One worrying trend of the last year or so is the under-performance of triple-A games with a single-player, narrative focus. The list of examples is lengthy: Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Dishonored 2, Mass Effect: Andromeda, and Prey, to name but a few. We spoke with Epic Games’ creative director Donald Mustard to get his thoughts on the subject.
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“I think they’re more challenging to be fiscally viable,” Mustard says. “If you look at the investment to create something like Uncharted 4 - that game is amazing, brilliant, captivating - but it’s a massive investment of time, money and people to create something like that. And the risk of return is huge.
“It’s that versus making a game that is more systemically driven, designed in a way that can engage an audience for a longer amount of time. It’s still very risky, but it seems like there’s a better opportunity for it.
“If we’re not already seeing the tip of it, we’re entering a challenging period for more traditional games. Single-player or not, just the more traditional designs of games. It’s going to be a challenging period. But it’s all cyclical, right? It’ll all be fine [laughs].”
Though Epic have made some of the biggest single-player games of the last generation, lately they've done plenty to embrace the trend towards service games: Paragon, Fortnite, SPYJiNX, and Battle Breakers all fall into that category. Their only recent single-player title is Robo Recall, a VR game. Will Epic ever make another big single-player game?
“I’d certainly never say ‘never’,” says Mustard. “We’re passionate about creating games that will delight our audience, and that are relevant today and tomorrow. It’s one of the things that’s so attractive about being a game developer - the industry is so new. Pong was only 40 years ago, right? I have no idea what the future will look like, but I’m confident that videogames 20 years from now will not look like they do today, whereas a film 20 years ago - and 20 years before that - it’s still just a film.
“We’re in this rapidly evolving medium, and I love it. I think humans greatly desire myth - we love stories. I don’t think that thousands of years of human nature is going to just go away. I don’t know if storytelling games in the future will continue to look like Uncharted, but we’ll definitely have them. As we figure out what those games should be, we’ll be right there, making it.”
Personally, I wonder if the trend toward service games is sustainable - I know I only have time for one or two. By contrast, when I pick up a single-player game, I like knowing that the experience will be complete in a couple dozen hours, and I can set it aside like a finished book.