Single player is a "gimmick" says mid-core developer

Gogogic CEO Jonas Antonsson says games are meant to be played with others, whether simultaneously or not

Certain games, like Demon's Souls or DayZ, are purposefully designed to be a challenge, which depending on the player is either satisfying or exasperating. Gogogic CEO Jonas Antonsson thinks that these sorts of games scratch a sort of itch for gamers, and notes that their social components are evidence of how games are moving towards a sort of multiplayer singularity.

"There's clearly an audience for those sorts of games, but if you advertise a game that's going to hurt you and make fun of you, it has to be the right sort of game," said Antonsson. "For the DayZ mod, you have people who have played for days and get killed, but I think that the experience fits with the mood of brutal survival and it becomes an acceptable part of the gameplay. So I think there is a strong audience for hard and unrelenting games - I personally like them - but as core gamers take on added real-life burdens I think they can't spend as much time playing games and that increases the frustration level of losing all your stuff or having to begin from scratch. You learn to appreciate using your time more efficiently."

"I also think that it is worth to note that the single player mechanic is a gimmick - games are meant to be played with others and it doesn't matter if it's in-person or online. The first games were designed as multiplayer experiences, but when computer and console games became a thing there was a need to construct an antagonist and/or a protagonist for commercial purposes," he continued. "You couldn't depend on people coming together to have a synchronous experience over a game. That would have simply stifled sales. And since there was no reasonable way to connect people in other ways - the arcade was the only serious attempt - it became an industry need to project the game as the other player. Playing a game is a multiplayer activity and can easily be seen as such when you watch young toddlers play by themselves. They invent someone to play with, someone that they talk to and interact with."

"The high score list is a simplest way to make a game social, to transform it to an asynchronous multiplayer experience. A simple list allows me to share an experience with others - comparing myself to you in the game. This also becomes a great reason to create games that are hard and difficult to master. Enter the classic hardcore game that allows dedicated players to compare not only scores but progress and in-game assets found or unlocked. But now we can connect people in and around a game through real time PvP and PvE mechanics and the need for pure single player games had gone down. We have multiple plots and stories and build the meta-experience for the entire audience. The premise for making games has changed - reverted back to building multiplayer experiences that are true to the game form."

"This doesn't mean that we have run out of room when it comes to great single-player titles or games that make you sweat and curse every couple of minutes. It means that those titles have to be very appealing and cater well to the hardcore audience," Antonsson added. "So games that drive you crazy can be excellent because they are well designed, not because that's what games are supposed to do or how they should always work."

Read the full interview on [a]list.

More stories

Zordix acquires Maximum Games for $42m

Purchase of publisher/distributor includes additional earnouts of up to $30m

By Jeffrey Rousseau

CD Projekt sales up but GOG struggles

Third quarter revenues up 38% as Cyberpunk and Witcher help offset digital storefront's ongoing losses

By Brendan Sinclair

Latest comments (23)

Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.9 years ago
The worlds most popular and most played game says Mr. Antonsson is wrong. Both in digital and analog format.


To say nothing of puzzles.

I suppose Tetris was a gimmick? And how did that do when it became a multiplayer title?
4Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Pier Castonguay Programmer 9 years ago
"I think [...] I think [,...]"
Well I think the editor is wrong. Yes it's true most people don't feel attracted to games if it's not multiplayer (hence the popularity of LoL and WoW), but it's really not for everyone. I personally play exclusively single player games for good story and exploration. I can't stand nearly all multiplayer gameplay. I hate repetitive match (pvp) or having others trigger events before you get there yourself (coop).

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Pier Castonguay on 26th October 2012 6:39pm

1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Mats Holm Battlefront Producer, Electronic Arts9 years ago
Most single player games are not really single player. Puzzle games yes, Tetris and Solitaire are perhaps the more clear forms of single player, but most games have us playing against the computer. These games are not truly single player as we are playing against others, it just happens to be that the other, is not a real person.

Playing something like X-Com, technically you could have a player who was playing the Alien side, both sides operate on almost the same sort of rules. But would you want to? Do I want my game of X-Com game to be dependent on another human? No, I think the computer is a good enough entertainer for me on that one. Same goes for games like Civilization.

