The ‘Death’ of the single player AAA game has long been preached by some industry insiders. From the moment that Call of Duty, and other multiplayer games became smash commercial hits many have wondered if those games will eventually replace the Triple AAA games that feature strong single player story driven campaigns like the Uncharted Series, and Gears of War.
Years ago, at one point, even CDprojekt questioned whether the Witcher 3 could sell over 10 million units, which was a number that would justify the years, and money spent on crafting such an elaborate masterpiece. Thankfully, with over 30 million units sold, The Witcher 3 is an example that well crafted 100 hour epics, will not only achieve critical success at the highest levels, but more importantly financial one. There is a market for AAA epic sized games.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is another example of how well these games can sell. The latest entry in the legendary series is quickly approaching the 20-million-unit mark. A staggering number considering that the series has been confined to Nintendo systems (as opposed to a Multiplatform release).
So, even the midst of the Fortnite era, in which a rather simplistic looking ‘Free’ Multiplayer game can achieve revenues that triple AAA titles can only dream of, the outlook has been bright for gamers who prefer single player story driven experiences. God of War, The Last of Us, and Horizon Zero Dawn have thrived in today’s market.
However, the skeptics remain, and Former PlayStation Executive Shawn Layden made some interesting remarks in an interview with Gamesbeat’s Dean Takahashi. Layden, goes as far as saying that the game industry should move away from epic sized 3-AAA development if it wants to experience growth during the next generation of consoles.
“The problem with that model is it’s just not sustainable”
He said, citing rising costs ($50-150 million budgets) and long development cycles.
“I don’t think that, in the next generation, you can take those numbers and multiply them by two and think that you can grow, I think the industry as a whole needs to sit back and go, ‘Alright, what are we building? What’s the audience expectation? What is the best way to get our story across, and say what we need to say?’It’s hard for every adventure game to shoot for the 50 to 60 hour gameplay milestone, because that’s gonna be so much more expensive to achieve. And in the end you may close some interesting creators and their stories out of the market if that’s the kind of threshold they have to meet… We have to reevaluate that.”- Shawn Layden
The costs cited above, are without accounting for marketing expenses. Marketing expenses will sometimes exceed the actual cost of the game’s development. Within that context, Layden’s statement is not controversial, that sentiment has been echoed by many in the industry. Stories of developers not getting a publishing deal because big publishers want a multiplayer game instead of a single player one are very frequent in our entertainment industry.
Warhorse Studios toiled away for years trying to land a publishing deal for Kingdom Come: Deliverance. Most publishers told them that they were looking for a mobile “Free to Play” game instead of a deep first-person single player story driven RPG.
The biggest issue according to Layden is that game pricing has remained at a constant fixed price, and thus, it makes no sense for developers, and publishers to spend $100 million dollars in a 60 hour game, if a cheaper to make game will sell for the same price.
“It’s been $59.99 since I started in this business, but the cost of games have gone up ten times. If you don’t have elasticity on the price-point, but you have huge volatility on the cost line, the model becomes more difficult. I think this generation is going to see those two imperatives collide.” -Shawn Layden
Layden makes a good case in that statement, at least on a surface level. On deeper inspection however, the statement makes less sense. When movie goers go to a movie theatre, ticket pricing remains the same for watching an epic sized AAA 200-million-dollar picture, as the smaller romantic comedy that cost 20 million dollars to make. Movie goers are not expected to pay more money to watch the more expensive – to make – film, the same principle should, and has applied to game pricing through its history.
I don’t want to be harsh on Shawn Layden, as his sentiment is echoed by many other industry executives, but perhaps the one statement that will cause some controversy is the last one in the transcript:
“So how can we look at that and say: Is there another answer? Instead of spending five years making an 80 hour game, what does three years and a 15 hour game look like? What would be the cost around that? Is that a full-throated experience? Personally, as an older gamer… I would welcome a return to the 12 to 15 hour [AAA] game. I would finish more games, first of all, and just like a well edited piece of literature or a movie, looking at the discipline around that could give us tighter, more compelling content. It’s something I’d like to see a return to in this business.” -Shawn Layden
While Layden brought in some interesting thoughts about how the game industry should move according to his own personal vision, if the Last of Us: Part II’s early sales are any indication, a vast segment of gamers want to play long story driven epics. Which is good news for those of us who appreciate and enjoy a solo gaming experience. With Halo Infinite (Campaign mode), and Horizon Forbidden West looming on the horizon (no pun intended) it seems that high budget single player epics are alive and well, and here to stay for the foreseeable future. Here at the Never Ending Realm we say ‘Amen’ to that!