Saturday, November 5, 2011

Single-Player Games Are Aberrations

But have you ever wondered why we are entering this age of games right now? Why is it that all of a sudden everybody wants to play games?

On the last post Shalker left a comment where he linked to an old post written by R. Koster about single-player games. Single-player games are aberrations, he says. And in a way he is quite correct. Only during the brief period of personal computers which were powerful enough to oppose the player and not connected enough to have players play against/with each other, have PC games been single-player. And even these single-player games have been talked about at school. They weren't all that 'single', really.
But I wouldn't call them aberrations. Even multiplayer games can have and do have single-player elements ... Have you ever wondered why we are entering this age of games right now? Why is it that all of a sudden everybody wants to play games?

In the past almost all games were symmetrical and competitive: You needed a human opponent. Some games, like Bridge or Skat, allowed you to also play together with somebody, but you still played against humans. And we all know how difficult it is to find fellow humans who are just as good as we are at a game. With the help of computers we can design better games!

Players hate to lose: it is shameful. And it is the reason PvP computer games have some market share, but aren't taking off. And they never will take off: losing is shameful - even losing to anonymous strangers. Most people dislike it enough to not even start playing. And this is were computers come in. Finally we have somebody to shame! Finally I can play Starcraft without losing. And even if I lose, I only lose to a computer; nobody notices. This is the reason we are entering an age of games (and metrics) right now. We finally have somebody to shame. Humanity finally found a way to cheat their monkey brains into having fun, although we don't actually do anything that helps us survive or reproduce.

In the short term this will lead us to PvE-sandboxes. PvE-sandboxes combine the player-generated content (not player-created) property of PvP games with the social experience of classical games. What can be more fun than playing in an unpredictable virtual world and shaming the computer together?

In the long term ...


  1. There is also the issue of who I am going to be social with.

    How could you play with anonymous internet players like a Goonie or badBobbie in EVE or a PwnUrFaceDK yelling "go!go!go! u fail" or most trade chat and NOT want to play a single player game?

    I do not see how any of your improvements to LFD are going to have much impact without changing the culture. For all too many encounters, a quick, anonymous LFD interaction is preferable to getting to know them better.

  2. @ Hagu
    changing the culture

    You nailed it. Until that happens, other people are just 'biological bots' (to borrow a term).
    The culture of a playerbase changes based on the design intents of the designers. First change those, witness the derivative changes occur.

  3. In the long term ...

    We will die off after creating robotic perfect spouses and ceasing to do any actual work.

    Wait, that wasn't the answer you were looking for?

    In all seriousness, you're right about the PvP games, though I personally am still waiting for a game to really fill that niche. Because there is a good audience for it, just not enough to fill more than one game. Currently the PvP focused games either cave and focus on their mediocre PvE or end up horribly imbalanced.

    Also, I wouldn't mind more sandboxes. That style of genre need some innovation these days. But I have to disagree with you: Theme parks are far more suitable for those who want to solely want to challenge themselves against a computer. I would assume that generating content and goals for yourself is a bit too much work for most WoW-like players.

  4. As for pvp, i think asymmetric pvp, like "Demons vs Knights" proposed by Gevlon, is neat workaround against clear win or loss condition, which, i agree, is a problem making pvp unpopular.

    As another example, perhaps one player can be playing strategy level game while other attacks him on tactical level, only available to other player through final impersonal combat reports. That would make "human-created content" without being clear "pvp".

  5. I guess the writer never heard of solitare, Pac-man, pinball etc. I could probably name a hundered well known games that are single player based.

    Even golf is a single player game with a social wrapper (your foursome).

    To call single player games abberations is just an.... abberation.