Alex Birlo on April 17, 2019
Yes, it is this topic again. By now hearing someone who talks about ‘single-player is the true way of playing games and it is better than all those multi-player games kids play nowadays’ is like hearing your grandpa yell from the front porch about how it was better before this ‘idiot’ – whoever is the current president – came to power.
But hear me out on this one. This idea I want to share has more of an emotional value than business – though applicable for increasing the ‘goodwill’ of consumers towards a brand or a video game studio.
Video games became something special for many of us, more than just another medium of entertainment. And it happened before it became possible to implement internet functionality into these video games. That is why people are so frustrated with how companies now drastically shifted towards ‘game as a service’ philosophy. The shift was so dramatic and with little to no compromises for single player fans. Thus, it created this unnecessary image of developers and publishers being just money-hungry ‘corporate suits’.
Let us look at two examples at the opposite sides of the spectrum. Best it is seen in the ‘First-person Shooter’ genre, due to its nature appealing to the “killer” player type – based on Bartle’s taxonomy of player types. This type prefers fast-paced gameplay, heavy emphasis on the skill of play and moment to moment tactics – that are represented in decisions made on the spot during a shootout for example. This is the most quickly adopting, fast moving and easily monetized type of players. So the games in genres that are aimed mostly at this type of players are the most obvious example of the shift that happened in the industry.
“Call of Duty” – a legendary title, genre-defining series of games that was most people’s first introduction into shooters, period. At first, this game focused on gripping war stories, showing the pain, hardships, and horrors of war, but also stories of brotherhood and true comradery between the soldiers stuck together on the battlefield. What is it now? It became a ‘meme’, it is almost ‘trendy’ to laugh and mock the franchise for how casual it became to increase its audience, how it lacks innovation due to the publisher saving cost to the point that they did not change or made any significant changes to their game engine for over a decade now! And just last year, the newest installment in the series came out with no single player at all. They just totally threw their franchise’s identity out the window.
Studious no longer “raise” their audience. They simply attempt to bring in more people, with no second thought about who they are and whether they will deteriorate the already existing customer base or not, which hurts the brand loyalty.
“Battlefield” – another iconic title in the genre. Started as a shooter with some of the most memorable single-player campaigns that people still use as a benchmark for contemporary games. But at one point – with their new engine – the “Dice” studio introduced massive-scale destruction of environments in their game – more than it was ever possible before – and implemented it into their large-scale multi-player mode and slowly began shifting everyone’s attention towards their multi-player mode. Until eventually the single player component of their games was reduced to just a few hours of several short – but I must add that they are emotional – story episodes. Which is an acceptable compromise in a franchise that so early on and slowly shifted its identity to multi-player, but still is capable of delivering some manner of cinematic experience in addition.
Now, the difference between the way that “Battlefield” executed the shift compared to “Call of Duty” is that Dice understood from the beginning where they were moving – towards online play – and made compromises along the way. Whereas “Call of Duty” was jumping between different dimensions, different timelines and created several installments of the game in each of them. There are fans of the “Modern Warfare” line, there are fans of the “Black Ops” line, both of which have intersections with sci-fi themes and there are those that like only the “Zombies” mode in each of the game.
This is a clear example of “divide and destroy” your identity, because “divide and conquer” does not work within a single franchise. It can happen within a company that has many IPs branching into different genres. But within a single series, it is just destroying its identity and divides the fans. Something which you are aiming to avoid as a marketer.
Now that it is clear that there are more subtle and acceptable ways to shift a franchises focus – without losing THAT much ‘good will’ – for a video game franchise, let us return to the point, to how we are losing single-player in the industry.
There are numerous examples of studious – both big and small – that are capable of creating successful single-player games and earning money on them. Yes, people prefer to be able to play in the company of their friends – the more, the merrier – but it is wrong to claim that games for a sing player are dying, from a psychological perspective.
Obviously, there will always be a demand for some ‘alone time’, for a more personal and intimate experience. No one needs company 24/7 and it is wrong when publishers like “Electronic Arts” having great studios under their umbrella – like “Dice” or “BioWare” – are forcing them to stop making any manner of single-player games and focus only on multi-player and ‘games as a service’ monetization. They end up losing money in both types of video games.
The take away here is that when you let each studio specializes in their own area, you create a wide portfolio of experiences for various types of players, with the opportunity to benefit from all of them.
It is equivalent to the example of an imaginary movie theatre that shows a single movie in all halls. Yes, this cinema will get a lot of money at first, because they can place ALL fans of this movie in all of the cinema halls. But then they will lose it all when people will get tired of this one movie. And even if these people absolutely love to re-watch that movie, they will still visit the other cinemas to watch all the new stuff that comes out. Thus you lose money in the long term and give your own customer a reason to visit the competition.