Isabel Briggs Myers once said, “Extroverts… cannot understand life until they have lived it. Introverts… cannot live life until they understand it.” When applied to the video game industry, Myers’s quote identifies two types of gamers, Multiplayers and Single-players. Over the past decade, video game development, in general, has shifted towards catering to the former’s market, choosing to ignore a once-glamorous center in favor of glorifying a market more concerned with instant gratification. Unfortunately, the market’s shift towards the extroverted gamers (Multiplayers) has devastated the original core of what made video games so spectacularly popular in the beginning: Introverts’ (Single-players’) preferences. The move towards multiplayer allows developers to forget, or flat-out ignore, the elements that make single-player games both important and astounding: story, immersion, integrity, and experimentation.
Stories have been a central element of both entertainment and education since humanity first developed speech. A good, enthralling narrative engages the mind more effectively than competing online, hoping to pull a trigger faster than the next person. Stories, whether passed on orally, literary, or artistically, give people the opportunity to be part of something greater than themselves—to learn how to deal with adversity through someone else’s eyes. Truly emotional narratives offer more than a journey from point A to point B. Indeed, the most captivating tales cover aspects of the human struggle in such a gripping manner that players walk away with a newfound perspective for their own trials. Even in the most fantastical settings, stories ground audiences by drawing parallels between the protagonists’ struggles and the audience’s own. Ignoring this potentially-moving experience robs gamers of a platform on which to learn, grow, and understand what being alive means. Moreover, for those introverts who are plagued by social anxiety or other conditions that make interacting with others difficult, the single-player experience gives them an outlet to acquire the tools needed to survive in a world that thrives on sociability.
To argue multiplayer is irrelevant or monotonous would be shortsighted. Truthfully, multiplayer has merit, including the application of the social tools garnered from single-player stories to the online community. However, neither multiplayer nor single-player should compete to overshadow the other. Rather, the two should share the vast video games market. Sadly, multiplayer games often hold a much stronger position due to the constant stream of quickly-developed aftermarket content that is delivered electronically to players. Although, multiplayer games do not monopolize additional content. As evidenced by titles such as Dragon Age: Inquisition, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and Grand Theft Auto IV, single-player games also have the ability to gain additional content after the initial release. This content can also keep players engaged in the game, while offering new stories in the same world, often featuring the same characters. Even if slightly shorter, these stories still provide valuable gameplay and educational plots centered around character development and engaging adventures. Downloadable content (DLC) is an underutilized feature among single-player games. Additional environments in first-person shooters (the dominant genre of multiplayer games) keep players involved by evolving and expanding already-released titles. Similarly, DLC in single-player games gives developers more time to tweak additional stories, in-game mechanics, and items to maintain player interest, satisfaction, and immersion.
As the fuel that ignites the fire of a gamer’s passion, immersion is a critical component to any successful video game. Immersion is every bit as crucial as a compelling story, for both work hand-in-hand to stimulate a gamer’s commitment to the world in which the game takes place. Without immersion, players lack the motivation to spend time traversing the game world. However, thrusting players into said world takes more than the story. Quality audio, professional voice acting, and superb graphics must also be present to create a truly immersive experience, and nothing has a better claim to immersion than single-player games. Single-player games require passion; developers must pour everything they have into the game’s production. That dedication will bear fruit in the form of an abiding loyalty developers would find difficult to waver, unless said developers replace their hard work with complacency and subpar products. Immersion is especially pivotal for gamers who dive into a video game’s story for the sake of escaping reality. Whether a particular gamer’s stress, anxiety, depression, or fatigue stems from other people or from the tedium of their everyday lives (jobs, family responsibilities, etcetera), diving into a fictional world that they have some semblance of control provides a much-needed form of relaxation and rehabilitation. In other words, Single-players immersing themselves in a video game allows them to recharge, replenishing their strength to tackle future stressful days.
Immersion, while not nonexistent, is not as easily achieved in multiplayer games. The required interaction with other players can often break a gamer’s immersion. Chatting, competing, and even coordinating with other players, while often entertaining and necessary, are a few of the more civilized disruptions in an immersive gameplay experience. However, gamers are also aware of how frustrating the online gaming community can be, and how an experience can be ruined by the unneeded comments or actions of a rude or overconfident competitor. Forcing players to interact with an online community, if they wish to experience enough of the game’s content to feel gratified, is an exemplary method of losing not just customers, but supposedly-valued fans of a given franchise. A recent example of this is the release of 2015’s Star Wars: Battlefront, a game that the developers focused primarily on multiplayer content. As such, the game was heavily criticized, particularly for lacking a single-player campaign. The developers behind Battlefront eventually updated the game to include offline, single-player skirmish battles, but the update did little to curtail the relatively bitter criticism of both Star Wars fans and video game connoisseurs. Furthermore, when a multiplayer game does feature single-player content, the content is often barebones with an utter lack of replay value. Games such as For Honor and Rainbow Six: Siege are prime examples of multiplayer games that try to placate Single-players with austere single-player modes. Heavily emphasizing multiplayer often alienates gamers who ache for a single-player experience. The two game modes (multiplayer and single-player) can easily co-exist, yet the single-player market becomes less tapped every day. Furthermore, by remaining silent about the withering single-player conundrum, the gaming community, as a whole, permits developers to reinforce and encourage this culture of instant gratification in exchange for sacrificing their integrity.
