The “single player is dead” narrative is not beneficial for both the publisher and the player
EA, Ubisoft and Activision has stated that single player games are not in demand anymore over and over (either through outright saying it or through their actions). The sales numbers of God of War and Red Dead Redemption 2 are a clear indication that this is simply not true, so why exactly are these big shots of the game industry are trying to push this false narrative? Most gamers think that they push it because the gamers who exclusively play multiplayer games are more inclined to pay for microtransactions and whatnot, and that brings a lot more revenue than single player experiences.
The expectation of publishers here seems to be a switch over to multiplayer from single player, and they aim to goad current players to a multiplayer only gaming climate with these statements. What they don’t realize is that the fact that, if the future that is envisioned by these publishers comes to pass, lots of players -including me- would outright stop playing video games rather than exclusively start playing multiplayer. As a 31 years old person, most multiplayer only experiences feel like a time sink to me; they are simply not worth the time I spend playing them (even if I enjoy the occasional, well crafted multiplayer games here and there). If I was forced to choose between playing multiplayer games or not playing anything at all, I would choose the latter and watch a movie, read a book or spend time outside instead. If your game has nothing to say other than just being digital laser tag, it can only hold my interest up to a certain point; and after playing a few laser tags of the same ilk, I would just rather engage in much more worthwile activities. As I said, the occasional laster tag is fine, but if the industry becomes nothing else than an ocean of homogenous laser tags, it would lose a significant chunk of its appeal for the gamers who are engrossed by narrative-based experiences.
Also, there is the subject of market saturation. Before the Battle Royale craze, there was the MOBA craze, and lots of publishers wanted to get in on the action. But it turns out, the MOBA market has reached the point of saturation, indicated by the fact that games like Gearbox’s Battleborn or Blizzard’s Heroes of the Storm have failed to bring in large numbers of players. A few years ago, skirmish based small scale FPS games -ala Call of Duty franchise- were the big thing, now it is being replaced by Battle Royale. The first game to feature this ‘bigger King of the Hill’ was the titular Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG for short), and it is being published by Tencent, a Chinese publisher. Not long after, Epic added a Battle Royale mode to Fortnite and it has been a massive success so far. Activision wants a piece of that cake too and replaces the single player campaign with a Battle Royale mode called Blackout (and, to their credit, it is said to be the best one to date). The problem with Blackout is that it simply is not Call of Duty. Call of Duty multiplayer is about frantic, non-stop action, and here we have this game mode, which is admittedly done better than the other Battle Royale modes, in which you do nothing worthwhile for vast amounts of time. The game seems to be losing its identity in favor of being similar to ‘the big, popular thing.’ What comes afterwards? Rushing to the next popular game mode and imitating it to death in hopes of getting a piece of the cake? In other words, what these publishers are envisioning is a homogenous industry in which no company has a significant difference from one another in the way they produce video games; they just chase after what is popular at a given time (they may put their spin on it, sure, but I am sure that the products will remain in safe imitation limits to ensure it doesn’t come off as too unfamiliar to the player and they get a piece of the cake too). Can you imagine how little time it would take for even the youngest of gamers to get sick of gaming as a whole if there was no diversity whatsoever?
Gaming thrives on diversity and we need both the single player games and multiplayer games to attract all kinds of players and keep the gears of the industry turning. Alienating one kind of player (the ones with the financial stability and can support your games as long as you give them quality products) and catering to the other (the younger gamers who can only buy a few games a year but more inclined to play the games or game modes that have a certain popularity) does not benefit anybody in the slightest. No singleplayer and gold rushes similar to the Battle Royale craze is a recipe for another industry crash due to saturation of the market with similar products, not that different from the video game crash of 1983. I’m not saying that this future will come to pass (it is unlikely), but I’m rather saying that big publishers should stop pushing for it and ruin the diversity in gaming to make a few quick (and dirty) bucks.