Single-player video games have been on the decline for years. Plenty of games have included multiplayer modes and ways to get as much money from consumers as possible. However, surprising news from this week made me realize the industry may be in even worse shape than I thought.
Tuesday, Oct. 17, Electronic Arts shut down Visceral Games, the developers of the Dead Space franchise, and delayed their upcoming “Star Wars” game due to a change in vision. The game is now being developed by EA Worldwide Studios and EA Vancouver, and has shifted from a story-focused title to something completely different.
Patrick Soderlund, the executive vice president at EA, made a statement about this change on the Electronic Arts website.
He said, in a particularly interesting part of the message, “Throughout the development process, we have been testing the game concept with players ... It has become clear that, to deliver an experience that players will want to come back to and enjoy for a long time to come, we needed to pivot the design. We will maintain the stunning visuals, authenticity in the Star Wars universe and focus on bringing a Star Wars story to life. Importantly, we are shifting the game to be a broader experience that allows for more variety and player agency.”
This statement indicates the original game was designed similarly to the “Dead Space” or “Uncharted” games. I was very much looking forward to this type of story-focused game in the “Star Wars” universe. Based on the statement by Soderlund, however, the game has been changed to something like “Destiny,” which is very disappointing; EA wants to make a game people have to play with others for hours to enjoy it, instead of making a game people want to play themselves. Don’t get me wrong, I liked “Destiny,” and have played hours of it. However, I don’t think I could ever say I prefer its multiplayer focus to a single-player-focused game.
My two favorite games of last year, “Doom” and “Hitman,” had multiplayer features that weren’t needed. For “Hitman,” it has to be online for players to save their progress or use upgrades they have unlocked. This feature, if you could call it one, almost ruined the game for me, but the actual gameplay was amazing. These kinds of additions are not needed, and are a bad trend.
The past few years, there have not been many games without multiplayer mode, with Nintendo games as an exception. Games like “The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt,” “Batman: Arkham Knight” and “Persona 5” are some of those few games that do not have one. “The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt” is one of the best, and most beautifully designed games, I have ever played. It doesn’t need multiplayer for me to keep playing, and there aren’t many games that do.
This change from single-player to multiplayer has also affected how companies try to get money from the consumer. I am talking about loot boxes and in-game purchasable items. These are ways companies are able to get money from consumers without even releasing downloadable content. Two recent games that have used these methods to take advantage of consumers are “Overwatch” and “Middle-Earth: Shadow of War.”
The in-game purchases in “Middle-Earth: Shadow of War” are all about making the game easier. Don’t want to waste time having to recruit a high-level orc into your army? Just buy the orc using the in-game store. I have not played the game, but according to many journalists that have, the game is loaded with these kinds of optional transactions.
Daniel Friedman, a writer at Polygon, said, “You need 100,000 experience points for each of the last 10 levels to get to the cap of 60. There are no campaign missions in the final act, so players have to grind randomly-generated Nemesis missions to level up. Because Nemesis missions only award 3,000 to 4,000 points each, including points you get for killing or dominating a captain, you’ll have to run several hundred of them to reach the level cap. Shadow of War, of course, is happy to sell you experience point boosts for about a dollar each that will cut that grind in half.”
In-game purchase systems like these are wrong, and have appeared due to the single-player business model’s weaknesses.
Another company that was in hot water this week was Activison Blizzard, after a patent that was granted to them showed a new technique that might make micro-transactions in video games even more despicable.
An article written by Heather Alexandra at Kotaku described an important part of this patent: “For example, microtransaction engine 128 may identify a junior player to match with a marquee player based on a player profile of the junior player. In a particular example, the junior player may wish to become an expert sniper in a game ... (so) microtransaction engine 128 may match the junior player with a player that is a highly skilled sniper in the game. In this manner, the junior player may be encouraged to make game-related purchases such as a rifle or other item used by the highly skilled sniper.”
This patent is directly trying to get players to spend money on the game after consumers have already bought the product. It uses secret methods to hide this, making players want to purchase these products to get better.
The single-player game may be on the decline, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. The only way to change these kinds of sleazy business practices is to buy the products that don’t support these methods. In short, buy games like “The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt,” and not “Middle-Earth: Shadow of War.”