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DICE 09: Dave Perry - 'The Days Of Single-Player Games Are Numbered'
DICE 09: Dave Perry - 'The Days Of Single-Player Games Are Numbered' Exclusive
February 20, 2009 | By Chris Remo

February 20, 2009 | By Chris Remo
More: Console/PC, Exclusive

During a talk at the DICE Summit in Las Vegas, industry veteran and Shiny Entertainment founder Dave Perry (Earthworm Jim, Messiah) reflected on gaming's past -- and pointed to the future, where he sees single-player experiences taking a distant back seat to online free-to-play games.

Perry began by showing old marketing material from his first computer, the Sinclair ZX81. At the time, said Perry, the overriding mainstream thought was that computers would br solely used for productivity purposes. "I, like everone else, however, used it to make and play video games," he said.

Looking at how technology has progressed this those days, with increasing storage space and read/write speeds, Perry speculated as to how storage will progress in the future: to unlimited storage through virtual media with fast, ubiquitous wi-fi.

Similarly, he continued, processing will become not traditionally single-core or multicore, but rather clouds of processors.

Part of the technology he has been looking into, he explained, is focused on remote storage and processing, even in games, then delivering the final rendered frames to gamers via Flash video -- removing the need for players to themselves own powerful software and hardware. "It's like going back in time to when we had terminals instead of desktops," he summed up.

As more of the distribution goes online, stores like GameStop -- which Perry dubbed "Used GameStop," with accompanying PhotoShopped picture, much to the amusement of the crowd -- will have less of a hold on the industry.

"It kind of bugs me that we advertise and we co-promote [with these stores], then we send gamer sinto these used game stores," he said.

A GameStop executive recently predicted the era of full digital distribution is 12 to 17 years away, a timeframe Perry dismissed as ridiculous in the context of PC game distribution, Xbox Live Arcade, and entire Asian countries which are largely dependent on digtial distribution.

Perry has been working on a Flash API that he says will streamline Flash game development. Alongisde that will come FanHub, a portal which promises an 80 percent revenue share for "pro developers."

The future, according to Perry, is online and free-to-play. "I perosnally think the days of single-player games are numbered," he said. "Without question, our focus is entirely on multiplayer."

Showing names like Shigeru Miyamoto and Hideo Kojima on the screen, Perry said Japan has produced some of the best video game designers of all time -- "but would you be willing to bet China will never produce one of those names?" he asked.

If that level of talent emerges in China or Korea, and decides to make games using the free-play-model, traditional game developers with traditional business models may be unable to compete for an audience, Perry warned.

"The key trend is that we are going to be closer to our audience than ever before," Perry said, summing up his talk with a theme that was also espoused by Valve's Gabe Newell the previous day. "We must listen to them at every step. ...Your entire executive team must speak with them, not to them."

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Justin Keverne
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Depending on how broad or narrow you want to make your definition of games, then he's entire absolutely right or completely wrong.

Nora Rich
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I hope that they will always make single player games. There are actually times that I want to play a game alone( except for the Ai). Too often my online game play is interrupted by people wanting to "asl" me or cyber me or some other silly thing that detracts from the game.In single play, I don't have to worry about that.

Meredith Katz
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I certainly hope this isn't the case. I love single-player games. Multi-player's fine, but I'd no more like it to be my entire gaming experience than I'd want to only be able to see movies in the theatre.

Reg Stiles
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Mr. Perry, I think it's time to get back in touch with your industry.

Ben Versaw
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Who is this guy, exactly? After researching him the only games I've actually heard of either sucked or relied on a Brand Name - Earthworm Jim not included.

"Perry has been working on a Flash API that he says will streamline Flash game development."

I'm sorry but I don't see Flash competing with my game consoles for my time anytime soon. There have been few exceptions - Alien Homind for instance, but on the whole the quality of most Flash games are dreadfully lacking.

Please Gamasutra get some standards sometime soon.

Mike Lopez
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I respect Mr. Perry a lot but I do think his comments about the demise of single player is self serving since free to play is the model he has chosen to follow with multiple projects he has in the works. Talk to me about the end of single player games when titles like Bioshock have stopped being breakout successes in North America and Europe.

Spencer McFerrin
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This article is nothing but self promotion and muckraking drivel backed up by absolutely no research whatsoever as far as I can tell.

Good job. I suppose huge successes like Fallout 3 and the aforementioned Bioshock are clearly signaling the end of single player games.

