No, this opinion piece will not be centered around the upcoming feature film ‘’Solo: A Star Wars Story’’. I am going to talk a bit about Star Wars though but in an entirely different context. Yesterday news broke that EA is shutting down Visceral Games. Visceral was most known for games like Dead Space and their unnamed Star Wars project. The game’s Creative Director was the much talented Amy Hennig. Hennig, formerly employed at Naughty Dog, is known to have had a great say in the conception of the first three Uncharted games. Without a doubt she was acquired by EA to put her magic sauce over a new Star Wars single-player experience recipe. While the game hasn’t been officially cancelled, it has been put on hold indefinitely. Generally speaking that’s not a good sign.
The shutdown of the studio seems to have caused quite a stir in the gaming industry regarding the fate of big-budget single-player experiences. When I was browsing on Polygon my eyes caught the headline “Solo is going dodo” and for some reason that very sentence managed to distress me. I am a BIG fan of single-player games. In contrast to multiplayer experiences, single-player games tend to be much more relaxed. You yourself are the director of your experience. You can pause the game whenever you like. The stakes are not that high; if you fail, you try again. A compelling story will occupy your mind for days and that twist you didn’t see coming? Well, that just made the game even better. From my point of view cinematic single-player games tend to be much more immersive and a majority of the games are even fun for your spouse to watch. So what is going on exactly?
Developing a videogame is an enormous undertaking and one that can last for years. This means publisher need to invest large budgets. Large budgets mean higher risk of a bad Return of Investment. A slew of recent games (like Prey) unfortunately did not turn out to be the success the publishers had hoped for. Multiplayer games like Overwatch, PUBG and GTA 5 Online have never been more popular as today. These games allow for long-term monetization through add-ons, skins, expansion-packs, maps or microtransactions. A solid return of investment is much more guaranteed.
I sense you’re already starting to have a grasp about what sort of undertaking a publisher is more likely to invest in. I’m not necessarily telling you that single-player gaming is dead. Far from it actually as there are still some interesting projects on the horizon. You can’t deny though, that more and more games are adapting a “games as a service” model and that publisher are less and less keen on taking on the risks involved with such projects.
Let this be a message to all developers out there to try and not forget about us, the single-player fans. Rather than cancelling your project, try and investigate a more episodic approach to your single-player game. Studios like Telltale and IO-Interactive with its latest Hitman game, seem to have done pretty well so far. There’s always hope. Even in the gaming industry equilibrium is somewhat key. Let’s not forget even a few multiplayer-only titles have been heavily criticized (the first Battlefront or Battleborn for that matter) recently and players will enjoy the same multiplayer game only for so long. Sooner or later demand for fresh, new experiences or innovation within a genre will rise anew. That’s when we will strike!