Single-Player Gaming is Doomed!

By Shamus Posted Thursday Feb 16, 2006

Filed under: Video Games 30 comments

From the spamming shills at Gamespot, comes the article: Luminaries with ties to EA, Ubisoft, Sony, Microsoft converge to talk about the online future of the gaming industry. Here a bunch of industry heavyweights get together and bloviate about the future of games, while making it clear they don’t even understand the present. Earlier I already took them to task for making silly predictions of a disc-free future. Now I want to savage some of the idiotic things they have to say about multiplayer gaming. I mean rebut. Not savage. I don’t even know why I said that.

Anyway, let me just cherry-pick a few of the most senseless comments:

Doomed to obscurity: I’ll bet people never tried this game because it didn’t have multiplayer.

Lars Butler, former vice president of global online for Electronic Arts and current CEO of the upstart TWN, “Linear entertainment in single-player is to media what masturbation is to sex. It’ll always be there, but it is not the real experience.”

Very classy. And also total nonsense. Some poeple, even in this day of fancy board games and multiplayer ping-pong still choose to do the crossword. Playing against a human and playing against a system are totally different experiences, but each have their place and one is not superior to the other.

Raph Koster, chief creative officer of Sony Online Entertainment, “The players, once they go connected, they don’t go back. They find it difficult to go back to experiences where they can’t share experiences with others. Even any single-player game today is going to have wrapped around it the forums, the cheat sites, and so on endlessly.”

This is not true. I tried on-line gaming. I’ve played a few massively multiplayer games. I’ve played online deathmatch. I’ve played online RTS games. And I still prefer the single-player experience.

I like how he tries to include forums and cheat sites in as part of the multiplayer experience. I’m not buying that. I don’t care how you make your console system, nobody wants to surf the forums using a dual shock controller. When they go to the forums, they walk away from their Sony Playstation, sit down at the computer, and are clearly no longer playing your game. Trying to include the fun of fansites and forum chatter as part of the game itself is just silly. Pac-Man is a single-player game, and talking about Pac-Man with other people doesn’t transform it into a multiplayer game.

Koster again, “The entire video game industry’s history thus far has been an aberration. It has been a mutant monster only made possible by unconnected computers. People always play games together. All of you learned to play games with each other. When you were kids, you played tag, tea parties, cops and robbers, what have you. The single-player game is a strange mutant monster which has only existed for 21 years and is about to go away because it is unnatural and abnormal.”

These idiots are acting like they just invented online gaming. PC users have had online gaming for roughly a decade now, and single-player games like the The Sims and Roller Coaster Tycoon still top the charts.

Take the massive, record-breaking success of the bestselling series and money-making dynamo The Sims. Now add the magic of multiplayer to create The Sims Online, a mediocre also-ran that has yet to turn a profit.

All of this makes it clear that none of these guys have really sat down and done any actual multiplayer gaming. You know what multiplayer gaming is? It’s a 14-year old kid calling you a fag 100 times during the game because he thinks it’s funny. It’s cheaters. It’s people accusing YOU of cheating whenever they lose. It’s people disconnecting whenever they are about to lose. It’s lag and frustration over ping times. It’s people scamming and selling game items in EBay. It’s enduring a bunch of bad grammar, worse spelling, and inane chatter while looking for a suitable matchup in the lobby chatroom. It’s PK’s and teamkillers. It’s endless debate and ranting about game balance issues. It’s fat middle-aged men pretending to be 16-year-old elven girls. It’s hardcore gamers and casual gamers being thrown together and each group concluding the other is a bunch of freaks. It’s trying to learn a game by playing against people who have long since mastered it and who now derive enjoyment from taunting newbies. It’s not being able to play when the server or your net service goes down.

The multiplayer experience has a lot to offer games, but it won’t replace single-player gaming any more than the subway replaced cars. What is really going on here is that the console makers and console game publishers have seen how great multiplayer games are to their bottom line. This isn’t about “a better gaming experience”. This is about “not having to work so hard”. Connectivity in PC’s has led to the practice of releasing shoddy, bug-filled games and then patching them. This lets the developer ship a game before it’s done, which is critical to sales near the holidays or when facing a quickly flooding market. Publishers would also rather collect a monthly fee for games as opposed to a flat-rate. (Or better yet, both!) And finally, multiplayer gaming gives publishers the ultimate weapon against piracy, which is requiring users to identify themselves and create an account. It doesn’t matter if the user has mod chips or DVD burners, there is no way around the login screen.

I don’t have a problem with multiplayer. I’m all for it. What bugs me about this article is that a bunch of flacks were treated like objective visionaries. The industry is growing up, and people should know better by now.