As for digital distribution... I'm sure he's actually right about that one, though I'm a collector at heart, so I hope they don't stop making discs. I'd even pay extra for discs; as long as I can have my precious game shelf, I'm happy.

Timothy Aste
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I kind of rolled my eyes when I saw the title pop up in Google Reader, but glad I read the article through. I'm no fortune teller so I can't predict the future, but I agree with a lot of what is said here regarding the parts about cloud computing, Flash, free to play, and online gaming.

I don't see AAA going away, or singleplayer gaming either. I do see the potential for vast and sudden growth in the currently non-traditional areas mentioned above. Fortunately (or maybe unfortunately) for me I am so interested in these sorts of games that I recently left my previous job at GarageGames specifically to pursue these sorts of things (along with a small bunch of other ex-GarageGames guys and founders).

In addition to some small games, we have been working on a open-source Flash Game Engine as one of our projects. Looking to release it to the general public here pretty soon. There is a short primer up at until the main site goes life in case anyone else has any interest in these sorts of things.

Jason Bakker
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I can't get behind the idea that, just because the technology happens to be there, people will no longer care for narrative based single-player experiences.

If you're predicting the death of single player games, you're also predicting the death of fiction books, movies, narrative-based TV shows... just because multiplayer technology in the future will be easily accessible and implementable doesn't mean it automatically becomes a must-have ingredient for every game - it's just like any other feature, in that it can improve *or* detract from a gaming experience.

This is the danger of incredible accelerated technological development - people get so focused on developing the next best thing that they get trapped in their own warped perspective, where the next best thing is the solution to any problem.

Joshua Dallman
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Art games are typically single player experiences, and art games are not going away, ever.

Juha Kangas
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Like others have mentioned, this talk seems entierly self-serving. He's recruiting developers for his site. Besides the Bioshocks and Fallouts, there's also a huge casual market with single-player gamers and a big share of that is Flash even.

Tom Newman
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There will ALWAYS be single player games. As the industry expands, it will allow for a very diverse selection of different types of games. Many games will be online, or at least partially online, but with hundereds of millions gaming in a diverse global market, there will be more than enough room for both single and multi-player games.

Jake Romigh
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I think he might mean single-player ONLY gaming, or in a better stated way, games which do not natively also offer a multiplayer experience. Now, I'm with a lot of other people in agreeing that single-player gaming will never go away. It might diminish in the fact that more multiplayer-focused games will be trendy, but you just will never lose the audience that wants to play a casual jewel swapping game or the like.

What I do see, though, are less and less games coming out that do not offer a way to involve other players, whether co-op, competitive or simple swapping of items. If that's what he means, I agree. If not, well, we'll see...

Jake Romigh
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I should (before I get my butt handed to me) say that casual games are not the only games I was referring to when I stated people will always want single player games. All genres have a single player draw to them which will always be wanted by the gaming community, alongside their multiplayer counterpart.

Maurício Gomes
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I tought that David was more intelligent and less marketeer...

Seriously, Single-Player games dieing?

Digital distribution? Man, the majority of the world is still on dial-up! (and half of the US by those curious, according to another article here on gamasutra 2 or 3 months ago)

Also some people will NEVER buy a game digitally, some are afraid of doing so, others find it too cumbersome, some love to go a physical store, and I know many people that love the physical media, box and manual.

Dave Endresak
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With all due respect to Mr. Perry (and others who are so focused on multiplayer gaming that they've lost sight of the entire purpose of electronic gaming from its inception to the present), the drawing point of electronic games has always been and will always be the fact that you don't need anyone else in order to play. Yes, you can create an electronic game product that requires (or essentially requires) two or more players, but such a product has the same failings as any other game that has similar requirements (board games, tabletop RPGs, etc): it bars the majority of the market who want to play but cannot do so because they only have themselves. And yes, you can make the product online-enabled, but relatively few people wish to play games with strangers they don't know, especially when the online environment is usually filled with people ranging from polite to extremely rude. The same principles of communication and interaction apply, and the shortcomings do not appeal to many people who wish to game.

Other comments have covered other important aspects, too. I'd like to add a couple points. One title that I didn't see mentioned but should be is "Mass Effect." Also, Mr. Perry mentions the Asian markets but totally fails to mention that the Japanese adventures, visual novels, and simulations are by far the most popular offerings there, and are made for the single player experience. Major efforts to create an online environment based on hugely successful franchises such as Konami's "Tokimeki Memorial" have not succeeded despite the success of the single player franchise (TM sold well over 1 million copies just for the first game, let alone any of the sequels and spin-offs).

