Player one: the gamers who only want to play with themselves
theguardian.com, Monday 14 July
The games industry is shifting inexorably toward a multiplayer future where every experience is shared with others. But some gamers don’t want to be a part of it
The games industry has a glorious future planned for us. It is a future of seamless co-operative and competitive gaming, where every single-player adventure will magically segue into multiplayer face-offs; where your friends will be able to drop into your game world at a moment’s notice and join you as you fight dragons or attack battleships.
Activision’s forthcoming space epic Destiny, likely to be one of the biggest releases of this generation, is entirely built around this whole idea of community interaction. But it is far from alone – Watch Dogs has drop-in competitive matches, Far Cry 4 will allow instant online co-op, while Forza Horizon 2 and Sunset Overdrive both tempt you in and out of competition with friends and strangers from within the main campaigns. This is the way things are going.
There’s just one problem: plenty of gamers don’t want it. Plenty of gamers, even in this age of cloud computing and continuously connected games consoles, just want to play alone. The industry may be mystified by these digital era luddites, but there are good reasons for their intransigence: they represent a whole way of thinking about what games are and the experience they provide.
The future is social
So are we looking at the end of pure single-player experiences? Are the gamers we spoke to facing a future in which their way of interacting with games will no longer be catered for? It’s unlikely. Hopefully. The recent success of The Last of Us and Grand Theft Auto V, both games that appealed mainly due to their campaign content, shows that there is still a mass market for lone narrative experiences.
The growing indie sector is also supplying a steady stream of highly subjective single-player titles from Dear Esther and Gone Home to FasterThanLight, to Telltale’s episodic adventures, Walking Dead and Wolf Among Us.
The latter examples hint at where the traditional narrative experience is going. In Walking Dead, each instalment closes with some data on how every other player made their decisions.
In the coming years, we’re likely to see a new era of campaign modes, which can be played alone but are enhanced with social elements. We’ll be able to record and share key moments in our adventures, and we’ll have seamless online venues to talk about what we’ve seen.
Indeed, more titles are now using procedurally generated landscapes and narrative elements, which supply every player with unique experiences, formed on the fly just for them – games like No Man’s Sky and Fortnite. Through this technology, certain games will naturally become both more insular and individual, but also more open to sharing. We will see things no one else will.
“Developing and supporting a multiplayer mode is expensive and not all games suit this type of play,” says Piers Harding Rolls, head of games at industry analyst IHS Technology. “So, actually, although all content is becoming connected, I believe the new social and community features we see – streaming via Twitch or uploading to YouTube for example – offer publishers an alternative engagement feature set beyond the multiplayer mode.
“I think single player games still have a strong role to play in the future.”