Single-Player Games Are Not Dead But The Economics Are "Complicated," Xbox Boss Says

"I don't think that there is ever going to be a time when there aren't single-player, story-based games."

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Now Playing: What EA Visceral's Closing Means For Single-Player Games - The Lobby

Xbox boss Shannon Loftis, who heads up Xbox Publishing for first-party games, believes single-player-only games aren't dead but they do have questions to face around their economic viability. Speaking to GameSpot today, Loftis said the demand by gamers for higher quality experiences comes with a price tag. While storytelling is still of paramount importance, the economics of single-player-only titles is "complicated" in today's industry due to the dramatic and constant evolution of the game market.

"Game development in general is about a couple of things. It's about delivering and experience and it's about telling stories. Storytelling is as central to game development as it ever has been," Loftis said.

There are of course strong examples of compelling single-player-only games that have performed well in the market, such as Bethesda's Fallout 4, Sony's Horizon: Zero Dawn, and Microsoft's own Ori series, Loftis pointed out. But overall, Loftis said the call for higher-quality experiences can result in a big production budget. The suggestion is that some publishers might be understandably spooked putting so much money into a project when their return is not as much a sure-thing as it could be for a product with more potential revenue streams beyond the initial game sale.

"I don't think that it's dead per se," Loftis said about the market for exclusively single-player games. "I do think the economics of taking a single-player game and telling a very high fidelity multi-hour story get a little more complicated. Gamers want higher fidelity and they want higher resolution graphics."

Loftis said Microsoft's Netflix-style Xbox Game Pass service for Xbox One, which costs $10/month for access to a library of more than 100 games, is one method by which Microsoft can help fund single-player-only games. Game Pass "gives us the opportunity to potentially fund games like that," she said.

Retail game sales and subscription revenue--from Xbox Game Pass and other sources--"helps us put games like that in the market over time," Loftis explained.

"I do think the economics of taking a single-player game and telling a very high fidelity multi-hour story get a little more complicated" -- Loftis

These economic considerations may possibly explain or at least contribute to the discussion about microtransactions in AAA games. It is rare today for high-profile games to not have microtransaction systems in place.

One recent high-profile exclusively single-player game, Middle-earth: Shadow of War, has microtransactions in its single-player campaign. Everything can be earned through normal gameplay, but players can also choose to spend money to speed up their progress. Some called it out as odd that there would be speed-up microtransactions in a single-player game. Exactly why developer Monolith put this system into Shadow of War is not immediately clear, but it represents another revenue stream.

In Loftis' estimation, single-player-only games will exist forever, though it's possible they may become less prevalent. "I don't think that there is ever going to be a time when there aren't single-player, story-based games," she said. "I do love the idea of building a community around the experience of these games."

Loftis added that she wants to find a way to help find a way for the wider Xbox community to get together and enjoy the "shared experience of a single-player game" that affected them in some way. She pointed out the Red Wedding episode of Game of Thrones as a moment where fans were so affected by what happened that they came together to discuss and post videos of their reactions on YouTube.

We asked Loftis about the future of single-player games in the wake of EA's unexpected and dramatic announcement that it was closing Visceral Games and re-tooling the studio's much-anticipated Star Wars game. Announced as a story-based, linear adventure game, EA said it discovered in the production process that it wasn't going to be a game that fans could "come back to and enjoy for a long time to come." So the decision was made to "pivot" to something new. It remains to be seen what that will be, but the wording of EA's statement suggests the team is looking at a more online, multiplayer-focused experience. Some took this news as a signal that video games in general are trending away from single-player-only experiences. That's an understandably worrying thought. As Loftis said, it's highly unlikely that exclusively single-player games cease to exist, though we could see fewer of them due to the realities of doing business.

What do you think about single-player games? Let us know in the comments below! This is just one of the many topics that came up in our interview with Loftis today. Check back soon for more on topics like the future of the Fable franchise, the Xbox One X, how she feels about Microsoft's lineup of exclusives this year, and a lot more.

