Amy Hennig is known for directing and writing incredible single-player games, such as Jak 3, the first Uncharted trilogy, and she was even working on a new Star Wars title with Visceral Games. Whether you’ve played any of her titles or not, you can’t deny the impact Hennig has had on modern storytelling in video games.
Recently at Gamelab 2018, Hennig had a chance to be interviewed by Geoff Keighley and answer some fan questions. One member in the audience asked about the “death of single-player games” and her thoughts on it. Rather than saying these games were going extinct, Hennig explained that the current state of the industry is holding back their potential:
“God bless Sony for supporting these kinds of games, because they’re terrifying to make. They’re very expensive, and it doesn’t suit the model of having a massive open world or hours and hours of gameplay or running a live service, which is what everybody is shooting for these days.
“It’s not that we’re looking at the death of single-player games, or that players don’t want that. Some publishers are going to fall on one end of that spectrum or another based on their business plan. Fair enough. It’s just that the traditional ways we’ve done that are getting harder and harder to support. That’s why I’ve talked in the past about feeling like we’re in an inflection point in the industry. We’ve talked about this for a long time. How do we keep on making games like this when they’re getting prohibitively expensive? We don’t want to break the single-player experience, but there’s pressure to provide more and more at the same price point games have always been.
“That isn’t sustainable, I believe. I think it breaks the purpose of a single-player game. I was saying to some people here, I play games because I want to finish them. I want to see the story. I like the arc of a story. I don’t see the ends of most games. How crazy is it that we say it’s about narrative, but we make games where a fraction of the audience sees the end of the game? That’s heartbreaking.” — Amy Hennig
Hennig makes a really good point here. Many games that emphasize the importance of story often have a lot of filler content to keep the player engaged for a long period of time, such as open worlds, side quests, and other things designed to distract you from the main story. While this works for some gamers, other people may have just wanted the game for the interesting story.
For example, I’m deeply interested in the lore of Assassin’s Creed. But I honestly can’t be bothered to slog through a massive open world every year just to get a few new story tidbits. The gameplay in recent Assassin’s Creed titles hasn’t been engaging enough to make me interested enough to continue the story. Origins has been sitting on my shelf for almost a year now because of this.
Another point she made is in regards to the cost of single-player games. Some developers do just want to tell an interesting story, keeping gameplay segments short and sweet so it doesn’t break up the flow. Life is Strange is great at this. Since most people are playing for the story and characters, Dontnod knows that focusing too heavily on walking around and clicking on everything may be boring for some people. But others may like that, so they’ve sprinkled in optional objects to examine. You could play through the entirety of the game in just an afternoon if you wanted to, so a $20 price tag is justifiable.
But what if Life is Strange wasn’t released episodically and it was a project with a large budget backed by Square Enix? Would it still be $20, or do you think the company would have pushed a physical release for $60? The game doesn’t change at all except maybe for some additional scenes and polish. Life is Strange would turn into an overpriced single player experience rather than the critically-acclaimed, heartwarming story we’ve grown to appreciate.
A price tag can make all the difference in the world. Take The Order: 1886 as a particularly dreadful example of this. When the game was confirmed to only be about five hours long, the community reacted with an overwhelmingly negative response. Many people enjoyed what they played, but the short length at a price tag of $60 was enough to leave a bitter taste in everyone’s mouth.
So how do we fix the prices when development costs are so high? Hennig thinks the introduction of a subscription model may improve the way these games are brought to the world. This could work in theory, where a single price is paid each month to play games of all sizes. Microsoft is already embracing a subscription service of their own, and other companies may follow.
What does the future hold for single-player games? It’s honestly hard to say. Many companies undoubtedly know online multiplayer games are insanely profitable, and opting to make a story-driven game is like signing your own bankruptcy papers at this point. But I think there will always be a core audience that will demand these experiences.
What do you guys think? Are single-player games here to stay? Does the industry need to adapt to allow these titles to continue development? Let us know what you think in the comments below!