During a speech at the Credit Suisse 21st Annual Technology, Media & Telecom Conference, Electronic Arts’ chief financial officer, Blake Jorgensen, falsely claimed that gamers are less interested in single-player games compared to the last five to 10 years.
GamesIndustry.biz snipped the noteworthy part of the quote that centered around Jorgensen explaining why they had to shut down Visceral games after it became a “sub-scale” studio, saying…
“Over the last five or six years, [Visceral Games] had shrunk in size,” Jorgensen said. “It was down to about 80 people, which is sub-scale in our business. And the game they were making was actually being supported by a team in Vancouver and a team in Montreal because of that sub-scale nature. And we were trying to build a game that really pushed gameplay to the next level, and as we kept reviewing the game, it continued to look like a style of gaming, a much more linear game, that people don’t like as much today as they did five years ago or 10 years ago.”
Sure millions of copies of games like BioShock, Portal, and Half-Life 2 have been sold, and they did come out five or 10 years ago. However, we’ve had less noteworthy single-player games from AAA studios made within that span than what we had five or 10 years ago. Whose to say that Star Wars: Rag Tag wouldn’t have been another Uncharted, Half-Life or BioShock?
For example, while the Tomb Raider reboot from 2013 went on to sell 11 million copies over its lifespan on the market, according to GameRanx, other single-player games weren’t far behind. Uncharted 4 just came out in 2016 and sold 8.7 million copies, according to Forbes, and it needed less time (and platforms) to reach that figure than Tomb Raider or BioShock. So how does that account for people not liking story-driven, linear single-player games these days than they did five years ago?
Of course, the reasonable reality is that if single-player games are made with less frequency, or designed only to sell players microtransactions – like Dead Space 3, Star Wars: Battlefront II or Destiny 2 – it’s not hard to see why gamers would forfeit buying the game. In other cases there are titles like Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, where half the running time was spent watching cinematics. Obviously, word of mouth for the game isn’t going to be the most positive, despite many gamers wanting to pick up a copy.
On the flip-side, we see that mid-budget games like Colossal Order’s City Skylines has moved more than 4 million copies on PC alone since 2015, according to Steam Spy. That’s not including what it’s sold on PS4 and Xbox One.
The Witcher series has sold a cumulative 25 million units over the course of a decade; and 10 million units of The Witcher 3 were shipped since its release in 2015 for home consoles and PC, according to PCGamesN.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild moved nearly 5 million units in under four months, according to Metro.
How are any of those examples of gamers not liking single-player games now when compared to a decade ago?
There’s usually a simple logical thread to follow indicating that quality-made games that gamers are actually aware of tend to sell well. What Jorgensen should have stated was that gamers these days compared to gamers from five to 10 years ago don’t like poorly made games that are designed solely as propaganda or microtransaction vehicles, like Mass Effect: Andromeda.
Companies like EA can no longer get away with churning out rehashes and games-as-a-service masquerading as $60 AAA experiences without getting called on it, and that’s something they probably don’t like.
What’s more is that Jorgensen is trying to sell to investors, shareholders and non-gamers the idea that single-player games are no longer a lucrative investment because there’s no recurring player-spend in them. You can milk players to no end with microtransaction-laden multiplayer games like Battlefield, Call of Duty and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.
It’s not that gamers don’t want to play good single-player games – I’m sure if another quality-made Batman: Arkham game was made or if another super hero received similar treatment it would sell in the millions like Rocksteady’s other outings – but not many publishers are interested in making fun, entertaining, quality made single-player games these days.
Single-player titles like GTA V, which sold based on the quality of its single-player campaign, have been quickly turned into a multiplayer monetization powerhouse.
One of the most anticipated games of 2018 is a follow-up to Red Dead Redemption, which was also highly praised for its single-player campaign as well. Don’t be surprised if it’s more multiplayer-centric than its 2010 predecessor.
In fact, it was the 2016 reboot (sequel) of DOOM that received its most adoration and attention for its single-player campaign, and managed to accrue its biggest criticisms for its multiplayer mode. Based on word of mouth and strong community support, the game managed to sell millions, with more than 2 million copies sold on PC alone, as noted by Steam Spy.
I would love to know what Jorgensen is basing his claims on, because there are plenty of single-player games still selling millions of copies to this day, from indies to AAA. Heck, I didn’t even bring up off-kilter titles like Undertale, which came out back in 2015 and sold more than 3 million copies on Steam alone.
It would also be foolish to compare game sales relative to console install bases from 2012 and 2013 of the Xbox 360 and PS3 to that of the Xbox One and PS4. Just keep in mind that by 2013 the Xbox 360 had an install base of 76 million units globally, as reported by GamesIndustry.biz. The PS3 had a 70 million unit install base by 2013, as reported by Eurogamer.
The last credible report on the Xbox One install base was 26 million from Gamespot, while the PS4 reportedly moved 60 million units since its launch, as noted by CNBC. So obviously, while the numbers are significant, they’re no where near what the potential market pool was back in 2012 and 2013.
If Jorgensen is comparing single-player game sales to titles released back in 2006, then he’s most certainly going to have to cite some examples, because the figures don’t necessarily pan out even when looking at AAA titles like Call of Duty 2, which moved only 370,000 copies on PC, according to Steam Spy. On home consoles Call of Duty 3 moved an estimated 7 million copies from its release in 2006 up until 2013, according to IGN, which is less impressive than the Tomb Raider reboot. Keep in mind that both Call of Duty games had multiplayer components as well.
Combining numbers from VGCharts and Steam Spy would also mean that single-player only games like Hitman: Blood Money sold just over 2.5 million copies across all platforms, which is less than what Undertale sold on a single platform.
Perhaps he’s referring to Just Cause 1, a multiplatform single-player only game? It reportedly moved 1 million copies across console platforms between its release in 2006 and the sales estimate in 2009. Steam Spy reports that it moved 1.3 million copies on PC alone. So it did just over half of what the mid-budget Cities: Skyline did, but over a longer period of time.
Now some 2007 single-player releases like Portal, BioShock, Mass Effect, Crysis, Half-Life: Episode 2, Super Mario Galaxy and Assassin’s Creed have all sold millions of copies over the years thanks to being quality made games with ambitious concepts, and have also been the start of some of gaming’s most recognized brands. But in 2007 there were also plenty of single-player flops, like the highly underrated John Woo’s Stranglehold or BeoWulf or Timeshift. Heck, even Lost Planet barely moved over 2.5 million units over its lifespan and it was actually a really good game.
However, until Jorgensen lays out the stats and cites some legitimate examples other than the brand-defining outliers like Assassin’s Creed, BioShock, Portal, Half-Life and Mass Effect, it’s disingenuous to say that gamers these days just aren’t interested in single-player games like they were before.You can pull stats from just about any year showing single-player and multiplayer flops, just like you can pull stats showing some heavy hitters and top-sellers. I mean, look like Battleborn… it’s the very definition of an AAA multiplayer flop, or Boss Key’s Lawbreakers. Both games are legitimate failures despite being multiplayer-focused.
I mean, in a way it’s true that gamers are less interested in AAA games these days because the quality of today’s content certainly isn’t up to par (as evident with the poorly made Mass Effect: Andromeda), but it’s not gamers’ fault that EA would rather pursue attempts to get kids addicted to gambling in AAA titles like Star Wars: Battlefront II than make a quality single-player campaign mode.