Are MMOs eclipsing single-player?

Traditional single-player might be a dying breed if Internet advocates have their way.

I’ve been known to lament how locally-cooperative gameplay has dwindled at the expense of the increasing popularity of online multiplayer modes. Yes, it is unfortunate, but at least there will always be a solid single-player campaign that I can fall back on — or will there?

Those in the industry have been prognosticating the end of single-player for some time. EA Games’ label president Frank Gibeau told IGN in December 2010, "...online is where the innovation, and the action, is at." Video game consultant Mark Cerny built upon that statement, telling Eurogamer in August 2011, “I believe the traditional single-player game experience will be gone in three years.”

In the past, games often hooked you with a strong single-player campaign and sealed the deal with additional local modes that allowed you and your buddies to kill a few hours. The dawn of the Internet changed that image, and competitive modes now find their home with anyone who is online at the same time you are.

The popularity of playing with whomever you want whenever you want exploded with the popularity of massively multiplayer online games (MMOs). Franchises such as “Call of Duty” started pumping out a game per year with increasingly involved online modes and decreasingly expansive single-player campaign modes. For the first time, when new IPs debut, the inevitable question always is, “Will there be online features?”

With this new emphasis on how many features a game can offer opposed to how in-depth each feature will be, gamers are beginning to worry about the future of single-player experiences. However, I believe the real question isn’t the existence of single-player, but how it will change.

I don’t think online multiplayer modes will kill off single-player. If you’ve played online multiplayer, you know how repetitive the matches can become and how annoying random 12-year-olds can be. If you’ve played tablet and smartphone games, you know their inexpensive prices lead to short-lived and sometimes unfulfilling fun compared to an expansive single-player console game.

Further, there is a larger percentage of people who either do not like online shooter games or do not prefer them to single-player games than people realize. In a poll by IGN, almost a fourth of all gamers favored single-player because they either viewed games as fun and not a sport or they were turned off by the behavior of gamers in a repetitive and mindless environment.

That being said, single-player isn’t going away — although you can clearly see its evolution in games like “Call of Duty.” This title, originally coming out with a strong single-player war story for the PlayStation 2 (where online play was not prevalent), has transformed into a franchise more popular for its online multiplayer than its campaign. I see no fault with a game being designed for multiplayer (like “Dust 514”) until its implementation causes dwindling single-player hours.

“Call of Duty” is not unique. As another, more mild example, the “Assassin’s Creed” franchise has fallen victim to the trouble with online modes. The “Assassin’s Creed” games could satisfy a gamer with their single-player modes alone, but because of the prevalence of online multiplayer, developers added meaningless and commonplace capture the flag and death matches. The “Uncharted” franchise does the same shoehorning of online features.

Again, the problem is not with the mode, but implementation. From my perspective, “Uncharted 3” was a little lackluster compared to “Uncharted 2,” and “Uncharted 3” also had a more developed online multiplayer. “Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood” lost some single-player hours compared to “Assassin’s Creed 2,” and “AC: Brotherhood” was the first game in the franchise to implement online features. This could be merely a coincidence, but I think not.

Single-player campaigns aren’t disappearing, but changing to incorporate the Internet. Online multiplayer is joining the mix and connected single-player campaigns are starting to be implemented. This innovation is welcome — as long as these new features do not hinder the core single-player experience.

More Stories