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

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Avatar image for dentedskillet
dentedskillet

Single player is the only way to go for me. I do not think it is dead, but if it is, I will be fine. I have a huge backlog of games spanning every generation that has been out thus far to go back to. EA and others like them will just not be getting my money anymore if that is the way they want to play it... Maybe I will take a nod towards Visceral and start by going back to those Dead Space games I haven't finished... :)

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SudoHero

I call BS on this XBo Xone stooge. You can find economically successful single-player experiences all over the industry this year. Biggest cases, obviously, are Nintendo's latest Zelda and Mario, still doing fine. Bethesda released Fear and Evil Within 2 this year, both did well, and they keep succeeding in re-selling us Skyrim, for crissakes. Guerrilla's Horizon Zero Dawn did well. Ninja Theory's Hellblade is a success. Dontnod's Life is Strange. The list goes on and on.

Personally, I think execs like Loftis here *want* the single-player market to die because they can't milk the heck out of it as easily as they can online interconnected games. If you're not interacting with other players, you're less compelled to shell out extra money for all their microtransaction "cosmetic" BS because they lack that huge social aspect to the compulsion.

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tevic

The future is for games that mix SP and MP like GTA 5. You can have both a story driven campaign and a multiplayer in the same game. Nobody seems to understand that. These games could sell tens of millions copies while generating huge microtransactions revenue from the multiplayer.

For example, taking the Mass Effect concept, you could have both an A/RPG story driven campaign, followed by a empire-building, galaxy-spanning multiplayer "à la GTA 5" except you switch San Andreas Country for a whole Galaxy.

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lizzychan5

I guess I won't ever be buying another EA game again... I hate, hate, HATE multiplayer online games! I want to play by myself and get immersed in a good story. That's why I absolutely love Bethesda's fallout and elder scrolls games. Witcher III was amazing, and I bought the expansion packs and I didn't regret it! The expansion pack stories were just as good (if not a little better, IMO) as the main story line. I also love Jrpg's and I hope more can get translated to English (or at least offer English subtitles) because I would pay top dollar to play more of those games.

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chakan2

Loftis said the demand by *gamers*...publishers...

This honestly makes me ill to see the industry move from scorn of micro-transactions to actively promoting it. Single player AAA games are BILLION dollar franchises, and come with a price tag of 50-100 mil to produce. They get a 25-50% return on that easily. However, micro-transactions double to quadurple the money made on that game. Does that lead to new games or better experiences? No, it leads to even more money grubbing games, Shadow War being a prime example.

This is why the indy scene is taking off...those are developers who care about their intellectual properties, and aren't smearing them with attempts to pocket pick a few extra dollars out of your wallet.

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Ravenlore_basic

This is coming from Microsoft the company that said that Kinect was Vital to the future of gaming, the company that said that Paying for Online play was essential, even though they made Billions off the service, the company that ONLY after Sony give away GAMES, decided that your money should also give you some games, the company that believes in propitiatory HDD and ports unless forced to allow third party access to connect.

I know you need money to make games, but Microsoft has gone too far. and the will only get worse. IF they can squeeze every last dime out of you they will.

Avatar image for a7x_kill_la_kill
A7X_Kill_la_Kill

You know, the best Single Player game thats 3rd party was Bioshock! (In my opinion) I loved how the atmosphere is along with the 2nd game! Since about then, I have yet to see something better.. Playing it on the Xbox was awesome and hopefully we can see more of that. But I will say this, Single player games don't have thats longevity like Multiplayer games do. Multiplayer is cheaper yet it keeps you coming back... UNLESS they tons of micro-transactions and loot boxes... Sadly we are seeing that trend from EA and Activision.. And seeing that their is Micro-transactions in Shadow of War.. a SINGLE PLAYER game shows that companies are becoming desperate for more money..

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NaturallyEvil

@a7x_kill_la_kill: On consoles maybe. On PC you just need a good modding scene, or a game that varies enough with each playthrough that it stays interesting if you want to start it again occasionally to make a game last.

Avatar image for NTM23
NTM23

If games ever become solely focused on online play and don't attempt to make compelling stories, interesting characters with worlds worth exploring (that can mean for both an open world or linear games), then I'm probably not going to be playing much.