As long as the CPU has to play along a set of rules, and the player has to play along a set of rules, you have a two player game. It just happens that the second player is not a human.
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Show all comments (23)
Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 9 years ago
And then there's the games where there's a narrative. Everything from Tomb Raider to Dishonored, including Mirror's Edge and the Half Life games are, quite plainly, fantastic single-player experiences that need no secondary human-interaction, and do not rely on an all-encompassing AI opponent.

Just because some books are better read to your child just before they go to bed, does not mean that all books should have to be repurposed to fit that "ideal". So it goes for games.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 26th October 2012 11:57pm

3Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 9 years ago
This is one of the dumber things I've read about games in a while, period. I can rattle of hundreds of SP games I've played where the solitary experience made for not only a more compelling experience, but adding ANY sort of MP modes would screw up the story the developers were trying to tell and just indeed be a more "social" type of game.

Silent Hill, and Elder Scrolls game (well, save for the upcoming TES Online), a couple of Ultimas, System Shock, Sonic the Hedgehog, quite a few racing games, and blah and blah and blah. I was going to list a ton of arcade games, pinball games and other vintage stuff, but I have a few reviews to write.
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game9 years ago
There were a handful of people last year that were interviewed, saying videogames have outgrown the term "game", that we should move on and find a new label, as "game" has certain connotations, which to some non-players stop them being taken as seriously as an artform.

Generally I don't care about the label, but the idea that we should change the experience to fit the name, rather than the other way round is absurd.
2Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Paul Roberts Games Programmer, The Blast Furnace9 years ago
It's a bit of a sweeping statement to say all games are meant to be played with others and that single player is a gimmick.

There are those games that benefit from online multiplayer, WOW for example, but there are other games that are completely ruined when you go online. Fight night Champion has an excellent one player storyline with many challenges, which are well balanced with AI. Online however, is a poor experience in comparison with all the people doing endless one moves, giving abuse, or aborting the game mid way through.

I'm quite happy with single player, with the option to dip into multiplayer when it suits me. But that's how it is now isn't it?
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Robin Clarke Producer, AppyNation Ltd9 years ago
I remember people seriously making this argument at conferences six or seven years ago when MMOs were still expected to take over the world. It's nonsense of course.
2Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Jonas Antonsson CEO, Gogogic9 years ago
As the owner of these comments I want to point to the comment from Mats Holm. It elegently explains what I was trying to say!

Single player games can be amazing experiences and I absolutely think they have a long future ahead of them. Modern games are an art form where tremendous skill is applied to design an experience. But it is important to realize that "single player" games have to be designed with a built in opponent. Something has to take on the role of "the other". This is an illusion. Those familiar with illusions know that the term "gimmick" means what the illusionist does to distract the audience to make the illusion appear real. If properly done the audience believes the illusion and the experience is complete.

We also find other ways to socialize around single-player games to enhance our experience. We tell others about them, we compare scores and achievements. We blog, capture screenshots, tweet, watch others play, etc.

The point is I'm just happy that we now have the technology needed to support real social interaction through computer games, that frees us from casting the game itself as an antagonist, to a certain extent at least.

It should also be noted that this article is only a part of a larger two-part interview. So it is a bit out of context.

I should also mention that I think pure puzzles fall into a different category.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jonas Antonsson on 27th October 2012 3:59pm

1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Morville O'Driscoll Blogger & Critic 9 years ago
@ Jonas

Thanks for elaborating a bit. I still have to argue this, though, so forgive me. :p

What about RPGs? The "other" that you mention could be applied to this, but it's not a perfect analogy. Taking, say, Baldur's Gate as an example, the computer is tasked with taking the role of the GM - telling a story, rolling dice, speaking through NPCs - and yet it is an excellent single-player substitute for if you can't role-play in real life, due to whatever reason. I would personally argue that RPGs stand perfectly well as a single-player experience with the computer taking the role not of opponent but of collaborator, which is where I disagree with your assertion that "games have to be designed with a built in opponent."

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Morville O'Driscoll on 27th October 2012 4:33pm

1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Jonas Antonsson CEO, Gogogic9 years ago
@ Morville absolutely! I think your argument is both good and valid. In the original interview I talked about both antagonists and protagonists, so I agree that collaboration is a part of the design. But the game is still taking on the role of "the other" or, in this case "the others" - playing both your friends and foes.