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30 thoughts on “Single-Player Gaming is Doomed!

  1. Mom says:

    Don’t be so coy. Tell us what you REALLY think
    actually I noticed two vocabulary words that I wonder about. The first is bloviate, which seems to be the new buzz word about talk. I heard it for the first time about two weeks ago and now I read and hear it all over the net and talk radio. ( those two media are like co-joined twins. Joined at the head.)

    the othewr word is ping or ping time. I see that on literati, but wonder what it is? Maybe that is some inofrmation that will help me in that electrifyingly fast paced, multi-player game.

  2. Shamus says:

    Ping is how long it takes for a bit of information to get from you to the server. In a fast-paced game where timing matters, ping is everything. Ping is most often expressed in milliseconds, so a ping of 500 means that when you do something, it is a full half-second before the server knows about it. In a chat environment or slow-paced game, a ping of a few seconds is tolerable. In a deathmatch, you want a ping under 100, which is a tenth of a second. Ideally you want under 50, although pings like that are often hard to find.

  3. captain jekrface says:

    So normally when I write, I write to berate you and make you look stupid or to put it simply be a jerkface. with that said. I agree with you 101% I am an avid single player I detest playing games with people I can’t see if for no other reason than i can’t give them the bird. Also the idea that know enjoys games by themselves when they are young children is the most perposterous thing ive heard since i found out they were making another american idol. Apparently these corporate chieftans never played with yo-yos, legos or jacks or their own %$!*&?+ imagination.
    My own immagination is assuming that these guys if having played these with these toys must have played some sort of full contact versions that our shared biological mother shielded us from.
    Not all games can be multiplayer games. I mean imagine Grand Theft Auto a massive online multiplayer what a giant useless thing that would be. Yes I agree that MOMPs’ serve there purpose because after a period of time the menotinous slaughter of computer controlled enemys loses the luster that it once provided. Another problem that i have seen as of late is in reviews of video games. television shows such a X-play will dole out poor ratings simply because the multiplayer aspect is either “not up to par” or absent all together. and last but not least why in the blue balzes is all of the die depicted in your photo are placed on their lowest possible roll? and your a fag

    1. Paul says:

      I’m going to assume this one’s a troll. He must only be pretending to have spelled his username wrong, learned all of his English from text messages and the backs of various cereal boxes, and called Shamus a fag because he thought it was funny at the end of an article condemning that very practice.

      Otherwise, humanity is doomed.

      Either way, may you never procreate.

    2. Blue_Pie_Ninja says:

      Well GTA:Online is now out and… It is fuckin’ awesome, and fun, although there are still the squeaky twelvy trolls, but it is still fun with friends. And the game works fine. SO YOU ARE WRONG IN THAT PREDICTION!!!

  4. Shamus says:

    You are the first person to notice the low rolls on all the dice. Nice going.

    That’s worth 100xp.

  5. Christian Groff says:

    I agree with you about multiplayer on some games, like Halo 2 and WoW, but I’d like you to try to argue that stuff on the Pokemon franchise. Pokemon Diamond and Pearl are big hits, and the English versions have warned that “ESRB Note: The experience may be different online.” Yeah, I know that if I became a Half-Life junkie, I’d get flaked by profanity-spewing six-year olds, but since you have to exchange friend codes to do the online stuff on Pokemon, you can pick and choose who to battle with, and it’ll usually be someone who is polite and won’t be a potty-mouth over the voice chat. ^_^

  6. Adam says:

    Shamus, the more I read of your stuff, the more I agree with you.

  7. momo says:

    dawnload the sims online

  8. Evlkritter says:

    Shamus, I read your site now primarily for some ideas on what it takes to make a good game. (I aspire to a career in game development.) However, I am seeing a lot of signs that large-corporate game producers are going to decay into rotting-putrified remnants of their once successful and (occasionaly) creative selves due to the leadership of idiots. The options for where to go with my preferred career look a bit poor, seeming to be limited to 1) get paid to make crap, 2) risk bankruptcy to produce good games, 3) revolutionize the industry by using personal wealth to ‘motivate’ some changes in leadership.

    Unfortunately I don’t have much money…

  9. dyrnwyn says:

    In response to Christian Groff’s comment on the ESRB warning about internet interactions. They have to put it there becouse they don’t rate the online interactions so even if all you can do is play chess online they still have to put it there becouse it’s not rated.

  10. You forgot to mention that we’ve already had multiplayer gaming on single consoles. Apparently those guys never noticed that the NES had two controller ports.

    See, playing Eternal Champions against your pal is plenty like tag. Online gaming, on the other hand, is like having a game of tag at a masquerade ball where everyone else has been playing tag 11 hours a day for three years.