Frankly, I think arguments that games need to offer any type of multiplayer - coop or competitive - have similar flaws to those that have been stated about Mr. Perry's views. In fact, I would argue that the only thing that most multiplayer offerings wind up doing is make the development of a well-rounded, well-written, well-presented experience easier for the developers and designers. If they can rely on two or more humans interacting, there's less need to consider depth of world and NPC development.

There are people who want to play multiplayer games of all kinds: board games, cards, sports, etc. However, there are far more people who want to play games but do not have anyone to play with, and excluding them will only hurt the industry and creative process.

E Zachary Knight
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I don't think single player will ever die. What I would like to see is more local multiplayer. Not only multiplayer sessions but jump in at any time multiplayer along the lines of the Lego games. Games that allow more than one player to play through the narrative and are not reliant on all players who started to be there when continuing.

Taure Anthony
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I agree with the article here.....single player focused is what I took from the article and he's right

Jim Burner
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"We must listen to them at every step. ...Your entire executive team must speak with them, not to them." Sounds fine in passing, but it's a rubbish, commercial mentality that devalues the power of authorship and individual expression. People will always have the desire to unconditionally speak out AND be spoken to. The medium of videogames is no exception. Some call this art, and it's here to stay.

Damoun Shabestari
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Hey Perry, thanks for Earthworm Jim and MDK, but your time is done buddy. If I look at your recent track record, I see some pretty terrible games. Messiah = hyped up garbage. Enter the Matrix = only cool thing was the cutscene of Jada Pinkett Smith and Monica Bellucci making out. The Matrix: Path of Neo = more basura.

Don't tell us Single Player games are dead when in fact it's your drive to make them awesome is.

Andrew Hopper
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As long as there's a story to be told and someone to listen, single-player gaming will never die. As video games mature I can see game stories becoming prolific and important as books. Sure, you'll always have your wide-audience games, the quality of which may at times be suspect (see: movies, books, music), but there will always be that market for games which tell stories in ways that multiplayer would simply taint.

Not to say that multiplayer can't be good, but it's narrowminded to believe that multiplayer represents some kind of definitive paradigm for the industry.

Ivan K. Myers Jr.
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I agree with Mr. Perry. I think that when he says "single player games days are numbered" he means that the AAA boxed title is going to diminish in importance in the industry.

Free to play, online only games meaning that you would play the game through a web browser, and hopefully without having to download any assets.

For instance, going to a website and playing the next bioshock straight from the 2K website like you would watch a video on youtube.

Lance Rund
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I understand where the "single player is dead" prophecies can come from. After all, multiplayer has a lot to offer:

...allows lots of "replay value" per setting/level, which reduces the need for (and expense of) content

...emphasizes player interaction over storyline, quests, etc., again reducing the need for content

...allows a subscription model for access, which gives publishers recurring revenue, and ALL of the subscription goes to the publisher (none to the retailer)

However, multiplayer has a single huge impediment: the players themselves. Online behavior, because it is anonymous and because someone who is booted from one game can just go into another, tends to bring out the worst in people. Griefing, racism, homophobia, cheating, slander campaigns... all the things that would get someone kicked to the curb if they tried it face to face... become the _point_ of online play (for some). These bad behaviors drive away honest players, create administrative overhead, and give ammunition to legislation trolls like Whacky Jack. Parents will also forbid their children to participate in multiplayer games because such behavior is so prevalent.

So it's back to single-player.

Until there is accountability for antisocial behavior (akin to a credit rating), multiplayer games will have a self-imposed "glass ceiling". Yeah yeah, WoW billions millions, but that's one game. Failing to recognize something as fundamental as the fact that humans behave badly will limit/doom you every time.

Paul Lazenby
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The parts of this that makes complete sense - like cloud computing, etc - have already been predicted by the likes of Negroponte, Kevin Kelly, and others. So nothing new there.

Perry, who has made a lot of money in our business, is simply hyping his latest venture - with mixed to fair results.

Agreed with the other poster who indicates that Mr Perry is out of touch with his consumer. But hey, he's essentially retired, so why would one expect him to be that in-touch?

Teri Thom
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Though my personal preference is for multiplayer games, I've witnessed the rewarding singleplayer gameplay experience close hand for many years. That's not going away.