Much like the loyalty and recurring purchases developers and publishers crave from fans of their products, gamers should demand with equal expectation that developers maintain their integrity. Multiplayer games cannot hold developers as accountable for their products as well as single-player games. When developers release a multiplayer-focused game, they do so knowing that problems can be fixed later via a virtual update. Powerful titles, including Call of Duty and Battlefield, are updated frequently, usually with minor fixes, like patching exploits in multiplayer maps or tweaking weapon statistics in an effort to make the virtual playing field fairer. Nevertheless, the trend of companies deliberately pushing out titles before they are ready, solely to satisfy an impatient community, caused the industry to deteriorate into greedy iniquity. However, hope is always available to the gamers who wish to hold developers accountable. That hope, combined with the motivation of passionate gamers to take action, shines the brightest beacon on single-player games. Conversely, if a developer creates and releases a single-player game before the project is ready, intending to fix any issues after the game has been out for a while, gamers’ lividity will conflagrate across the virtual world. The conflagration will scorch every developer and publisher associated with the subpar product. Single-player games force developers to put forth a greater effort, for if they languish beneath rushed development and complacency, the time and effort put into their game will be for naught. When a developer releases a substandard single-player game, their sales drop, customer loyalty falters, and outrage ensues. Assassin’s Creed: Unity and Syndicate’s releases were adverse affairs due to poor reception of the former, because the game felt like a rushed project. Ubisoft’s complacency hurt fan loyalty, which carried over into the lower sales of Syndicate. Single-player games, in a way multiplayer games cannot, keep developers and publishers honest, and perhaps the responsibility of maintaining their integrity has become too much for them. Thus, the industry has shifted towards more multiplayer games.
Arguments have been made that single-player games simply do not pay the bills (see Starbreeze Studios) due to developers being unable to provide additional content with a continuous stream of revenue. However, if developers put forth the effort to actually make a quality single-player game, consumers would be willing to spend some extra money on DLC, just as said consumers invariably do on DLC for multiplayer games. Again, this calls for integrity and holding developers accountable. For example, fans holding a developer accountable affected the reception of Mass Effect: Andromeda, a game that was heavily anticipated from the moment of announcement. When Andromeda was released, Bioware received tons of flak for the poor facial expressions, animations, and shoddy dialogue. Soon after the release, though not soon enough, Bioware released an update that supposedly remedied some of these issues. While not all the issues were resolved, Bioware was held accountable, and this sense of responsibility forced them to take action, lest their complacency cost them sales with future products. Unfortunately, that late response could not save the Mass Effect series from being put on hold. If gamers were motivated to hold developers accountable more often, perhaps the already-great video game industry would be far greater. Companies would be more willing to venture out of their comfort zones and experiment with newer, more innovative ideas, provided they were required to meet a higher standard.
Single-player games are the perfect market for developers to implement and test new ideas. After building up a reputation with their loyal fans, developers can use that established integrity to fuel their creative sparks. If an innovation works in a Single-Player’s world, the next step could be to move forward with the world of Multiplayers. This progression occurred with titles such as Star Wars: The Old Republic, an MMO developed by Bioware. Star Wars: The Old Republic is, technically, the third installment in the Knights of the Old Republic series and serves as the culmination of innovative ideas introduced by Bioware in 2002’s Knights of the Old Republic. These innovations include everything from story ideas to game mechanics and character abilities. Bioware drew inspiration from Star Wars lore, of course, but dug deeper into their creative wells to establish a unique spin on the Star Wars universe.
However, the most brilliant use of experimentation is Blizzard’s journey as a video game developer. Their masterful handling of the Warcraft video game series, which began as single-player, real-time strategy games, has given them a fanbase so loyal, the company has branched out with several different titles at once. Each Warcraft game served to move the overarching storyline and lore of Warcraft forward and deeper, impressing fans with gameplay and enthralling plots. Thus, Blizzard gained a loyal following of dedicated players who came back for each installment of Warcraft. From there, Blizzard was able to launch their most popular and innovative product to date: the heavy-hitting World of Warcraft, widely considered the emperor of MMORPGs. Blizzard’s integrity allowed them to try new ideas, everything from new characters and species to various types of magic and game mechanics, including elements of the graphics engine Blizzard used in Warcraft III. Fans loyal to both Warcraft and Blizzard even picked up the company’s other games when they were released, such as the Starcraft series, Heroes of the Storm, and the popular Overwatch.
Single-player games are the foundation of the video game industry, and developers would do well to not ignore fans who thrive on immersing in a world where interaction with other gamers is optional. Developers can achieve new heights with their products, if they place more emphasis on the single-player aspects of their games, especially if the game’s foundation revolves around its story. A compelling narrative that focuses on intellectual stimulation and heart-pounding emotions will enliven passion within gamers. Immersion that thrusts gamers into a realm where they can forget about their real-life troubles and be part of something beyond themselves will offer a source of relaxation. Maintaining integrity will motivate fans to return and participate in more of the company’s content. Experimentation will help drive the video game industry forward. The video game industry did not thrive by appealing to one market alone. Rather, speaking to several types of players is what has brought the gaming community together to fall in love with different worlds and characters. These gamers—the Single-Players—are the backbone of the industry, and, without them, this great and beloved center of fantasy will crumble.