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While we didn't get a big Red Dead Redemption 2 trailer during E3 2018, it's clear that the practically guaranteed mega-hit from Take-Two Interactive will have a meaty single-player campaign for Western fans to ride through. But while some folks are predicting doom and gloom for similar solo experiences in the modern age of gaming, the publisher's CEO, Strauss Zelnick, isn't convinced. It's obvious that the landscape is changing, but Zelnick seems to be convinced there will always be a place for stories to be told in games.
In recent years, more stories predicting the end of single-player games have started popping up, spurred on by the popularity of games like PUBG, Fortnite, Overwatch, various MOBAs and the continued success of the mobile platform. Heck, even this year's Call of Duty game will be solely focused on the multiplayer experience, cutting out the campaign and replacing it instead with a battle royale mode. But in an E3 interview with Venturebeat, Take-Two's Strauss Zelnick said he isn't convinced that single-player games are ready to ride off into the sunset. As he put it:
People really are saying that, and not even tongue-in-cheek. I don't buy that. Single-player, in my opinion, is not dead, not even close. Companies that feel like they'll just avoid the hard work of building a story and characters and go right to where the money is in multiplayer, I don't think that's going to work. I'd be surprised.
Given the success of games like Fortnite, it might be easy to disagree with Zelnick's stance. Then again, you could argue that history has already set a precedence for what he's stating. We don't read this as "going multiplayer-only isn't going to work for anybody," but rather "it will only work for a select few."
Battle royale games are a perfect example. The success of PUBG and Fortnite has already spawned dozens of similar games, but how many of those games are earning the attention or anywhere near the dollars of those two genre giants? How many arena shooters outside of Overwatch have taken the world by storm in recent years? Going even further back, how many MOBAs outside of Heroes of the Storm and DOTA 2 have pulled in the big bucks, and how many MMORPGs have risen to a status similar to that enjoyed by World of Warcraft? There might be a couple examples of exceptions to the rule, but these types of genres are typically dominated by only a couple of top performers.
Which is what we believe Zelnick is getting at with his statement about single-player games. There are loads of gamers who enjoy playing through campaigns, and frequently, they only touch a game's multiplayer because they were first drawn in by the story. And Zelnick knows what he's talking about here, because Take-Two's Grand Theft Auto V turned everyone's head courtesy of its campaign. From that initial fan base, they've been able to turn the game into an evergreen online hit. Further into the interview, Zelnick makes it clear that he does not believe the latter would have happened without the former.
While several publishers seem to be chasing the current trends, we're happy publishers like Take-Two and Bethesda still exist. When the latest fads start to shift, it's good to know at least some of the big players will still be making narrative-driven experiences.