There's an argument going around gaming fandoms that single-player is dead. It's an easy argument to make, since we live in a world where Tetris is now a battle royale and Final Fantasy has a free-to-play fighting game. Gamers have become so aware of companies' inclination towards microtransaction-based multiplayer experiences that they've even started a sort of counter-movement to the trend. It's actually almost become a parody of itself, with endless posts thanking the likes of God Of War and Marvel's Spider-Man for simply existing.
However, in Uncharted creator's Amy Hennig view, the single-player struggle is quite real.
In a lengthy interview with Venture Beat, Hennig talks about her experience with the Uncharted games, and notes how such a thing would probably not happen today.
"I’ve said that I don’t think a game like the first Uncharted, even though it was the foundational footprint for that series, would be a viable pitch today. The idea of a finite eight-ish-hour experience that has no second modes, no online — the only replayability was the fact that you could unlock cheats and stuff like that. No multiplayer, nothing. That doesn’t fly anymore," Hennig stated.
Her reasoning comes down to several factors. One she comes back to several times, that you can also see in the quote, is the idea that games now have to have an online component - particularly one that's multiplayer. She mentions her time with EA on the canceled Visceral Star Wars game, and how even mid-project she could see where the publisher's true priorities lay.
"I just think that there was a shift that started feeling inevitable. EA is just not — they hired me for a reason. They know what I do. But I think that where EA is at right now, they’re looking more at games as a service, the live service model. More open world stuff, trying to crack that nut, versus this more finite crafted experience," said Hennig.
Another factor in play is that "finite" experience that she mentions. The Uncharted games are known for being only a few hours long, with little regard for things like side quests. That was very much on purpose, Hennig reveals, as the team really wanted to focus on the story. Random wandering to track down herbs or explore a side character's tragic past just wouldn't make sense with the urgency of Drake's adventures.
However, Hennig is aware that such a focus is not common in today's industry. She posits that people not being able to afford endless games, and therefore wanting each one to last, could be the reason why we see so many games leave focused stories behind in favor of hours of side content and collectibles. She also thinks this artificial lengthening can hurt games because players often become so overwhelmed with side quests that they check out of the story.
"When people felt like games like Uncharted and The Last of Us were successful," she muses, "it’s because the shape of the story is so deliberate. I don’t know how you do that systemically or with machine learning or AI, where you’re saying, 'Let’s drop a story thing here that will be a downturn or an upturn, or that will feel like an act break.' No."
Of course, Hennig is just one person with an opinion, albeit a very wise one. Games like Marvel's Spider-Man and Red Dead Redemption 2 succeeded because they offer players so many things to do. They're also based on already successful franchises. However, that's another nail in the coffin for the hypothetical next Uncharted-style game. Sony poured resources into Spider-Man knowing full well that a large group of people would buy it regardless of how it turned out. There's no such chance for whatever no-name story-based game someone like Hennig might pitch.
There are the few who defy the odds, like Celeste or Horizon: Zero Dawn, but you can stack those up against Call Of Duty's decision to abandon a campaign for battle royale, Fortnite's dominance of pop culture, and EA's tossing aside of Anthem in favor of Apex Legends. The live service games are taking over, and major publishers are all about it.
Players better start making more memes about how awesome God Of War is.