  11. OddlucK says:

    Nice analogy, Lucon. :)

    Personally, I enjoy both types of game (I’m a WoW junkie and a FF junkie). I agree that they’re ludicrous for suggesting that single-player gaming will disappear. However, it occurs to me that I’m writing this nearly three years after your post. I wonder what those same people would say today.

  12. Cleve Rton says:

    “It's enduring a bunch of bad grammer, worse spelling, and inane chatter”

    So it’s like reading your blog then?

    No but seriously, I like your blog, a lot of interesting stuff. I really wish you’d use a spell checker though. When you can’t even spell “grammar” correctly, the irony is overwhelming.

  13. Shamus says:

    I’m sure you could have let me know about my mistakes without insulting me. Clumsy fingers is less of a fault than being a jerk.

  14. Cleve Rton says:

    It wasn’t actually an insult, just a bad joke. I’m sorry you interpreted it that way (I can see why). You shouldn’t have done the counter-flame if you wanted the moral high ground though.

    Like I said, I enjoy your blog, and I think you have a lot of interesting ideas about where gaming is and where it should go in the future. Just run your posts through a spell checker first, that’s all I’m saying.

  15. Lurkz says:

    How exactly does “Linear entertainment in single-player” contrast SP/MP games rather than linear/non-linear SP games?

  16. I think Koster had a rather more sophisticated point than you’re giving him credit for, Shamus. Certainly, a majority of the population is E-type personalities. And certainly, a large portion of the “hardcore” gamers are more I-type personalities, which may explain their anger and hatred at having their secluded bubble penetrated by more outgoing people. One of the reasons for the explosive success of the Wii has to be the fact that much of its entertainment is fundamentally party-oriented: Get tons of people together and have silly fun, which is great for spectators. Similarly, I’ve seen dozens of people enjoying Rock Band, some people never picking up a controller, just watching the main band get through the levels. And as a kid, an astonishing amount of time (something I didn’t realize until I read Koster’s article) was spent playing games like Ninja Gaiden and Final Fantasy WITH FRIENDS. Sometimes we’d switch controllers, sometimes just talk during the time, but these were still fundamentally “single-player” experiences that were nonetheless social.

    I am sure the single-player experience will never disappear. After all, people still play solitaire too. But I think we’re going to see a direction towards all sorts of multiplayer or at least shared experiences, and I think that’s a good thing.

  17. dyrnwyn says:

    Also of note is the local and cooperative multiplayer that seems to be disappearing. Warhawk is only online, you can’t play with your friends in one building. Bots have also been removed completely from non-single player campaign modes. I miss when I could slaughter mindless machines with my friends and then die from brutal friendly fire due to their temporary lack of other things to kill.

  18. Kokblok says:

    Friendly fire is half the fun! (with my friends anyway)

  19. Max says:

    I think one important observation one has to make is that multiplayer as an IMPORTANT addition to single player content is important. Best example is Diablo and Diablo II, which were fun in single-player and excelled in CO-OP multiplayer. The same goes for the old DOOM, which again was even better in CO-OP. Or the newer Borderlands, which was mediocre if you play alone and excelled when you were with a buddy in a room.

    And this is the misunderstanding those CEOs have, they don’t understand the difference of old-fashioned play with a buddy IN FRONT OF you and someone somewhere on the internet.

    I like playing Pro Evolution Soccer with a mate at home, but I’d never play it online with some stranger.

  20. Hey Shamus, I just found your blog yesterday, and I think you hit the nail on the head when it comes to a lot of issues in gaming and design. These guys’ arguments show a fundamental lack of understanding, not just about gaming, but about the entire concept of “entertainment.”

    Applying their own logic, books are an “aberration,” since storytelling is “supposed” to be a social experience. Gathering people around and telling stories to the group is definitely a lot of fun, but it is NOT the same experience as reading a book, and it is not inherently superior. It’s just different.

    And what about movies? Is the DVD and Blu-Ray industry a “mutant monster” because movies were ONLY meant to be shown in packed theaters? I mean, I don’t know… Maybe I’d like to watch my movie in the comfort of my own home, with my own snacks and drinks that don’t cost me a month’s rent, gigantic speakers doing their best to destroy my hearing, and worrying about stepping in somebody’s old chewing gum.

    Are concerts the only “right” way to listen to music? Does that mean wearing headphones is some kind of sick, deviant behavior?