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chakan2

@NTM23: You don't matter anymore...as long as publishers are rolling in cash from a few whales playing their games, advertising plug-ins, and twitch streaming, they'll keep catering to the lowest common denominator.

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GirlUSoCrazy

@NTM23: Just listen to an audio book when you're playing multiplayer

Same. Exact. Thing.

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GirlUSoCrazy

@7tizz: Your inspired substantial argument has certainly convinced me to completely change my point of view.

Avatar image for NTM23
NTM23

@girlusocrazy: That is sarcasm right? Well, hopefully, it is. If it's serious though, that doesn't make any sense. That's saying waste money on something I don't enjoy while listening to something with a story when I could just buy the audiobook on its own.

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GirlUSoCrazy

@NTM23: Haha yeah it's sarcasm

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mundus

Witcher 3 is a 100% singleplayer game, so is Fallout 4 and Skyrim. Guess what? They have sold better than just about anything on the market that isn't GTAV. You need to know how to do a singleplayer game, if its 100% singleplayer it should be massive like a giant RPG. It can also have other elements like multiplayer to make people keep coming back. GTAV is a great example of this. Nintendo is another example that always does great single games which nobody has any issue buying, because you can easily put 50+ hours into all of them. Games like Resident Evil or Tomb Raider is more of a relic of the past though sadly. They cant be long enough to last 100% singleplayer and multiplayer just doesn't fit in that type of game. This is sad, since some of my favorite games are exactly this and i usually buy them, but these types of games, either has to be reduced in price, like Hellblade did or offer something else like free DLC or multiplayer to keep people playing else its really hard to sustain them. But singleplayer done right will never go anywhere.

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juxax

@mundus: even wolfenstein sold well enough to grant a MP free sequel. engaging story, interesting characters, fun and engaging action, mechanics that amplify the action instead of overpower it. But even if wolfenstein 2 is a commercial success, there's a problem called Assassin's Creed, so i just think if they scaled back the graphics a bit, and used less budget, devs could pull a tim miller and do what he did with deadpool. Amnesia was a great sp horror experience, that started indie. cut the budget, save the game, take risks! **** MP!

but. thing is. if I buy wolfenstein for full price, and in 6-9 months they released an expansion, where it was faction based multiplayer with multiple modes, persistant stats, and an emphasis on teamwork with mechanics to back that up, similar to rainbow six siege, i gurantee it would sell, and wouldn't detract from the full game, and noone out there could turn round and whine about a 30 dollar expansion that adds so much. remember bfbc2: vietnam?

Avatar image for juxax
juxax

single player games, nowadays, are severely lacking. they don't sell, because they lack, and they lack, because developers spend too much time on non essentials, which is why open world games have taken off, they sell because of the time it takes to finish, and playing on the human desire to explore, and well copy paste is a developer's best friend if they are working on a franchise.

if you think back, to the era of PS1. Tomb Raider was one of the best games ever made, expansive, massive open ended areas chasms that stretched for miles, you don't get games like that anymore. Resident evil 2's dual characters, dual scenario, puzzles, action and zombie drama.

too much time is spent polishing turds, to make them look shiny, when you get a great game, it has the most linear structure possible (the last of us) not to mention, the biggest roadblock is consoles are designed for the graphics whore in mind. Cut the Budget, save the game! I'd gladly buy dead space 4 for standard price if it;s graphics looked a year old who cares, i'd be too busy happily blowing limbs off.

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GirlUSoCrazy

@juxax: Look at Breath of the Wild, 6 months later people are still keeping their copies and playing that game. They just need to hold a game back if it's not ready, and put something out that people will love.

Instead publishers are imposing deadlines and forcing half baked games out the door. People wanted to love a new Mass Effect but they expected people to eat trash and love it. That's the problem.