The "single player is a gimmick" thing is perfect for a controversial headline but it completely misrepresents the argument I was trying to make. I even state, in the interview, that I see a bright future for great single player games.
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.9 years ago
Jonas, I greatly appreciate the elaboration. And the term "gimmick" in the illusionist industry is exactly as you describe. Most unfortunately it is a term more often understood as being an unnecessary trick, an unneeded complication or a hook with no substance. Without the illusionist association, your statement far too easily draws the wrong impression.

Perhaps David and will be kind enough to offer you a statement?
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 9 years ago
Video games are mainly single player because that is what the technology, historically, limited us to. Hence Tetris, Solitaire etc.
But now we have the interwebs.
Which means we can play against other humans instead of against algorithms.
If you look at non video games, say card games, you will see that the vast majority have evolved to be multi player. So society over 100s of years has proved that they work best.
Here at Kwalee everything we do is multiplayer, starting with board games to build competences then moving over to our own game mechanics. And using our own technology to allow cross platform social interaction. This has to give people the best gaming experience.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Curt Sampson Sofware Developer 9 years ago
Technology certainly did not limit us to single player games. The very first video game ever, Spacewar, was a two-player game. From Pong onwards, there was no lack of two-player games in arcades. And of course the very first game for the Atari 2600, Combat, required two players.

If in general single-player games have been more popular, there's a reason for that that's nothing to do with technological capabilities.
7Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.9 years ago
Geez, Bruce. Not only historical inaccuracy but a subtle company plug as well.

Anyone that believes that all games, video or analog, must be socially based might be suffering from autophobia.
10Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
MGS, SoC, FF's series would like to have a word with you ....
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 9 years ago
Not to mention Zork, Wizardry, Ultima, Anvil of Dawn, Might & Magic, Myst, Guardian War, King's Quest, Sorcerian and so forth and so on. Yeah, yeah, some of these went MP and/or "social" later, but that was well after their successes as SP games. Hell, even DOOM was compelling in SP because you wanted to get through the damn game to see what horrors were coming in each level.
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.9 years ago
Metroid Prime is an awesome single player experience. They tried multiplayer in the sequel. There is a reason it wasn't included in the final game of the trilogy.
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Ian Brown IT Developer / IT Infrastructure 9 years ago
Some of my greatest experiences playing video games have to be honest in single player. The first time I played Mass Effect after buying it on PC and not really expecting much. The story, the world it all got me. The ending, for a game will always stay with me for its grandeur. It felt like I had watched Blade Runner for the first time (in pure awesomeness). Xcom UFO/Terror from the Deep are two of my best games period. Having played them since release to this day shows how single player is not a gimmick. Final Fantasy 7/8, both excellent games with no multiplayer.

I really do enjoy multiplayer but I don't want to always want to be online. I'd like to be able to play at my own pace, when i want and how i want. If anything I think developers spend too much time on the multiplayer pick up and trade in culture of today. If you give me a single player experience that brings me back time and again, one that you can continue to expand with content, then I thank you for letting me enjoy a truly great experience.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Steve Nicholls Programmer 9 years ago
This guy is an idiot trying to get column inches. Single player is a gimmick yadda yadda.
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
David Radd Senior Editor, IndustryGamers9 years ago
I understand the temptation to react to the headline, but if you look at the context the response was put and the full statement I think it makes more sense. It's talking about the connections that are made with games even if it's not directly in-game multiplayer itself. I'd love to, of course, get more from Jonas since he was a wonderful interview - everyone should read the whole thing since he has some great insights!
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Paul Jace Merchandiser 9 years ago
Alan Wake on the 360 and Heavy Rain on the PS3 were both fantastic single player games this generation with awesome stories. There was no gimmick to either of those games.
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Brian Smith Artist 9 years ago
Single player gaming is more than just filling in for potential other players. When I've played many FPS games in single player I couldn't have reasonably expected that hundreds of other players would want to fill in the roles of the various enemies you meet along the way. I couldn't have expected them to act in concert enough to give a good impression of an organised force against me. I couldn't have expected them to play fairly to the storyline of the game.

Now that we have multi-player possibilities in just about everything we know that type of game can't work, other than in a co-op type of way. If we want multi-player in these games we need arenas and death-matches, capture the flag, short term goals and gameplay.

These are different types of games. Not just a gimmicky way of doing multiple players.
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply

Sign in to contribute

Need an account? Register now.