In the run up to this year’s E3, rumours circulated that FromSoftware’s Shadows Die Twice teaser would be fully revealed, with analysts being torn on whether the new game would be a Bloodborne sequel or something different entirely. The developer wound up showing off Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, a new IP that streamlines the Souls formula. Fans may have expected From to reimagine or cut back on certain parts of Dark Souls’s essential design elements, but few really expected the veteran developer to drop multiplayer. Bundled in with various changes, the move to a single-player experience was seen as a core component in restoring multilayered and stable combat. Essentially, From was admitting that, to maximise the game’s potential, multiplayer would have to be abandoned; in just one trailer, single-player gaming was validated on Microsoft’s show floor.
At every corner, major publishers—even Bethesda—are itching to add multiplayer to their titles. Recently, Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick made an impassioned defence for single-player titles, but belied his statement by admitting that such stories are merely a path to multiplayer monetisation. Not many major games regress from multiplayer integration, with the majority of titles ditching campaigns first; in the case of Black Ops IIII, the single-player segment was seen as a tacked-on, irrelevant distraction. The industry in the West threatens to abandon traditional campaigns for economic gain. However, with Sekiro, From displays a regression from multiplayer and a doubling-down on classic solo play.
Of course, single-player games do not have the economic potential of multiplayer-focused efforts. Larger publishers need to remain financially competitive in a rapidly growing industry, and microtransactions suit competitive play. Online streaming and eSports, too, represent major avenues for revenue, and single-player games cannot match the longevity and viewership of competitive online play. Single-player games can bring in decent amounts of revenue, though, with God of War topping sales lists in various countries, as well as boasting the most-viewed game on Twitch near release. What single-player games lose in online sales, they can make up with long-term support, DLC, and legacy sales. FromSoftware is large enough now to ignore these economic needs, with Activision’s support for the Western release seemingly not affecting Sekiro‘s final outcome.
Sekiro is important for the single-player market as it is an example of trust being put back into the format. Multiplayer could have easily been tacked on to increase the title’s longevity, with Bloodborne and the Souls series living on due to a mixture of compelling player-versus-environment and player-versus-player online functionality. Instead, according to FromSoftware producer Robert Conkey, the developer has decided to trade in this longevity and financial gain to prioritise better gameplay. Most importantly, Conkey’s admission leads to something OnlySP has been saying since its inception: single-player games offer something different; provide for stronger, more focused content; and, most importantly, are a form that must be protected.
Of course, From is likely not done with the Souls franchise, and odds are that Sekiro is merely a one-off title; perhaps it will be the final single-player project from the developer, but that will be entirely dependent on sales. Even Souls-like games such as Nioh did not dare to forgo some form of multiplayer functionality, so perhaps this move will inspire an industry-wide trend in the genre to rethink its approach to solo play. In the end, Sekiro will be defined by its sales and quality, and, with this sort of bravery, FromSoftware will likely deliver a game that succeeds.