'Arrogant statement' are the first words that came to mind when I first read this article back before any responses. I'm glad to see so many share my point of view. :)

James Hofmann
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Timothy Aste: I'm sort of doing something similar to Push Button Engine, only my target isn't to make a powerful commercial-grade engine but instead a "rapid game development" tool like Game Maker etc. :) It will be open-source also.

Raph Koster
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"the drawing point of electronic games has always been and will always be the fact that you don't need anyone else in order to play."

Actually, the first, second, and third "inventions" of video games were multiplayer from the get-go. Higinbotham's tennis. Odyssey. Pong. Spacewar. Multiplayer has been in videogaming's DNA from very very early on. It's a mistake to think that single-player has been the point of videogames all along.

I got similarly blasted for making the same sort of comments a few years ago... *shrug* Time has simply provided more and more evidence that this is in fact the trend.

Jonathan Pynn
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there is a reason that we don't use mainframe computers anymore ( probably a whole list of them) I won't hold my breath waiting for someone to create a mainframe-like computer to render and transmit graphical content anywhere near what is contained in a triple a title.

Bart Stewart
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I think some here may be misunderstanding the time frame to which Perry's statements are addressed. I get the feeling he's looking about 5-10 years down the road.

It's obvious, but maybe it bears repeating here: 5-to-10 years is a long time in computing (including computer games). It's possible that by that time, many elements of computing will indeed have shifted off the desktop (or console) and onto network servers, in which case whoever's positioned with the right tools will have an advantage in content development. (If I were feeling cheeky, I might suggest that Raph's own Metaplace could be an example of one form of that migration happening right now.)

That said, the ongoing popularity of playing with friends does not imply that the ongoing popularity of playing on one's own must somehow be doomed. Until all our brains are directly wired to the global matrix, there'll be individuals; and as long as there are individuals, there'll be a viable market for games catering to individual play.

Dave Endresak
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@Raph Koster:

"Actually, the first, second, and third "inventions" of video games were multiplayer from the get-go. Higinbotham's tennis. Odyssey. Pong. Spacewar. Multiplayer has been in videogaming's DNA from very very early on. It's a mistake to think that single-player has been the point of videogames all along."

Actually, I come from the days of those games you mention, and all of them were created first and foremost for single player, not multiplayer. The entire point of Ralph Baer's work and the games of the Pong era was for people to be able to play solo without needing anyone else. Same for Spacewar on teletype machines in schools and many other games of that time period. You COULD have multiplayer, and Baer even stressed the family-centered concept of his invention, but that wasn't the primary selling point for electronic games of that time, nor is it the selling point today. You don't have electronic games marketed as "2 or more players" like board games, for example, and the reason is because doing so would kill sales. It's a mistake to think that electronic gaming was ever focused on multiplayer rather than solo play.

@Jonathan Pynn:

The majority of the world's computing is still on mainframe systems. This includes any large company such as automotive, insurance, financial, etc. Mainframes operate much faster and with larger volumes of data that simply cannot be handled by smaller machines; the necessary processing crashes the databases. That being said, what companies have done is to simply create newer front-ends that operate on relatively small extracts of the total data. I've worked on such systems during year 2000 work and afterwards. Companies have tried moving their processing off mainframes, but the daily volume is just too large for most large companies. That's why COBOL and FORTRAN on mainframes are still used today by business and science, respectively.

Raph Koster
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We may have to agree to disagree.

Pong & early console systems were clearly intended to have a major multiplayer component. Just count the # of controllers -- out of the box even. Of course the computer provided a huge opportunity for having an AI opponent, and the game industry quickly took advantage of that. But I stand by "multiplayer from the get-go" and "single-player wasn't the POINT."

We must be referencing different Spacewar games. I mean this one, which wasn't played via teletype:! And Higinbotham's was even called "Tennis for Two" btw.

"that wasn't the primary selling point for electronic games of that time, nor is it the selling point today."

Well, you're jumping to "selling," which narrows the scope quite considerably. During the same time period, for example, we had the PLATO network, in which multiplayer games thrived. By 1979 we had multiplayer games such as MUDs on academic networks and then the ARPANET. By the mid-80s we had commercial online services with multiplayer games going.

The way I would put it is that in the absence of networked computing devices in most households, it couldn't be the primary selling point for console devices and for home computers. But that was business pressures and market adoption issues; videogames themselves were not by nature singleplayer, but the market made them so, and it coincided nicely with the unique capabilities of computers as game players.

