With mobile and social network gaming championing casual play and games like Call of Duty, Battlefield and others becoming the face of console gaming, is there much time left for the AAA single player experience?
Ask many a CoD gamer about which part of it they prefer, the single player or the multiplayer, and you'll often be called a noob for even considering the lone ranger portion of the game as comparable. Of course this is merely a matter of taste, but not only is this group the most vocal, but they're the ones still playing the game months after release; when the single player, story driven gamers have moved on to something else.
Develop a well made, fun, easy to pick up, difficult to master multiplayer title and sprinkle in a few irregular updates, and you have a game that will be played for a long time. Just look at games like DotA. It's a very simple concept, with some interesting complexities that people are willing to play with over and over.
The same with contemporary shooters. It's the multiplayer portions of the game that remain popular. Especially with the inclusion of RPG elements like unlockables.
This isn't to say that non multiplayer game creation is dead. You only have to look at the masterpieces that are the Portal games, the original Bioshock, or the Assassin's Creed titles to see that bandwagon jumping development isn't on every company's mind, but the potential for reduced relevance is there.
When you combine the longevity of big budget multiplayer games, and the fact that company's like Zynga are joining the ranks of the most financially successful game developers in the world, it's got to be difficult for developers to still look to the single player as a financially viable future.
However, those that prefer a single player title that isn't on their smartphone, have hope. While these latest developments in the industry might mean that more money will go into developing these easier to profit titles, it needs to be remembered that the audience for single player experiences isn't going anywhere. They're a subset of the player base, not a genre of game that can wax and wane in popularity.
It's easier to cater for as well. While multiplayer games might have a longer shelf life, they require real balance between classes and player choices to make it successful. That means patches and updates, regularly, as new exploits and overpowered combinations are discovered. There's also server costs to consider, addons and expansions to keep people playing; you can't just make a game, release it and move on to the next one.
With spiralling costs of AAA game development, perhaps it'd be best to focus everything on developing a solo game, releasing it when it's ready and then moving on to the next. Constant tweaks not only drain the coffers of a developer, but the enthusiasm of those working on it too.
With a player base that is likely to buy the next title produced by a company they feel loyal to, single player, while on the surface less of a profitable venture, will surely remain one of the best options for game makers. It allows them to not only communicate with the gaming audience the style and message of a development team, but provides a much more headache free release schedule too.
Just remember to playtest it well. Everyone hates a rushed release.