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Microsoft's Phil Spencer Thinks Online Marketplace Good for Offline Games

Phil Spencer thinks a digital marketplace will bring back the popularity of single player offline games, apparently not realizing they never stopped being popular, only available.

It is no secret that online and multiplayer have largely taken over the big-budget gaming market.  Between the truly massively multiplayer RPGs like World of Warcraft, the MOBAs, and the FPS games with token single-player campaigns tacked on, there is a decided preference in the studios controlling the largest game budgets towards titles with a major multiplayer component.  Phil Spencer of Microsoft, however, suggests the budding digital console marketplace might be able to add a bit more variety into the console industry.

His feeling is that things like ID@Xbox and Sony's indies program will allow mid-sized developers to once again begin creating and selling offline single-player games.  The obvious logic is that not having to pay for discs to be made of the games will make it more cost-effective, and thereby more plausible, for companies incapable of affording the kind of production and shipping costs such games require.  The problem is why that logic matters.

The problem is not offline versus online or single versus multi--it is publisher perception.

The actual statement Spencer makes does not have anything to do with whether there is a market for single player games.  He even, ironically, uses an example of a single player game on console that was out on PC beforehand and remains to this day online-only in its original format: Diablo 3.  The outcry over it not having an offline version on PC even after one was crafted specifically for consoles is telling enough, but not as telling as the fact that it remains online-only in all formats whereby someone can reasonably get away with it.

The actual issue seems more to do with the sales numbers larger publishers demand from essentially anything.  Games are getting bigger and only arguably better while trying to appeal to a wider audience.  This wider appeal has brought up certain trends amongst the highest-selling games, and one of those trends is multiplayer capability.

The single player, offline game has not largely disappeared because there is no interest, or because they cannot make money, but because they cannot make the kind of money the bigger-budget games are expected to.  It costs a lot of money to produce a console game, and the companies behind them actually make it harder for developers who lack the support of a publisher with big money behind it.

The industry wants a sure bet, not niche titles, so the checklist of mass appeal features reigns supreme.  The digital marketplace might bring about a resurgence in smaller, single player titles on consoles, but I would still not bet on one of the machines for my offline needs.

Published Jan. 8th 2014
  • Game Oracle
    Columnist
    Big box video games are certainly more popular with the big developers, but smaller video game developers can often produce a great game, for a lower cost. There are a lot of inherent expenses, bigger budget developers have to pay for, and some of these are often just a matter of habit for some companies. Cutting costs in production is something smaller video game developers have to deal with on a daily basis, while big budget developers are more concerned with producing a great game, than cutting costs.
  • Wokendreamer
    Featured Columnist
    It's the idea of spending more money to make more money, without the understanding that the overall margins get slimmer the more a company spends to ensure it makes a certain amount. There's a reason AAA games can sell millions of copies and be touted as financial failures while Kickstarter games can be huge successes with a hundred thousand sales.

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