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Single-Player Games Haven't Gone Away, They've Gone Indie

Matthew Byrd
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As a lifelong fan of good gaming experiences in whatever form they may take, I admit that the recent uproar regarding Overwatch's full price point despite its lack of a single-player campaign confused me. After all, while it's understandable that gamers would want as much content as possible out of their purchases, at no point was Overwatch presented as - or to our knowledge - intended to be a single-player experience. To me, the debate surrounding the game ultimately boiled down to: "If you like what the game offers buy it, and if you don't like what the game offers then don't."


Still, I know that the controversy isn't a simple matter of whether or not the game offers a campaign experience. Instead, it's a debate that represents the much larger worry some in the gaming community have over whether or not developers really care about single-player games at all. Many feel that the largest publishers in the industry are more concerned with creating multiplayer games and banking off of the microtransactions that come with them.


Is this feeling accurate? Well, to be honest, the numbers behind the argument are a bit iffy. If you look at the best selling games of 2015, you'll find that every game technically offers some kind of single-player content. I emphasize technically because many of these games (such as Star Wars: Battlefront) don't really offer more solo content than a glorified tutorial. Indeed this lack of effort when crafting single-player experiences in popular games probably represents the real issue in the industry today than simply saying: "There are no more single-player games."




Except, it's still not fair to say that developers aren't putting their full effort into these modes anymore. Not really. While the mainstream game industry may be philosophically shifting more towards multiplayer experiences, saying that there are no more single-player games is an insult to the efforts of some truly great indie developers.


Now I know what you're thinking: "Indie gaming doesn't count. It's the major releases that have stopped producing the same kind of single-player games they used to. That's what needs to change." That's an emotional argument, but there is some truth in it. The fact of the matter is that indie games can't produce the same kind of single-player games that a major developer can when they devote their resources to it. We're not going to get an indie equivalent of Uncharted 4, The Witcher 3 or possibly even DOOM. The money just isn't there for most studios.


But much like the Overwatch controversy, focusing on what indie games can't provide rather than what they do provide benefits nobody. Indie gaming can't consistently provide big-budget masterpieces, but they can provide a variety of experiences that the industry at large could never possibly support. There is no major developer that would ever take the chance on a smart throwback like Undertale. A company like EA couldn't dream of resurrecting a beloved - but undperforming - franchise in the form of a title like Stardew Valley. Ubisoft wouldn't go anywhere near an inventive experiment in storytelling like Her Story.




Now maybe you like these games and maybe you don't. That's fine. Not every gamer has to like every game, and there are plenty more examples of great single-player indie games where these came from. Regardless of your specific tastes, it's important to not quickly dismiss efforts such as these in the argument that gaming has forgotten about the individual player. Doing so just confirms the suspicion of major game publishers that the most vocal supporters of a single player renaissance ultimately represent a minority that are unwilling to fiscally support single player gaming in the same way that multiplayer gamers apparently do.


Even if you don't purchase these games as a way to show your support, it's past time that the efforts of the indie game industry in providing a variety of gaming experiences catered to target all needs - including solo play - is shown the proper love whenever the discussion of this fading philosophy of design is brought up. Failing to do so not only belittles the efforts that goes into these games, but only speeds up the process in which yet another corner of the game industry walks away from crafting great single-player games.

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