The Future of Single Player Games

MMOs are a power hitter in the industry video game industry. There is no doubt about that. Not only do you have to pay for the box price for an MMO, but you also have to pay a monthly subscription fee in order to just play the game and must continue to do so if you wish to continue to play the game. Some gamers still do not like the concept of MMOs; they are used to the policy of “what you see is what you get.” Even others do not like the idea of continually paying to simply play a game (especially if the game play can be seen as a second job). So there is obviously still an industry to single player games (yes, that includes those with multiplayer), but the companies developing such games are trying to figure out ways to offset the great revenue benefits MMOs bring to their developers. So what’s a developer to do? Let’s first take a look at what the past has been giving us.


Lets Expand our Horizons

Expansions, at first, seemed like a great idea. They offered developers the opportunity to develop content they didn’t have time to finish for the original launch of the game or to add features the already existing player base was asking for. At the same time, developers also got to make a little bit of extra money as well, because they weren’t charging an arm and a leg for it. Keep the key words “at first” in mind.

This later went to hell. I mean, there’s no way to shake a stick about it. The original idea behind an expansion was that there was supposed to be such a significant amount of content that was added to the original game that the play experience became a completely new experience, thus justifying the price tag that came with it. Take Diablo II: Lord of Destruction as an example. Here’s an expansion that added an unbelievable amount of content as opposed to the original box version of Diablo II. Now, put that opposite of Command & Conquer: The Covert Operations, “expansion” to the original Command & Conquer, which featured a whopping 15 new campaign missions (wow!). Both expansions were originally priced at $30 when they released. You do the math.

Sadly, this road only grew darker as we traveled on it. The most notorious offender of them all in this expansion endeavor is Maxis, who came out with the highly-addictive The Sims. Just trapping your sims in the house while the house was on fire was rewarding enough, and the occasional free items Maxis used to hand out were a bonus as well. The biggest kicker, however, was the modding community behind the game, which was creating new items, textures, and even offering houses to download for free.

Notice how I kept bolding the word free. This mainly has to do with how the word no longer exists in Maxis’s vocabulary. The Sims quickly became the whore of the video game industry, churning out seven expansion packs. While each expansion pack did add a noticeable amount of content, one still has to wonder if $30 a pop was worth the full buying price. We’re talking about The Sims, originally priced at $50, and then each expansion pack afterwards, which was $30. You were looking at a sickening price of $260 for the entire set if you were buying them as they came out. And how much does the total set cost now? Around $26.

Add to the fact that Maxis only became more whorey in their pursuit of the sequel to the game (which had more to do with selling their soul to EA), which spawned eight sequels and a ridiculous amount of “stuff” packs (see: stuff you could download for free off of fansites). Now with The Sims 3 on the way, the circle of crap is destined to repeat itself all over again. And EA wonders why people pirate these games. I suppose if you want to rip people off people are only going to want to rip you off too. Fair’s fair after all.


Final Fantasy Infinity

Just out of a case rule, I’d like to believe that the pursuit of a sequel is the attempt to finish a story in the making, where the golden rule being three is enough. Of course, I’m laughed at for trying to make the point that developers should limit their horizons on continuing a single story line for more than three games. Apparently everyone is happy with the idea that Call of Duty 27 or Final Fantasy CDXLVIII could be very real possibilities in our future.

Of course, the common argument there is that there are no “real” sequels to Final Fantasy, where each number after the first just denotes the number of the game in the series. That’s rather curious, however. If the games are supposedly not related, then why do they belong to the same series? Square-Enix seems perfectly capable of being creative, what with flying frog princesses wearing stilettos (or a derivative of that), but when it comes to naming new games all they can come up with is add a number to the name? Really?

