The Sky Is Falling
The sky is falling. Again. For, like, the third time this week, probably. Want proof? Here you go .
It seems that single player games are, once again, doomed. This makes, what? Seven? Eight times that single player was declared dead? According to the article above, EA has single-handedly decided by fiat that the decades-long ascension of single player games must come to an end, and has brought swift justice to the delight of the beleaguered multiplayer game segment and it’s underserved fans by shitcanning a studio working on a single, linear, single player game. Oh, to have the kind of power to re-route an entire industry on such a whim!
OK, look. I’m 43 years old, and for a while there I was kind of happy that games were getting better in terms of visual fidelity. Then the whole 8-bit revolution happened, and we’re now awash with the kinds of visuals I had hoped were left behind for good in 1992. Remember Diablo, Blizzard’s AHDH clickfest whose sole mechanic was to see how fast you can get loot to spew across your screen in the shortest amount of time? That’s credited with helping to put the nail in the coffin of computer RPGs like Baldur’s Gate, but which doesn’t help explain the sudden and incontrovertible success of Divinity: Original Sin II.
The video game industry hasn’t been around for that long, but even the most myopic of us can see that it runs in cycles, like fashion, music, and (sadly) politics. Nothing is ever truly “dead” when it can be repurposed in a few years for a whole new generation who wishes they were participating in the heyday of a particular style. Believe me, I wish side-scrollers would DIAF, but here we are, and people are apparently enjoying them, so who am I to judge?
As massive as they are, EA is not the games industry, and a single game is not any kind of lynchpin. EA has a lot of latitude to make bold moves that would sink smaller companies, and although they seem to be as risk-averse as any other, they’re not above making changes that benefit themselves. If they believe that the most self-serving move they can make is to ape their cousin Activision’s success with Destiny, why wouldn’t they? They have the power, the knowledge, and the maneuvering room fueled by many different sub-studios to be able to do that. But let’s not forget when the games industry flocked to mobile and console and PC gamers bit their nails at the thought that we’d be getting no more Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed games (oh the humanity!). How’d that work out for us?
Big ticket AAA single player games take money, and if EA’s closing of Visceral and the repurposing of their single player Star Wars game is viewed as a vote of no confidence in that direction, then we have a few options as a community.
1. Bitch and moan about the future of the games industry like it’s totally not the 9th time the industry has been declared to be headed for a fiery demise.
2. Realize that other seismic shifts that have occurred throughout the (relatively few) years that have basically left us with…a continuingly functional games industry which produces all kinds of games we enjoy in all kinds of formats and all kinds of genres, including resurgence in roleplaying, single player, strategy, and — yes — obnoxious 8-bit side-scrollers.
The interesting thing about the games industry, unlike, say, the pharmaceutical industry or the auto industry, is that every vacuum left in the wake of a decision is an opportunity for someone else to fill the void. Games like Horizon: Zero Dawn and the Uncharted series are not cheap to make, so I’ve been told. As sexy as both of those are, visually, would people be willing to accept something just as good story wise and gameplay wise if it were at a lower fidelity and made for a lesser budget? Do we NOW decide which games are worth our time strictly by accounting methods? Do we care that HZD was pretty while we ignore the writing, the gameplay, and the ramifications of the experience? Just as Larian and Paradox have stepped in to fill the shoes of other giants in their genres, so will other companies do the same for genres that larger companies vacate as they use their wealth to chase the safe-bet-of-the-hour. If it comes to pass that companies like EA, Activision, and their wards opt to spend their money chasing phantoms of each other’s successes, it’s not going to close the door on other studios. Far from it; it’ll take the corporateness out of the decision making and inject new blood into those genres.
I really don’t see this as a problem. Sure, we are loosing what sounds like would have been a really cool single player Star Wars game. I’d have loved to have had a “Force Uncharted” game. Like, really loved it. But lots of games are canceled or don’t pan out, and we still manage to find new games to get all hyped about. We spend our money where we think it matters, and if we decide that microtransactions in multiplayer games aren’t that place, then we save our pennies and give them to the smaller studios who ARE making the games we want to play. EA doesn’t speak for the consumer; they can only make what they think will sell, and it’s up to us to tell them whether they made the right decision or not.