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juxax

@girlusocrazy: this is the thing with mass effect. no doubt, Bioware the original talented group, was sick of making mass effects and dragon age games, they wanted something new, something big like destiny, so they go to ea and say, we've got an idea for a game, Anthem.. ea say.. fine, but in order for us to take a risk and front the needed money. you have to make a start on a new mass effect, lay the groundwork, mechanics, and we'll leave the inconsequential details to a different development team within bioware, effectively.. knowingly making and releasing a game unworthy of the ip, just to make extra cash should anthem fail, and since ME failed, we get a dragon age. Which was better received then ME, (whilst being a worse game imo, but i did enjoy both) i know how theese companies think, they sacrificed mass effect to the fire, to milk the name and top up possible profit losses from anthem which isn't even released yet.

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mundus

@juxax: Tomb Raider 1 came after Mario 64 which a much better game so not really. It was impressive still though and i remember playing it and loving it on my friends playstation, but it was never as good a Mario 64.

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juxax

@mundus: Truth is, i've always hated mario, the stupidity of it, the music, sound effects, cringe. as I've got older i've grown to appreciate broader styles, but after all this time I'd still never put them in a category together. see now zelda ocarina of time, that was a good game, but not a patch on tomb raider, the technicality of it, the puzzles, the enviroments. whereas mario 64 is very much what gamers will be playing on the switch pretty soon, atleast to me there's very little distinction, whacky fun full of wild mechanics.

in terms of which is more fun, im sure mario was, tomb raider was a stressfull painful fucking mission.

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Slypher9

The grand problem is how do you produce a AAA single player game for a reasonable budget including marketing AND produce such a game every 2-3 years... Ask CDProjektRed it isn't easy, if you hire more staff to complete it faster the budget gets blown up and if you take too long, person forget and then you'll probably have to spend alot on marketing to get the word out there

Avatar image for girlusocrazy
GirlUSoCrazy

@slypher9: Ask From, ask Nintendo, ask Enix, ask Level 5, ask NIS, ask Atlus, ask Bethesda, ask MachineGames, ask successful indies

Avatar image for slypher9
Slypher9

@girlusocrazy: most games from those company aren't AAA grade, single player yea.. From Software just have the Souls series and games indies produce aren't gonna reach the sales these companies need to stay open...

Yea you can produce gems on a small scale but what sales will you get in return and where does marketing come in... Remember for most AAA games single or multi, the marketing aspect of it sometimes exceed the budget of the game... indies typically can't afford big marketing and that's why they does sell grand numbers. Word of mouth typically sell indie games..

Avatar image for girlusocrazy
GirlUSoCrazy

@slypher9: Of course they're AAA. Now please, it is imperative that you stop smoking crack at once.

I'm afraid that if such an erroneous assertion were to be made again, that all of spacetime would then achieve singularity.

Avatar image for nadsat-77
Nadsat-77

Thank God for the likes of CDProjektRed, Bethesda, Rockstar (Yes despite their MP modes they still value huge SP campaigns), and the great majority of japanese game development scene and a few others that still have their heads and hearts at the right place otherwise we would be fcked.

Microsoft, EA, Activision and whoever else embrace this stance can fck right off.

Avatar image for deactivated-5c56012aaa167

The main Problem that games have these days are the huge money that publishers spending on them.

with more budget, publishers need more money.because business wise, for having a healthy company they also need more income from their games and that's why they add Microtransactions,cutting content for DLCs and even forcing developers to make their games more safe.(Without risking that much with the game)

For example:

1.Max Payne 3 had 80-100 million dollar budget. despite selling about 3-4 million copies this game is considered as a failure which is why Rockstar won't make Max Payne 4.

2.MGS 4 and V. both of them had 80 million dollars budget. and they both were failure in sales.(Which is why Konami didn't make MGS 5 right after 4 and now they aren't planning on making MGS 6 so far). Even MGS 1 and MGS 2 were more successful on ps1 and ps2 without the need of being one of the most expensive games of their time.(Each of them sold 7 million copies on their main platform.

3.Dead Space 2. It had 80 million dollars budget but the game only ended up selling 4 million copies which was a failure for EA.

4.The first Shenmue game was also pretty expensive to be made and it didn't help it to become successful(Even GTA 3 with much less budget outsold it)

and even though I ran out of Examples i think that there is more to be find.

Solution ?

Single Player Focused Games Don't need to have more budget than 10-20 million dollars.

