We’re fresh off the heels of E3 and while there were no new major platform announcements, the studios came strong with new titles. Bethesda unveiled more details about the latest installment in the Fallout franchise, Fallout 76, and we got a glimpse at Cyberpunk 2077, CD Projekt Red’s upcoming epic RPG release. There was no shortage of promising single-player titles announced for the year ahead. Shacknews put together a solid recap series of the full event which you can catch here.
However, not all gaming news of late has been positive as it relates to single-player games (SPGs). There’s been murmuring in the industry that streaming platforms like Twitch may in fact be ushering SPGs out the door. IGN felt so strongly about the matter it published a second article just a few weeks after the first. We even covered their first article briefly back in week 75 of the Roundup.
The struggle faced by single-player games and their streamers is a familiar one. As streaming platforms grow, and titles like Fortnite become more entrenched, it's a more common topic of debate. There's no arguing it's a challenge for streamers. But the notion that platforms like Twitch "kill" SPGs is complete nonsense.
At the heart of any successful SPG is an engaging story. The best single-player titles pull the player in, making them genuinely feel like they’re part of the story. The immersion is sometimes so complete you’ll glance up from the game you started last night and see daylight creeping in. Before true multiplayer existed, this was the criteria upon which games were measured.
Some games go a step further, incorporating alternate storylines to maximize replay value. A throwback game that incorporated this was Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces 2 by LucasArts. The story took the player into both familiar and new worlds within the Star Wars universe. Once in, the player’s decision-making brought him closer to or further from the Dark Side. Other similarly engaging titles that come to mind are: Baldur’s Gate, Divinity: Original Sin, and The Witcher 3. But there are loads more. Each has a unique way of empowering the player to craft an outcome more in line with his or her personal playstyle.
BTW - Dark side all the way!
Streaming these games can make for incredible audience engagement. Captivating streamers invite their audiences into the decision-making process, allowing viewers to leave their mark on the play-through, even if by proxy.
Even so, loads of people prefer to experience the story themselves before joining someone else on their journey. The spoiler factor is a BIG deal. The impact of this can be twofold for streamers. On one hand, they don’t want to spoil the game for themselves. On the other, they risk shedding viewers because people just forked over $60+ (looking at you, EA) for the promise of an immersive gaming experience. With thousands of other titles to watch why take the risk? Factor in stream chat and, well, we all know how that plays out.
While immersion has these and other benefits, it’s not without a major drawback for streaming: games get finished quickly. Replayability can compensate for this, but only to a degree. Even games with sprawling, epic worlds can get repetitive and turn off viewers. While the content might be amazing, you can only do so much with it before it gets stale. That’s a big reason why you never see any full-time Half-Life streamers - arguably the greatest single-player game of all time.
With Twitch now an essential way for gamers to discover new games, studios are increasingly more interested in multiplayer games to capitalize on the potential of live-streaming. And that’s exactly what the original IGN piece was getting at.
In short, developers they spoke to are leveling the blame on Twitch, YouTube, and others for their inability to move SPGs. Bear in mind, these conversations took place just two weeks before the God of War 4 release and it didn't struggle on Twitch. God of War’s performance illustrates the opposite - streaming platforms aren’t killing SPGs.
The way publishers are characterizing this trend is, at its core, disingenuous. Rather, the issue is more about a lack of creativity and a heavy reliance on outside investment.
In the video, Alanah Pearce shares that big studios and those with a reputation for making excellent SPGs are still at it. We’re seeing from titles like God of War 4, Witcher 3, and Fallout 4 (all sequels) that single-player can succeed and thrive. As of a year ago, Fallout 4 was Bethesda’s most successful game, selling 12 million copies on launch day. You won’t find it anywhere near the top of the directory on Twitch now (minus the Fallout 76 hype), but more to come on that.
Streaming platform Mixer is taking serious steps to make SPG streaming more engaging for the audience and less of a risk for streamers. Announced back in March, streamers on Mixer are able to share their controller with viewers. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s an exciting new option that’s sure to boost viewer engagement and retention. Also, how sweet is it to try out a new game this way? Lots of opportunity with this for publishers to pair up with streamers to help promote their titles.
AAA studios and top publishers succeed because they invest in their franchises and create engaging experiences gamers yearn to be a part of. The pre-release hype for these games on Twitch can be overwhelming. This happens because people LOVE to be immersed in the worlds these developers have created.
It has been and will always be true of SPGs - story and engaging gameplay are of utmost importance. Before blaming the market, have another look at the product.
Regarding investors, it’s not our place to criticize how people choose to run their business. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with bringing in outside investment. But with that choice comes consequences. Investors buy in because they see an opportunity to make more money more quickly than the next best alternative. If you go to the Twitch directory right now you’ll see row upon row of multiplayer titles, most with microtransactions (MTX) and a free-to-play (FTP) base. Games like League of Legends, CS:GO, Realm Royale, Fortnite, and PUBG dominate the main directory.
Today, from an investor’s standpoint, SPGs aren’t as alluring when there are MTX-rich opportunities to be had. Simply put, if you need investors to complete your game, either find investors that are 100% aligned with your vision, or accept the inevitable pivot. Blaming investors is just dodging accountability. There’s also nothing prohibiting SPGs from releasing more content over time (DLC). That’s been a business model for over a decade - and it works.
The real head-scratcher in this is the notion that marketing stops at Twitch and YouTube. This isn’t an argument against the power of live-streaming as a marketing vehicle for games. Fortnite is only the most recent in a long line that’s proven that point. But putting every marketing egg into a single basket is a recipe for trouble - whether SPG or otherwise. It comes down to laziness and, again, a lack of creativity. Gaming culture has spread far and wide, making multi-channel marketing more relevant than ever for the industry. That’s a win in any playbook, not a liability.
Just as with streaming, good content will always win. Gimmicks, trends, and the like will enjoy a brief stint in the spotlight, but it's fleeting. Publishers and developers are best to focus on creating the most solid product possible, while aiming that same creative energy towards a multi-faceted marketing approach. It’s the same story for any product - this isn’t a new phenomenon. Getting romantic about how things have always been done is the quickest path to irrelevance.
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