovered through a job listing at 343 studios, that “Halo: Infinite” Microsoft’s flagship franchise will also be a live service title. Though to what extent remains unclear.

We can go on but that seems to be the overall direction a lot of AAA publishers seem to be: Making far less games, that are designed to keep players coming back for more, while also finding ways to nickel and dime them. But of course this leads up to a dilemma: If everyone has their own “Live Service Game” When exactly will you have the time to play them all in order to get a valued experience? A gamers time is very valuable, as many of us go to school or work fulltime jobs, not to mention need time to socialise with friends and family members. Lets also not forget that if not enough players are around to support your favourite titles, it’ll eventually lead to the games being shut down forever since maintaining server costs isn’t cheap. Meaning that all that time you spent building your favourite characters: GONE!

That’s the potential looming scenario that faces gamers everywhere: Less and less titles that are weining in quality, that at the same time require intense timesynces and are seemingly built around methods of requiring players to spend more money. It’s an unsustainable model and it can’t last forever if everyone starts doing it all at once, especially with government agencies only now slowly catching up to regulate in-game purchases and games with gambling elements.

We should stress that Live Service Games aren’t inherently bad, after all the titles we mentioned earlier are still widely beloved by millions of fans the world over, and so long as they’re satisfied, they should be allowed to enjoy their experience with the games the like. Hell if live service titles are done exceptionally well they should be allowed to enjoy their success. But again we stress; having too many live service titles, can be bad for gamers, and bad business especially if they fail to catch a sufficient and constant audience.

Yet sadly for all the talk you find about lootboxes and microtransctions across the gaming landscape, Live Services isn’t something that comes up very much, despite the signs of what’s to come, especially if these charts like the ones seen in Ubisoft’s quarterly reports continue to grow the way they are. So talk about live service titles, start in the comment section down below about what you do and don’t like about live services, maybe get a discussion going with your friends. If you have your own YouTube channel, even if it only has 5-10 subscribers, talk about your feelings about them. After all most major publishers have said they’re open to player feedback about Live Service titles, so … provide feedback!

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