Avatar image for slypher9
Slypher9

@dorog1995: wait the math don't add up.... 4mil x $60... thats 240mil or worse 4mil x $40 (because i don;t think game companies get the full $60 for what the charge)...

is there budget included marketing cost? I know CoD marketing cost IS more than there develop cost and that's why they end up with a grand budget of over 120mil almost every outing, but thats included with marketing..

So unless you number don't include marketing, thats the only way those games you listed isn't profitable...

Quote; "Single Player Focused Games Don't need to have more budget than 10-20 million dollars".... But thats hard to pull of with a very talented staff because all are working for top pay and i'm sure there bound to be OT in there as well.... If your gonna produce a 10-20 mil AAA gem, then you gonna need less staff but more talented ones (aka less slackers) and it would be hard to craft that gem in 2 years..

Big staff = big budget = less dev time (hopefully) = you can release a AAA game every 2-3 years

Avatar image for deactivated-5c56012aaa167

@slypher9: I think they can pull it off if they make Gameplay their Priority and make graphics as good as 2008 games(Just improving the Hair Designs).

Avatar image for justmo
Justmo

The problem is that Microsoft is only willing to pay for games that can sell millions and millions, massive earning games, they don't want to pay for games that sell well and bring good single player experiences. But making a multi-million game must be multiplayer and this is a lot more expensive and risky, but in case of success the earnings are great.

And, in my opinion comparing Ori with Fallout 4 and Horizon Zero Dawn is completely wrong, because Ori is an indie game, and the others are AAA, more complex, expensive, ambitious and big. I think this comparison reflects why Microsoft can't understand why the consumers criticize them for the lack of exclusives, they thinks and Indie game and a AAA game are the same. And don't missunderstand me, I'm not saying Ori is a bad game, buy is not a AAA like the other games.

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GirlUSoCrazy

@justmo: In that case they should just go out and buy popular IPs and then turn them out like EA does. Maybe that's what they were trying to do all along with Halo Gears and Minecraft, who knows.

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deadpeasant

"The realities of doing business" yeah, namely the greed involved in this industry from huge companies. Those are very real issues facing single player games alright.

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KhanWasHere

It's cute that he put their little indie style side scroller Ori in the same league as Horizon Zero Dawn and Fallout 4. lol..

Avatar image for legendaryh1tman
legendaryh1tman

@khanwashere: Well the game is a timeless classic. I would put it up there with the best of Mario, Sonic and Metroid Prime side strollers. Tell me something, have you played, if not you need too. It's breath taking with a nice challenge and nostalgic atmosphere. Literally one of the best games I played of this gen.

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Nadsat-77

@legendaryh1tman: No one is saying Ori is a bad game, but it is a low budget game, that's a fact, there is no comparison with the likes of Fallout or Horizon in that regard, so its weird that she use it to make an argument of how single player triple A development is becoming riskier and less profitable.

Avatar image for legendaryh1tman
legendaryh1tman

@nadsat-77: Price budget has nothing to do with the comparison. It took the developer nearly 5 years to make the game and it went on to win numerous awards at multiple gaming shows. Just because a game had a huge budget doesn't mean its in a league of its own.

If its under a publisher, then it's a AAA game by definition and just as much hard work can go into it with a big budget or not. FACTs.

So you're opinion is completely wrong about it. But I understand why you seem confused about the comparisons. Naturally you look "oh its just a side stroller how could somebody compare it to the likes of a open world JRPG or what ever? He's actually not comparing but stating out a point. It is what it is but stick to facts, this was a AAA game maybe with a medium to low budget that took nearly 5 years to develop. It just happened to come out at a time where the indie market is buzzing so people jump to conclusions and just wave it off as an indie. But in fact it's a AAA game just like the two previous released Rayman Games released by Ubisoft.

This is what was said below if you actually read the article. He was not making comparisons but stating how well received single player story driven games were regardless of their genre. FACTs. Go ahead read below.

"There are of course strong examples of compelling single-player-only games that have performed well in the market, such as Bethesda's Fallout 4, Sony's Horizon: Zero Dawn, and Microsoft's own Ori series, Loftis pointed out. But overall, Loftis said the call for higher-quality experiences can result in a big production budget."

