Single Player Is NOT Dead: Why Solo Play Still Comes Out On Top This 2020
The 2010s in gaming turned out to be quite the interesting decade for the industry: we’ve seen two console generations, the rise and fall of popular companies (and even hit titles), and the somewhat transition of games focusing on single player experiences into what seems to be a growing market for multiplayer and online-only titles. It appears we’ve arrived at a time when single player games are on a decline, and multiplayer experiences have become the norm.
Is it? This might not necessarily be the case. In fact, gaming trends, hit titles, and even upcoming games point towards a steady return to single player experiences. Here’s some of these points in-depth:
- Single player games offer a more personal experience. When you ask gamers what titles often made an impact to them, they’d usually cite single player games. This isn’t really out of sheer coincidence, as single player titles more often than not are in a position to create a more personal experience for gamers. Multiplayer games don’t have this kind of luxury, as devs and creators often focus on making the experience as replayable as possible. Whereas in single player games, game devs and creators have all the tools needed to focus on giving a single player a one-of-a-kind experience in story, narrative, and even exploring the game world. This makes single player experiences very personal and unique to each player.
- Titles such as Red Dead Redemption 2 prove that while games like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite appeal to the masses, there’s still a market for engaging single-player stories. RDR2 has been positively received by both fans and newcomers to Rockstar Games’ hit Red Dead franchise. And despite the 8-year distance between RDR2 and RDR1, the game is proof that if you have a story to tell, you’ll likely get players involved. After all, if you stay with a franchise even 10 years later, that means you’ve become personally invested in it.
- Games such as Final Fantasy 7 and Resident Evil have been getting remakes precisely because of their impact to players. Resident Evil has been quite a huge influence to the single player survival horror genre, where players have to focus on conserving resources. Meanwhile, Final Fantasy 7 focuses on giving very immersive stories and narratives that aim to touch people’s hearts with gripping storylines and unexpected twists.
- Single player games give more engaging narratives. A lot of gamers often prefer to spend time playing games because they need a breath of fresh air after a hard day of work or even studying. And while multiplayer games do offer the luxury of playing with friends, it’s still a different thing to be immersed and “involved” in a game’s story that it’s as though you’re part of the setting yourself. Single player games are the only kinds of games to offer this kind of deep immersion, as devs and creators can focus all on a single player. Since there’s no pressure of creating an experience with a ton of people, single player stories are often in-depth and give players a ton of opportunities to get engaged and see themselves as an active participant to the game’s world and story.
- 2018’s God of War proved that while the past few years have put too much emphasis on multiplayer games such as Star Wars: Battlefront 2, people still appreciate the effort put into single player experiences. 2018’s God of War is a sequel of the hit hack-n’-slash God of War franchise, where Kratos defeats all the Greek Gods. In the sequel, Kratos explores the Norse world with a son. And unlike the other games, this God of War focuses more on RPG elements – including a touching father-son tale – instead of the action. And lo and behold, it won Game of the Year in that year’s Game Awards.
- Assassin’s Creed by Ubisoft spawned a ton of sequels, all single-player experiences, and all offering immersive and quite realistic settings from places and time periods around the world. The amount of effort Ubisoft’s team has put in making this endeavor possible has made the series one of the most immersive to play, even today. Being an assassin and having to “blend in” with the environment makes for quite the involving experience.
- Single player games remove the stresses of competition. One of the reasons why some players don’t really like playing multiplayer games is that there’s always the pressure of competing with others. Players can only enjoy some perks in multiplayer games if “they’re in a high-enough rank” or “if they defeat more opponents.” And this can be very pressuring for people who just want a complete experience. Single player games make this work by giving players enough motivation to pursue rewards without pushing too hard – such as the pleasure of grinding to get good items, experimenting with builds, or even unlocking awesome equipment without having to defeat a ton of other players.
- Single player experiences really only put players against the environment and the game. This forces them to be smarter and make better use of their environment. In turn, this gives devs a ton of opportunities to make stages and levels as challenging as possible without having to ruin the player’s experience. This pressure gamers into finding ways to defeat single player games in a way that doesn’t push them to do it solely for defeating others. It can be a much more rewarding experience this way.
- There’s an appeal to defeating opponents in multiplayer games such as battle royales (where Fortnite and PUBG are) or even battle arenas (where League and DoTA fall in). However, say, fully completing all quests in an immersively-huge games such as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is something that no number of multiplayer matches can match.
- Single player games still let gamers play with others. Just because single player games are touted as games preferred to be played alone doesn’t mean these kinds of games don’t have any options for other players to chime in. This might seem a bit mellow of a reason, but this makes single player titles much worth the buck. Imagine, you can play a single player title as much as you want, but thanks to a built-in multiplayer option (note, not necessity) you can also play with a friend or two if they’re available and it still preserves the experience. Not only that, but some games also offer you the chance to play with AI or computer opponents. This removes the need for you to interact with others just to play “with opponents,” which can be healthy if you really need the space to think and relax.
- Games such as Mario Kart and even games in the Command and Conquer series offer “versus AI” modes that allow players to take on computer opponents in matches of strategy (and mayhem). And thanks to improvements in AI today, computer opponents can be smarter and more intuitive compared to the past decade. This can give single player enthusiasts a replayable challenge without having to go online to play.
- Focusing on single player experiences may also remove the burden of supporting thousands of players on the part of publishers and devs. Live services such as Anthem and The Division may suffer from lag and server delays because of having to support players, which then pressures devs to use sketchy microtransactions just to make up for sales. Whereas if they focus on single player experiences, they only have to focus on completing a single game.
The Resurgence of the Single Player Experience
Is single player dead? Not necessarily – it’s never died in the first place. The growing popularity of multiplayer games and online-only titles proved there’s a market for such experiences. However, if any of the above could prove anything, it’s that gamers across all demographics do hold single player titles to high regard for their many perks and advantages. While multiplayer and online-only titles offer replayability (which publishers really like), single player games more often than not help gamers attain extremely personal experiences.
Garon Cockrell is the Founder and Editor of Pop Culture Beast and host of The Pop Culture Beast Show. He founded the site over seven years ago to have a place on the internet to write about the things he loved. Since then, Garon has become a best-selling author (Demonic and Other Tales), an award winning screenwriter (Best Screenplay 2013 Motor City Nightmares Film Festival), and a cast member on the top rated podcast, Never Not Funny.