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Long Live Single Player

Have modern publishing practices really changed the landscape of gaming forever?

Everyone’s favorite publisher, Electronic Arts, managed to be at the center of numerous industry-wide conflicts in 2017. There were three incidents caused by the company that are particularly concerning for gamers: Mass Effect: Andromeda falling extremely short of expectations (an in-depth story for another time), the closure of Visceral Games and cancellation of their single player Star Wars game, and the loot box controversy of Star Wars: Battlefront II. These issues tell an alarming tale of how one of the biggest publishers in the world is shifting its focus away from cultivated, rich single-player experiences, and moved towards multiplayer games built on the foundation of microtransactions. This led many gamers to ask: are single-player games dead? On the contrary, despite EA’s meddling, 2017 has shown us that single-player games are more popular than ever before.

With current video game pricing, a vast triple-A title costs players the same amount as a small and concentrated one: typically $60. As the budgets for triple-A games rise, however, publishers seek additional sources of revenue beyond the fixed price model. This is where downloadable content and microtransactions come into play. Intellectual properties began to incorporate the idea hiding content away in boxes and requiring players to spend money for a random chance at an item, as seen in Middle Earth: Shadow of War and Destiny 2. Players by and large fought back against this in 2017, taking the battle to the Internet, where the issue received worldwide recognition. Despite that, it seems publishers are more concerned with generating profits than with satisfying their customer base. The most egregious of these sins stems from EA and the once-highly-anticipated Star Wars: Battlefront II.

There are more Jedi and Sith in this photo, but it will cost you $20 to unlock them.

Although Battlefront II was expected to be a vast expansion of what was available in its predecessor, EA believed it was a good idea to store the majority of its content behind paywalls. Gamers did the math and figured out that unlocking all of the characters and upgrades would require over 4500 hours of playtime, or purchasing $2100 worth of loot boxes. Asking players to spend $60 on a game and then creating purchasable post-release content is one thing. Restricting content and forcing players to shell out money, let alone thousands of dollars, is another entirely. If this incident has shown us anything, it’s that gamers at large rejected EA’s attempts to wring us dry. After extremely poor sales and extended coverage by the media, EA later turned off microtransactions in Battlefront 2 and subsequently adjusted the prices for all of the content which could be unlocked with the in-game currency. It was a minor victory for gamers, but a victory nonetheless.

EA’s attempts to ruin a beloved series don’t tell the whole story. Even though there was a great fear that multiplayer games would take over the market, 2017 has been one of the best years for single-player games in recent memory. In the first quarter alone, gamers were introduced to Resident Evil VII, which reinvigorated the horror franchise; Horizon Zero Dawn with its grim and fascinating world; Persona 5, a game where its unique art and design becomes a character in itself; and, of course, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, most people’s unanimous choice for Game of the Year. Not to mention Yooka-Laylee, Nier: Automata, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, Super Mario Odyssey, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, Cuphead, South Park: The Fractured but Whole…my fingers are hurting as I try to type these all out.

It’s not just that these games deliver entertaining stories or don’t require an uninterrupted connection to the Internet. These games feel more complete. Nier: Automata doesn’t hide its 26 endings behind paywalls. Super Mario Odyssey doesn’t require players to purchase all of its kingdoms. Cuphead doesn’t provide the option to buy overpowered upgrades with real-world currency. The developers made these games for one reason: enjoyment. Everything we need to love the game is there, waiting for us to play and discover. It’s those games that leave the greatest lasting impact on us.

Breath of the Wild will probably change the landscape of gaming in the coming years.

2017 is the year that gamers bit back against publishers, rising as a single voice to proclaim, “Don’t tell us what games we want!” Publishers will always try to make the most money out of us, their customers, but we don’t have to settle for restrictive paywalls and gambling for content. This philosophy of the rise of single-player seems to be bleeding into 2018, where we can expect God of War, Kingdom Hearts III, Red Dead Redemption 2, Detroit: Become Human and many others over the coming months. Single-player games are here to stay, and I hope and believe that this rejection of microtransactions will lead to a renaissance in modern gaming and a “return to form” of developers who believe, much like us, in the power of a good game.

Written by Lee Feldman

Lee is a writer, game designer, and graduate student from Los Angeles, California. As a gamer, he is primarily inspired by fascinating worlds with deep stories, rich characters, and sharp gameplay, with a love of games both old and new. When he isn't collecting rare NES cartridges, he can be found obsessing over mixed martial arts.

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