So this original statement above by Khan is out of place. Also don't let fanboy glasses misguide your judgement about what was actually said.

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Nadsat-77

@legendaryh1tman: Ok, so let me re-phrase that; Ori budget in comparison to the likes of Fallout 4 and Horizon is much less substantial due to the obvious differences in scope and technology used.

Do i need to point out how a 3D open world game full of physics, motion capture, voice acting etc is more expensive to make than a 2D platformer as good as it may be?

Avatar image for legendaryh1tman
legendaryh1tman

@nadsat-77: LOL ok I see what you mean, yeah he should of said Quantum Break instead because clearly he is talking about budget. But tell me something because after searching I found nothing on it. What was Ori The Blind Forest budget? No assumptions either I really want to know, I mean to take almost 5 years. That had to cost alot even with a small team working on it. Go to keep those lights on and salaries paid you know. Let me know if find the budget. Or was it just word of mouth by the devs that it was low budget?

Avatar image for a7x_kill_la_kill
A7X_Kill_la_Kill

@nadsat-77: You seem to be against Microsoft for their games.. People have their preferences on stuff and Only Single player games don't last long like some Multiplayer games or have that long replay value like League of Legends or Smite...

Avatar image for nadsat-77
Nadsat-77

@a7x_kill_la_kill:

i'm not against the existence of multiplayer games, obviously there is people who enjoy them, i'm against the idea that EVERY game has to be MP or have some kind of MP component in them. If both can co-exist i'm cool with it.

Well of course people have their preferences for instance i don't play multiplayer games, i find them boring shallow and repetitive so the replay value of this type of games for me = zero.

Avatar image for lion2447
lion2447

"Everything can be earned through normal gameplay..."

I hate this expression. Companies use this as an excuse to say that you don't need to use the microtransactions, but then make the grinding so difficult and tedious that you either get bored and never finish the game or feel compelled to use the microtransactions to finish the game.

"...the economics of single-player-only titles is "complicated" in today's industry..."

No it's not, it the forceful use of multi-player in a single player games. It seems every single player game must have a multi-player component to it whether it needs it or not. That's where the wasted money is going. Make a good single player game and don't spend extra on servers and other online equipment. This will keep a single player game within a decent budget.

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Reagan2791

And this is literally the only area holding Microsoft behind Sony. People choose PlayStation for those epic single-player experiences they can’t get on Xbox.

Avatar image for a7x_kill_la_kill
A7X_Kill_la_Kill

@Reagan2791: Yet Sony has shitty servers where they can get hacked and have leaked information of your data!! Xbox is better for online and have better servers.. more functionality too! This comes down to preferences but then again, Exclusives is not what sell the console.. Just look up the top 3rd party game sales compared to exclusives.. The difference is high!

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GirlUSoCrazy

@a7x_kill_la_kill: Yeah I can see why Xbox really needs to connect to PSN so badly then /s

Avatar image for jonnybrownieboy
jonnybrownieboy

I hate how devs assume that single player games need to be multi million dollar, extremely graphic intense game to be successful. The tales series and the persona series are prime examples of how games can have outdated graphics, have smaller budgets but still be extremely successful simply because the storytelling sells the game.

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Barighm

@jonnybrownieboy: And the combat. Don't forget the combat. It's the overall gameplay that sells the game, not just the story.

Online
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MeatyMisto

I really despise what the industry is turning into. It was definitely in it's prime about a decade ago. Barely any couch co-op or local multiplayer games without each having your own system. Now there's going to be less and less single player games. While being flooded with more and more microtransactions and focusing mostly on multiplayer online only games. Good thing we have so many brilliant indie developers filling these gaps, reminding everyone what video games are supposed to be about. 360 and PS3 were a good era, and now they're just trying too hard. It's like we took a step back. Nintendo is the only one still doing something innovative for gaming. Just because we have the technology for cutting edge AAA titles, doesn't mean they all have to be that way. I would trade graphics or online capabilities if I can keep couch co-op and single player.