Do We Need To Rethink Solo Offline Game Modes?


With Overwatch now out, the forward march of $60 games with only multiplayer continues. On the one hand, I don’t think every shooter should be forced to have a campaign with a story. On the other, I also think games like this ignore a lot of people who could potentially enjoy these games but don’t care about player versus player gameplay.

You could consider this a second part to what I wrote //”>in March after The Division came out. I went over how online services and multiplayer are becoming the primary focus of blockbuster console video games because they keep players coming back and hopefully spending money on various bits of content. At the end I postulated a little bit that perhaps this doesn’t have to exclusively mean online versus modes.

That seems to be how games-as-a-service is primarily going forward. It’s the easiest thing with shooters in particular because it’s the thing everybody’s been doing for around 20 years now. A few games like The Division will center around cooperative play or have co-op modes, but basically none seem to have thought about how to design solo experiences that can still have high player retention.

The only way to do it so far with action games has been to simply release more story content as DLC. I just did a blog post about how that might be expanding, but it’s probably nothing like what some games might be making off of microtransactions, and that story content probably doesn’t last as long as multiplayer for some people. Games based around user-generated content like Bethesda’s RPGs, Super Mario Maker, and hopefully soon the new DOOM might be an exception and even eventually a path forward for singleplayer games to become lasting services.

I understand if it can be expensive to design the many levels, pay for and record the voice acting, and test all the scenarios in a traditional story campaign that many will play once for a few hours. I just don’t like the implicit assertion that a full campaign is the only way to have a fulfilling offline experience with a shooter or another type of action game.

I don’t think games like Overwatch or Titanfall should be forced to provide anything outside of what they’re providing if those games are successful. They don’t have to be for everyone. People who aren’t interested in PvP games can just completely ignore them. I also think though that they could be missing out on potential customers by only catering to people who only care about multiplayer. This is what hobbled Street Fighter V, shipping with not even so much as an arcade mode.

From what I understand most of the games I’m mentioning include more or less some kind of equivalent. Star Wars Battlefront has some kind of collection of offline missions. I read that Overwatch can be played with AI bots. Even DOTA 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive have bots. Almost none of these games however seem to try to evolve offline play beyond that.

Thinking about it, Super Smash Bros. might be the best example of a game that at its core is PvP-oriented but has included a lot of solo content since the second game. Just a small suggestion, but the target practice mode in Super Smash Bros. Melee has customized target challenges for each character. What if Overwatch did something like that? That goes without mentioning Smash’s various other AI opponent modes.

The best example among shooters of abundant content outside multiplayer or the traditional campaign might be Call of Duty. I’ll state again I don’t play that series much anymore, but it seemed like starting with the first Black Ops game the developers have tried to stuff different kinds of arcade content into each new entry. Black Ops had a whole separate progression system for bots mode. You also obviously have the Zombies mode which has become a main draw of the series. Maybe I’m stumbling into examples here, but the Halo series tried a few things: first Firefight, then Spartan Ops. I don’t know what they’re doing in Halo 5 as an equivalent.

All I’m saying is, if games like Overwatch don’t want to waste money and resources on short-lived narrative modes, maybe they could try other things to get out of the binary box of “story campaign or competitive multiplayer.”


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