“Very few people actually play the single-player on these kinds of games. That’s what the data points to.”
Peter Moore, chief operating officer of video game publisher Electronic Arts, said this in an interview with GameSpot at Gamescom 2015 . He was talking about "Star Wars Battlefront," the upcoming reboot of LucasArts' early-2000s action shooter franchise, which will be multiplayer-only, unlike its two predecessors. "Star Wars Battlefront" will be the latest AAA game to eschew single-player content to focus on online competitive/cooperative play, joining heavy hitters like "Destiny" and EA’s own "Battlefield Hardline." That begs the question: Should publishers even worry about single-player content in these titles anymore?
The "Star Wars" predecessors had short campaigns, but the games leaned heavily on split-screen multiplayer (which the new game also will also have, though most publishers have abandoned that feature). "Battlefield" games of late have brief single-player campaigns, nothing worth getting excited about. "Destiny’s" single-player story mode has been subject to heavy scrutiny and player disappointment since the game’s 2014 release. If players are ignoring the single-player aspects of these games, it’s not because they don’t want to play them (just look to "Grand Theft Auto" and any number of "Gears of War" games to see that many gamers do indeed buy the games to experience solo stories), it’s because the content isn’t good enough.
Games can do both well. One of the most lauded multiplayer series in recent memory, "Call of Duty," not only set the standard nearly a decade ago for online competitive shooters (which other games are still imitating) in "Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare," but it also offered a masterfully written single-player campaign featuring some of the most iconic moments in video game history .
That’s not even accounting for the strong background and lore that "Star Wars" brings to video games. There’s so much information to draw from that it’s difficult to believe fans wouldn’t want a game with a substantial single-player story. With a litany of iconic films, animated series like "The Clone Wars," numerous novels and even previous video games like "Knights of the Old Republic," "Star Wars" might have the deepest well of characters and arcs imaginable for a new story. But the decision to exclude such a thing was made years ago, as Moore explained.
“You make a decision two or three years out,” he said, so EA's decision to ditch single-player was likely made before "Battlefront" development even began.
In the current gaming landscape, Moore’s declaration may be wise, even if it’s not completely agreeable. As a multiplayer-only game, the new "Star Wars Battlefront" can ape the same business model as "Destiny," continually luring players back to the couch with weapon, mission and downloadable content updates. Despite some protests and objections, that strategy has proved incredibly lucrative for "Destiny" publisher Activision. In the case of "Star Wars Battlefront," however, the publisher doesn’t think a game needs a spartan single-player experience.
The gaming climate has changed; big titles are incredibly expensive to produce and publishers don’t want to risk spending resources on game features they believe players won’t use, especially when they can devote those resources to modes they believe almost all players will want. And will continue to patronize.
But how does the lack of a single-player campaign affect success? We’ll have to see when the game is released Nov. 17, as nothing will determine the decision’s wisdom as well as sales.