So besides that little diddly, let’s get real. Games with extensive stories obviously design the game around it, and people can only suspend their belief for so long before they start expecting something new (and by new I don’t mean a new number). While I know I’ll catch holy hell for saying this, I still feel as if it needs to be said regardless, but Valve has recently been the biggest offender of this ideology (or should I say idiotology?). You see, Valve had something going with Half-Life (if we ignore all those terrible shoot offs like Opposing Force and Blue Shift). When Half-Life 2 hit, the idea of a trilogy seemed to be shaping up after its ending. That is until they decided “episodes” was the way to go.

Ironically, what people don’t seem to understand is that these “episodes” are just Half-Life 3’s storyline, and while the premise seems okay, the execution is not. Sorry Valve, you can bundle the episodes with tech demos all you want, but with its original pricing at $30 (it’s now $15), a few hours of game play using the same sounds, same music, same textures, same graphical engine, and same enemies, while tossing in one or two new things of the previously mentioned, does not excuse that you’re still selling everyone Half-Life 3 in bits and pieces. In the time that it will take to release Half-Life 2.7 (sorry, I mean Half-Life 2: Episode 3) and finish this episodic saga, Valve could have been developing Half-Life 3 with a completely new feel, a complete storyline, a new look, and new game play. Then again, if a two-hour tech demo like Portal gains such acclaim as it did, then I can see why Valve isn’t trying as hard as they used to.


The New Kid on the Block

So now that we’ve touched on what the past has given us, let’s talk about what’s going on presently that is becoming the new direction for expanding on game content. DLC, or downloadable content, or what was known as patching at one point in history, is making way for a new norm to single player games. DLC suspiciously sounds like content patches MMOs would release to their players on a scheduled basis in order to keep them interested in the game. This is essentially what DLC does for single player games as well. Why push out expansions or sequels when you can just work with the game you already have out and just release DLC for the game?

DLC used to be synonymous with “free.” Don’t get me wrong either; in some cases it still is. But, like all good things, it must come to an end. Eventually someone in the industry sees how well DLC does to appease the player base and they start get to thinking that adding a price tag to it might not be such a bad idea. In fact, Microsoft is best known for their attempts to force purchasable DLC on games that offer it. When Bungie created a few new maps for Halo 2 the owner of their soul, Microsoft, decided that it would be a good idea instead to sell the maps. Of course, no one batted an eyelash to it, which wasn’t surprising at all, considering the number of people that enjoyed Halo 2 in the first place.

It didn’t stop there either. Bethesda is also the self-proclaimed king of DLC. When Bethesda purposely left out Horse Armor in the original launch of Oblivion offered their first DLC in Oblivion as Horse Armor, people started to wonder about the quality of production. These ideas were only further fueled when more DLC content for Oblivion came out. Some how people didn’t think Spell Tomes and Mehrune’s Razor were exactly screaming their worth in money. Bethesda tried to counter this problem with Fallout 3 by offering new and full encounters to different environments. To further hit home on how useful DLC is, Bethesda decided that their third installment of DLC for Fallout 3, Broken Steel, will retcon the ending of the game and also allow you to finish the game.

This comes back to the MMO mentality of “patch and go.” It would seem developers are now purposely leaving out content from the game for promises to add it later once the game is launched. Rumors abound to this idea when an interview with Jonny Ebbert on DoW2 revealed that they are planning to spend a lot of their time with DLC. I mean, if the voice of concern is how many maps you are going to originally launch with, then you can start to imagine the sort of content you will find at this game’s launch. Even their fans seem to be fine with a total of 10 or 15 maps to play with or how some even seem to be fine with Relic offering less modding support to the game. I suppose now would be a bad time to mention how RTS games in the past offered a slew of campaign missions (and usually more than one campaign as well) or how most even came with map editors. But don’t worry; I’m sure DLC will cure all that. Just enter your credit card information here…

Originally written: January 2009

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About Agamemnon
Started blogging back in 2007 amidst that whole Hellgate: London fiasco on a blog known as flagshipped.com. Eventually moved on to do my own thing in December 2008 at gameriot.com and started Caveat Emptor there. Wrote there for six months, gained some notoriety, and then left. Now I'm back.

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