Amy Hennig (former creative director of Naughty Dog) and Sean Vanaman (co-writer and co-director of Firewatch) recently sat down and had a conversation about the gaming industry. During their incredible discussion – which you can and should read in full over at Polygon – Amy Hennig talked about something that has fans of single-player game experiences engaging in a debate of their own.
“I think we’re in an inflection point right now,” said Hennig. “Obviously what happened with our Star Wars project didn’t come out of the blue. A lot of too-dramatic articles were written about it — the death of linear story games and all that kind of stuff — but look, there is a real problem: this line we’ve been running up to for a lot of years, which is the rising cost of development, and the desires, or the demands even, of players in terms of hours of gameplay, fidelity, production values, additional modes, all these things. Those pressures end up very real internally. If it costs you, say, $100 million or more to make a game, how are you making that money back, and making a profit?”
While that subject has been covered before, Hennig invoked an extra problem that doesn’t get talked about very often.
“There is also this trend now that, as much as people protest and say, ‘Why are you canceling a linear, story-based game? This is the kind of game we want,’” said Hennig. “People aren’t necessarily buying them. They’re watching somebody else play them online.”
By “watching somebody else play them online,” Hennig seems to be referencing the rise of Twitch, YouTube, and other platforms that allow people to watch a streamer play through the entirety of a narrative-driven experience. We’ve heard other developers speak out against the rise of let’s play culture and how those videos have negatively impacted sales.
Even Vanaman disagreed slightly on that point. He stated that thousands of copies of Firewatch were sent out to various streamers and YouTubers and that the resulting exposure helped raise awareness of the game. As Hennig notes, though, the situation is a bit different when you compare a Triple-A release to an indie title.
Regardless of your thoughts on that particular topic, it’s hard to deny that the public outcry for narrative-driven single-player games hasn’t exactly translated into incredible sales. Some of 2017’s greatest big budget, narrative-driven games – Resident Evil 7, Prey, and Wolfenstein II to name a few – all reportedly sold fewer copies than their developers had initially anticipated.
It seems that the heart of this problem, then, may just be the long-standing issue of the rising cost of games vs. the number of people who end up actually buying them. Is it possible that the most diehard supporters of Triple-A, narrative-driven games really are a vocal minority? Is it really just up to the consumer to go out and buy more single-player experiences?
Unfortunately, the answers to those questions likely aren’t simple ones. As always, though, the best thing you can do to support games you like is buy them, talk about then, and continue to keep exploring different types of experiences to ensure a variety of worthwhile games achieve the success they deserve.