EA caused lots of news last year but what was certainly one of the most seismic developments of gaming news in 2017 was Electronic Arts closing down the widely-loved studio Visceral Games and re-evaluating their single player Star Wars game to better meet their own standards of what they thought stood a better chance of making them more money down the road. Fans of the studio were upset, and gamers in general were reminded of why EA has become the punching bag of the AAA video game publisher community. Aside from the headline and obvious reasons to be concerned or upset about EA closing Visceral, there was another takeaway from their explanation.
Even though EA did mention that the decision to change things about Visceral’s project wasn’t solely because they wanted to change a single-player game into a live service, they did beat around that idea by using phrases like “tracking closely with fundamental shifts in the marketplace” and “delivering an experience that players wanted to come back [to] and enjoy for a long time”. So it’s not much of a logical leap to infer that they were essentially saying that Visceral’s Star Wars game wasn’t closely enough aligned with current trends in gaming. Well, what could those current trends be?
Keep in mind this statement was before EA learned the hard lessons of Battlefront 2’s micro-transactions blowing up in their face, so its fair to assume that EA just wanted to focus more on making Star Wars games that continue to generate money after their sold. EA is obviously no stranger to this technique, as they have been betting on it with most of their major releases for a lot of the last several years and most of this year. And their not wrong with the basic premise. Multiplayer-focused games with tons of micro-transactions do tend to stand a better chance of pulling in more cash in a shorter amount of time than single-player games, generally speaking. Of course, as EA is well-aware, things change, though. While the past several years have seen many success stories with multiplayer and free-to-play games that offer less at the get-go but become fuller richer experiences once players decide to shell out more dough, since then, many developers have shown that single player experiences are still in great demand and when done right, can generate plenty of sales without the backlash that games with micro-transactions tend to get.
Obviously Sony and Nintendo has been their thing pretty consistently for the past 20 years by usually relying on the hardcore offline audience, but publishers can sometimes dismiss that because Sony and Nintendo aren’t just a game publishers but they have all the financial backing and resources of a massive electronics companies and therefore can afford to take more risks. However, one publisher has been challenging EA’s newly-adopted philosophy on their own turf and with their own rules. I speak of course of Bethesda. Last year’s Wolfenstein 2 and The Evil Within 2 had a somewhat slow sales start and landed right outside of the top 10 selling games of the month, with The Evil Within at 13 and Wolfenstein at 14. Although its important to note that, for some reason, Bethesda does not report digital sales to the tracking firm that calculates these figures, and one might assume they would be in that top 10 list if they had.
But even still, those two games have held their value and even now you’d be hard-pressed to find them for much less than half of their original price. On top of that, they have continued to get support to the glee of many fans, including but not limited to a first-person mode for The Evil Within 2. Doom and Dishonored 2 reviewed and sold extremely well in 2016 and they’ve both held value as well. and even though Doom does have a multiplayer, thats clearly not why people buy it. Encouragingly, Bethesda hasn’t been letting off the gas pedal either.
Possible DLC for Prey is probably coming, and It looks like Rage 2 and DOOM 2 (not to mention that Fallout 76 will reportedly have single player content as well) are on the horizon and single-player gamers are generally hyped and ready to buy this stuff. So its very interesting to wonder what EA might be thinking these days. They’ve spent many years doubling down on the idea of everything being online and never-ending, while Bethesda, a comparable company with less resources than EA, continues to roll forward with quality single-player games that people buy to keep Bethesda’s lights on.
I think the lesson here is that you don’t have to side with either style of game, but rather, its very smart to be open to both when they make more sense. Putting lots of focus on the multiplayer makes sense sometimes, and doing everything that you can to craft an interesting, challenging story-mode makes more sense for others. After all, Bethesda does have multiplayer experiences that are meant to keep players coming back and possibly spending more money.
Quake Champions is an excellent examples of that, and there’s nothing wrong with those games existing for that audience. Even if you personally don’t like them, well all know that keeping your portfolio diverse is a healthy thing. Keeping your audience just as diverse is also very smart in today’s gaming world. The fact of the matter is there’s just too many gamers out there for any publisher to decide to forsake an entire style of game. It makes no more sense to assume that singler players games are going away than it does to assume that games like Fortnite and Overwatch are. There’s more than enough room for our Wolfensteins to exist alongside our PUBGs.
Maybe EA will get the memo on this. Maybe EA will finally take in these lessons and embrace the reality that single player games are just as relevant as they ever were (with only A Way Out being a recent exception), and emphasizing games as a service in addition to quality single player experiences is perhaps a better way to go than seeing them as a replacement for them. Could we start to see the DICE-level of polish being re-focused on developing characters and story-lines instead of developing arbitrary systems? Probably not anytime soon. But one can dream.
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