Friends and family, we are gathered here today to say our farewells to our friend, our confidante, our constant companion: the single player game. As gaming has evolved and the rise of multiplayer games dominated the market, single player games declined until there was no longer a place for them in the indust… wait, what? Single player games are selling like crazy? But didn’t all the publishers say there’s no market for them? Oooohh. I see. They’re full of shit again. False alarm everyone!
The “conventional wisdom” touted by gaming publishers over the last few years has been the the single player game experience has been dying as more and more online games become available. You can see it in action as online and multiplayer modes are shoehorned into every title imaginable and some games literally removing single player content, such as COD4. This is, however, factually bullshit.
Red Dead Redemption 2, the third game in the Red Dead series (because game title logic is batshit nuts) just set the record for biggest weekend launch sales in the entertainment industry history. Not games. Entertainment. Music, movies, books, all of it. The weekend part is important because it’s not the biggest initial launch sales ever. That belongs to Grand Theft Auto V. The fact remains that a single player game is the second biggest entertainment product launch of all time. Yes, it has multiplayer coming, but at launch it is single player. Seems pretty alive to me.
Another game had a pretty solid release this year. You may have heard of it, God of War. That game sold 3.1 million units in three days. That’s more copies than 18 of the 50 United States have people. If every person in Albania was given one you’d still be 200,000 units short of what was sold. In three damn days! It passed the 80 million mark a few months later.
How about Breath of the Wild? 10 million copies total. There have only been 22 million Switch consoles sold. Spider-Man sold 3.3 million its first three days. Far Cry 5 (yes it has online stuff but it’s primarily a single player game shut up) had 310 million dollars in sales it’s first week. Indie hits like Undertale and Stardew Valley sold millions of units each and continue to shine as examples of single player games done well.
Arguably the most prolific argument for the success of single player games is The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. That game had been released and rereleased so many times that it passed absurd years ago. You can play a version of that game on your Alexa. You can play Skyrim on the speaker tube you bought to ask what the fucking weather was so you didnt have to bother looki g outside!
So what is driving this argument that single player gaming is a thing of the past if it’s so successful? It’s because it cant be monetized the way multiplayer can. The natural instinct ingrained in modern consumers to “keep up with the Joneses” makes it easier to sell things in games. We naturally want things if other people have them. It’s just who we are as people. The problem is that it’s making things worse.
Something curious happened a few years ago. Right before Bethesda released Fallout 4 they launched a little mobile game called Fallout Shelter. It was a simple game, just build a shelter for little cartoon dwellers to inhabit and manage it’s resources. It was a huge success. People that had never been heard of the franchise started playing it and absolutely loved it. It was a massive hit. In an effort to find out what had driven it’s success, polls showed it had one major advantage that so many would have seen as a flaw: no multiple elements. You didn’t have to compete with other players. There was no pressure to constantly interact with the game. This allowed people to enjoy it at their own pace. That lack of pressure made the choice to invest time into the game more appealing because it wasn’t a matter of competition.
As the world gets more and more online oriented, the idea of solitary experiences being available is more important than ever. Having the choice to disconnect from the rest of the world and enjoy something as an individual is a needed respite from our always connected lives. Luckily, despite what some may say, that option is alive and well. Just as we shouldn’t listen to all the hype, we also have to be careful about listening to the doubts.
It’s dangerous and fun to go alone,