How stupidly vague title. That is because for as long as game industry has existed in its modern form, there have been predictions and expectations for certain things to happen. Trip Hawkins is somewhat infamous for expecting Nintendo to die out in the 80’s, something long time gamers probably remember hearing each generation. Yet, it’s consistently been The Big N that seems to push video game innovation forwards in the grand scheme of things. In reality, everything they launch or new things they introduce already exists on the market in some form, Nintendo just manages to make use of old technology and represents it in a new manner. I’ve discussed the fact that I’ve been hearing that physical games will vanish in the next five years or so since 2005, which still hasn’t taken place. Certainly digital downloads and distribution has taken hold and has allowed far more smaller developers to pitch in, though they have not replaced physical games, especially on the video game market. The computer game market on the other hand has been consolised by Steam to the point of being unrecognisable from its former, free self.
The claim that single-player games are dying out at some speed is, to be completely frank, laughable. The Switch may have been Zelda the Console for some time now, with some other good titles sprinkled here and there, though that just shows how much people appreciate single-player games. With Super Mario Odyssey hitting two million units sold in three days, and the amount of single-player games mobile devices offer, not to mention the odd Facebook browser game and Cuphead going platinum in few weeks, it seems the idea of single-player games being a dying breed is hot air.
The classic electronic games trinity was the arcade machine, home video game console and personal computer. With the death of the arcades, this trinity has become more or less obsolete. However, it was never replaced with anything, as consoles have become increasingly dumbed-down computers all the while consolification of PC has been taking place. The trinity was supported by duality of both single-player and multi.player games, and the mix of the two.
To make it a bit more clear, the game industry has always stood on the idea of games you can play with or against the computer, and games that allow you to play with your friends. The two do not exclude each other in any way, as many single-player games also offer multiplayer mode. While I’ve seen some forums claim that single-player games are relics of old time, when you couldn’t have people playing together, this is bullshit. Both Tennis for Two from 1958 and Spacewar! from 1962 required two players to properly function.
If we were to go further back in game culture, we would find that there has always been a healthy split between games and game-like devices that were designed around single person to use. The phénakisticope is an example of a game-like device that was reserved for only one to use. Pinball machines and their predecessors like the bagatelle or Billard japonais, while able to support sequential multi-player, ultimately were one person devices. Hell, even in card games you have single-player variants, and some card games can only be played by one person properly. Solitaire is most famous for its single-player variant, with the multi-player one being relegated to curiosity.
Where I’m getting at here is that throughout the history, games and plays have always had a need for specific games that allow action done with a group, or action done alone.
If I were to turn this completely around for a moment, in many ways true single-player games have already died. Most, if not all, modern games already require something to run the game’s script and AI, meaning the player is actively playing with a non-human being, as limited as it may be. The fact that most modern games could not function without some level AI, like Nier Automata, means that every time we are playing such a game, we are playing against and with something. The only games that still are truly single-player are games like Breakout, which have no AI element to them.
That’s not what people mean by single-player game though.
The fact that there are cultural and historical reasons why games for one exist is nothing anyone should overlook. The fact that most modern games have a multi-player element to them is simply due to the fact that modern information technology allows it. We are in an era where we can mix the single-player experience with interactions with others without it being its completely own mode does not mean single-player games are dead. The traditional way of thinking the split between single- and multi-player games has to be reexamined with the advent of new technology. The godforsaken fact we’re connected to each other 24/7 also allows means to enhance these single-player experiences. The aforementioned Nier Automata does this by introducing other players’ dead characters on the field you can either pilfer or revive. Similarly, Gravity Rush 2 used player taken pictures as hints for others in treasure hunts. These methods do not change a game to become single-player, it uses the connectivity to enhance and give it more flavour, much like how base infiltration did in Metal Gear Solid V.
Lastly, there is still an immense market for single-player games. Despite online connectivity being what it is nowadays, multi-player games require specific sort of marketing, design on the cooperation or competitive side and expansion to keep the user base happy. The emphasize is laid differently for single-player games, where the challenge comes largely from the designers setting things up for the player, rather than expecting other players to make use of existing tools.
A good game will be in demand, be it single-player or not. Unless we experience a very deep shift in how human psyche works, there is a place for games we can play for ourselves. Electronic games, like everything else, evolves. Both single- and multi-player games need to evolve to meet with new demands and probably will end up taking elements from each other further.
Then again, Japan still pushes out fuckloads of single-player games so I don’t know what the hell people are jabbering about. Get off my lawn.