Future looks bleak for AAA single-player games

Future looks bleak for AAA single-player games

EA axes new Star Wars game to "pivot"

 This week, EA halted development on an upcoming Star Wars game, and shut down Visceral Games, the studio which had worked on it for the last three years. EA will be reassigning the Visceral Games developers to other departments inside the company, and has announced their intention to pivot the Star Wars game to something more market-friendly.

The news directly addresses the issue of the elephant in the room: AAA big budget single-player cinematic games are on the way out.

Three market trends are responsible for this situation. First and foremost, in recent years, there have been several extremely expensive AAA single-player flops. Mass Effect: Andromeda, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Dishonored 2, and Prey all failed to live up to sales estimates. Given the phenomenal investment each game required, it's understandable that big studios would be hesitant to keep pursuing the genre.

The second trend is the potential for long-term monetization. When you finish playing a single-player game, that's it - you're done. Most people will never go back to it. But multiplayer and open-world games both offer potentially years and thousands of hours of playtime. That's time that can be monetized with everyone's favorite whipping boy: microtransactions.

Whether it's loot boxes or cosmetic items, microtransactions are the thing everyone loves to hate in games these days. But that doesn't stop players from spending a ton of money on them. It's gotten to the point where a game publisher would be foolish not to include microtransactions, they're just that lucrative.

And the third and final nail in the coffin of AAA single-player cinematic games is the rise of YouTube "Let's Play" videos and Twitch streams. If you watch a Let's Player play through an entire game like Uncharted 4, there's no reason for you to play it yourself - you've gotten the whole experience. However, no matter how much time you spend watching someone play a multiplayer game like Destiny 2, it's still different when you play it. So there's pressure on people to buy multiplayer games, whereas single-player games get left in the dust.

Are we heading towards a future without AAA single-player games like The Witcher 3, Fallout 4, Horizon Zero Dawn, to name a recent few? Only time will tell...