Nonetheless, market research has shown that the commonest way of playing console games was in fact in groups clear back into the 90s.

Saying that multiplayer is not a selling point today strikes me as simply false. Your example is of games that offer no single-player mode, which I grant are not very common. But multiplayer has become pretty much mandatory in many genres.

"It's a mistake to think that electronic gaming was ever focused on multiplayer rather than solo play."

My point was the inverse of that.

Brent Mitchell
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I disagree with him as well, on some things.

Single Player games, or portions of games, fit a niche in gaming that provides experiences similar to films. You want to be told a story, to embark on an adventure, to let things be scripted. Of course, Multi Player games can do this too and can do it very well, leading to the recent rise of Co-op gaming. A stellar example is Left4Dead, where each campaign is even called a Movie.

But even L4D saw the need for the singleplayer side of things and put a lot of development time into the AI controlled teammates (which, yes, can also just fill out the team). I doubt there has ever been a study on the increased value of a game with the addition of a single player portion, but it could yield some provocative numbers.

An interesting analogy: imagine if a movie came out where you could *only* watch it with other people? Where they would turn away people flying solo at the theater, and include some magical DRM on the DVD? How would that affect the sales? Obviously it's an unfeasible and ridiculous concept, but I think the ability for 'alone time' that comes with SP gaming, just like a home movie on a rainy day, is a selling point that will never go away.

Singleplayer gaming does have plenty of weaknesses, and they're starting to feel tired if they don't have multiplayer support. Dead Space is a perfect example. I felt it to be an absolutely stellar game, taking a good 20+ hours of innovative and quality gameplay to beat on the harder difficulty. But what was my recommendation to friends? A rental. One of the best rentals you can get, but a rental. Without multiplayer or significantly dynamic singleplayer (like L4D, even if it was sans co-op), there seems no reason to shell out $60, or even $30, when the exact same experience can cost you $7. I may very well choose to replay it in a few years, and maybe then I'll buy it... for $7 as well.

Comparatively, Oblivion and Fallout 3 have no ounce of MP, but they offer such a ridiculous amount of content and dynamic gameplay that $60 sometimes feels like a steal. I actually bought Oblivion twice (360 -> new pc rig), but with almost 500 hours to that title, it's still a great deal.

And hell, BioShock was worth a buy simply for the art direction.

Sumit Mehra
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I would say it depends on how one defines multiplayer games. Playing a single player game, uploading a high score to a server and comparing scores against other player is a form of multiplayer gaming?

If we think of multiplayer games only as Counter strike and Call of duty and single player as Bioshock and Fallout3 then yes the games industry is doomed. Not because these games aren’t good, these are fantastic games but making single player experiences has never been more expensive. It is one time huge effort for one time money, everyone wants to run for IP and then it is all about sequels. With Piracy and poor shelf life, it’s all about selling million copies in a bracket of months. The odd of making money and a 12GB single player experience worth $60 is becoming low. In my opinion the entire developer-publisher-retailer-customer eco-system is not sustainable.

So while Ralph can give 100 great reasons as to why games need to be multiplayer from a human interaction and design perspective (Ralph, I’m huge fan of Theory of fun ). I think linking games to internet in any form (digital distribution, cloud storage, server based games etc) is bound to happen and the first thing you think when you are connected? – connected experience

A huge change awaits us on the other side – this economic downturn will make lot of heads think in ways never imagined.

Whether broadband or dial-up, the age of being connected is present and from here we are only headed in one direction and that is faster and faster data transfer over networks.

Sharing information digitally will be part of man’s existence and the very meaning of being social.

Daniel Enright
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I could go on and on about why I find Mr. Perry's statement to be ridiculous but I'll just say this:

There will always be a market for single player games; likewise there will always be a market for multi-player games. They deliver fundamentally different experiences to the end users and also present different opportunities and challenges for the developers.

Daniel Enright
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Actually I will share one more thing about this topic:

Single player games have a “bookmark” or “DVR” advantage. Meaning you can experience them at your own pace, and on your own time. There are no social commitments to maintain, and none of the peer pressure or social barriers involved with having to drop out of a multi-player game prematurely.

This aspect of single player games is not to be underestimated, particularly now as the industry has matured to the point where there are more adults with often unpredictable external responsibilities playing video games.

Hoby Van Hoose
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Another Nostradamus.. (sigh)

Robert Rice
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Unbelievably out of touch, clueless, and in left field.