    I’m sorry this comment is so long, but really, they couldn’t possibly have thought these arguments through to their logical conclusion. People who think this way should not have so much influence on gaming. But, I’m not scared of it because ultimately, the internet allows markets to self-correct, and stupid ideas like this tend to die out over time. Single player and multiplayer gaming are different experiences, each with its own merits, and the idea that one will completely rule out the other just makes no logical sense.

  21. Bob says:

    According to the sycophantic suck-up “experts,” I am a freaky mutant. I play Total War on a regular basis, and, if anyone has ever played that, it is a 100% single player game. I don’t know about any of these wackos, but I think that any game that has a poor Campaign or lousy skirmish mode is not worth the money. (Warcraft III, for example, had a very sucky single-player option) Obviously, MMO’s and multiplayer options are fun, but they require a bunch of time all at once. (Lack of a pause button) Therefore, single player gaming is better for people, like me, who have better things to do than sit in front of a computer screen for five hours on end, waiting to see if the raid group is ready. Anyhow, there is my opinion. And if you disagree with me, you are probably a racist.

  22. FatPope says:

    I don’t know why I was looking through an article from for years ago but something struck me as I was reading it.

    Koster…Koster…Where have I heard that name before?

    Then I looked on my desk where literally 3 inches from my keyboard I found sitting “A Theory of Fun for Game Design” by Raph Koster. It’s actually a good read, it delves into what actually makes gameplay itself fun, once you remove all the story, characters, graphics and general shinyness.

    Even more interesting is that it entirely contradicts his statements in this article

  23. Gamer417 says:

    Although the article is a fair few years old now, this was a great read! Heh. I’ve always been more into single player gaming than MMO although I did have a stint back in the C&C/Quake days though.

  24. The Ultimate D says:

    I suppose since Captain Jekrface mentioned it then I guess i’ll answer it(or at least delve into it more) unless of course it was already answered and im just not seeing it(I didn’t read all of the comments) and im also pretty sure others have noticed it, but I just feel obligated to say it. I’ll say that the reason that the Dice are at their lowest possible roll are not actually at their lowest possible roll, but they are numbering the comments so it will increase in number as long as everyone keeps commenting on that page. The highest die roll is 20(As far as I can see) so since thats the case another die will just appear next to it and count up then repeat. So people can actually accidentily say that they are “First” or whatever number that they are. I only just notice this when Captain Jerkface said something about it and I thought it was quite clever.

    I have just today found out about your Blog and have found it a very interesting and enjoyable experience. I don’t believe I will ever read all of your entries, but I still hope you continue with your Blogging, for,you know… entertainment and happiness….Oh! and yours as well and stuff. This has been my first comment so far.

  25. Natureguy85 says:

    I wish I’d read this article back when you wrote it. I think we’ve seen a decline in single player games or at least modes recently, at least when it comes to AAA developers. It may just be my limited, anecdotal experience though.

    What I think it comes down to is that multiplayer is the main, if not only, reason to buy a game when it comes out. With so many games to play, it’s easy to wait for something to go on sale. This means less money for the creators. But waiting might mean the online community dies out, so if you want multiplayer, you’d better get in right away.

    1. redsoxfantom says:

      Greetings from the world of the future!

      Anyway, I totally agree with you about the online community being key to these games. It feels like the executives Shamus is talking about have won out these past few years, because we’ve had a glut of multiplayer-only (or multiplayer-as-really-the-only-point-yes-I’m-looking-at-you-COD) AAA games for a while now. So future time travelers can properly calibrate their chronometers, right now we’ve got Overwatch, Battlefield 1, whatever the latest Call of Duty is, Battleborn, and tons others that I’m not thinking of.

      Problem is, there’s such a glut of these games (and more coming out every year), that there’s no time for a proper community to form around them. Look at Star Wars Battlefront. Came out in 2015, cost millions to make, might as well be a ghost town now. Whereas you had a game like Halo 2 that got room to breath, and because of that had a huge community literally right up until the day they shut it down. These days, if a game isn’t a groundbreaking smash hit within a month of coming out, then financially it’s a total failure.

      I’m not sure what the solution is because I love me some multiplayer and singleplayer, but it can’t go on like this for long. Hopefully the cycle will swing around again and we’ll go back to saner release schedules and let games have their time in the sun.

      1. Zak McKracken says:

        actually, most of the games I play are still singleplayer, but they’re also not blockbuster games. Turns out the future’s game market can accommodate more than one type of game. although different games have taken over the lead, they did so by growing, and the market grew to accommodate them, but single-player games are still frequent enough.

        Now, online DRM… that’s another story. I’m thinking that this is the actual reason for those execs to hype multiplayer: It gives them a reason to have the game be online “anyway”, and connected to a company-controlled server, and why would any customer not like that?

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