The quote you see before you was taken earlier this year, a month or so before the Game Developers Conference, where Koster would make a keynote speech about the importance of "fun" in gaming. Now, as I outlined in a previous editorial, this is a great thing; it's entirely necessary to pursue entertainment rather than the ego-driven pretentious trash we see so often. However, and I'm sure this is what you took notice of first, the blunt wording of his comment is not only wrong in a factual sense (I had no idea video games had only been around for 21 years!), the very implication that single-player games are a pox on our industry is ludicrous. But what of "...and is about to go away...?" Well, as much as we disagree of a variety of things, Mr. Koster might have a point.
In Search of Player 1
By: Karl Castaneda
In a recent podcast, Michael Krakulik and Jerry Holkins (better known as their comic counterparts Gabe and Tycho, respectively, from Penny Arcade) discussed this very subject, with Krahulik commenting that even though he loved playing Square Enix's Kingdom Hearts II, the fact that he couldn't show off his progress is a multiplayer environment was something of a hindrance on his experience. And in the advent of games like World of Warcraft and EverQuest, can you blame him? It's an entire world with which to meet new people and see the effects of your actions on real players, not AI-controlled NPCs.
The fact of the matter is, the prevalence of quality single-player games is waning; how long will it be before it vanishes, just as Ralph Koster predicted above? How long until your favorite franchises are morphed into series completely unlike their original intent?
As subtle as it may have seemed, the mutation's already started. Look at Nintendo's Big 3 and their shift to multiplayer; NEW Super Mario Bros. features 2-player races to the finish, Zelda had its stint with Four Swords; even Metroid can't escape it, having recently been turned into a full-blown first person shooter. Sure, they're all still good games, but with increased emphasis on multiplayer, which side will the tilt be on with the next iteration?
Final Fantasy is an MMORPG. You can play Metal Gear Solid across the country. There are two online Resident Evil games. These are only a few more well-known examples of the sneaky switch to adding multiplayer content. And because they're profitable, for what reason should the developer stick to mere aspects? Why not slide over the whole concept?
But Why Now?
So now you're wondering why the shift is happening so forcefully now instead of five, ten, or even fifteen years ago. The obvious answer is, with more advanced technology and the country's gradual slip into Broadband, online matchmaking is easy, and since most online games (whether played centrally on Xbox Live or on your PC) charge a monthly fee, it's like the customer who keeps on consuming... for a fee, of course.
Meanwhile, the gaming public at large is voraciously supporting quick and entertaining games, and it's much easy to design a multiplayer game with a mainstream concept than an 80-hour adventuring title. So while there are still those Oblivions and San Andreases (GTA, by the way, had multiplayer on the PSP), how many majorly successful exclusively single-player releases can you name from the past year? Chances are, not that many. And if you narrow it down to games that aren't a part of a pre-existing franchise, the number sinks even lower.
So is Koster Right? What's the Solution?
Ralph Koster is an employee of Sony Online Entertainment. You know, those guys that make Star Wars Galaxies and EverQuest. As someone who works exclusively with multiplayer games, how could he be anything but biased? Some of the greatest games of the generation (and of the future) are (or will be) groundbreaking. Resident Evil 4, ICO, Psychonauts, God of War, and the upcoming Twilight Princess. To say that these games have nothing to offer is insane. Our problem isn't that single-player titles have outstayed their welcome, far from it; it's that the public in general has turned a blind eye to the sub-genre in favor of online ventures en masse.
I can't ask you to get out there and support single-player games. Buying something that you don't want at the expense of having fun is something I'm firmly against. So we're faced with quite the predicament. With many suggesting that online programs will be the deciding factor in the upcoming console war, where will solo adventures be left to roam? Shigeru Miyamoto commented that Twilight Princess will be the last Zelda of its kind before the series is Revolutionized. Hm.
The truth is, you need the cooperation of the entire cycle to make something happen, and if developers don't make more quality solo efforts, you won't buy them, and the roller coaster continues. You can't ever totally kill the genre, though. No matter what's popular, there'll still be a market, however small, for a good single-player adventure. But will they be on the Top 20 charts and given the attention they deserve? Well, if that's what you're looking for, I'm not sure if I've got a solution.
Last year, a Game Informer editor noted that, with the popularity of the PSP and DS, there's been a resurgence of sorts in puzzlers. More people are taking notice of them, and best of all, they're selling. It all comes full circle, and the Cogs of Time never forget the effects something's had on the world at large, and usually, second chances are frequent.