Single player has always been an important part of the video game experience, whether it was the engrossing story of Final Fantasy Tactics(PSone) or the fun gameplay of the Mario series or the challenge of the megaman games. Single player, up until recently, has been the benchmark for whether you game was considered a worth the time to play, or just a waste of time. Single player has provided many people with memorable experiences and memories albeit many times the same ones. When someone says, 'oh remember Omaha Beach?' or 'remember that final mission in GTA: SA?' you would probably be like, yeah I remember that and remember '(insert something else about the same part of the mission/level)' and the conversation goes as such. While this is all well and good, the recent surge in xbox live and the recent customization craze, people seems to want everything to be tailored to them, and memories and experiences are no different. Enter the multiplayer experiences, while this is nothing new, it certainly has grown in the last couple of years to nearly, if it hasn't already, eclipse the single player experience.
Case in point, the Battlefield series has been known to have some of the best multiplayer around, even if its single player seems to have been dreamt up by monkeys. Why is it that even when the single player is bad people will still flock to a game, as stated before it is the desire for unique and non-set piece memories and experiences that drive the urge to play multiplayer. Suppose two people that played Battlefield had a conversation about the game, one person might say ' oh it was so tight, I was flying in a helicopter while rockets were exploding all around and then one hit us, we crashed but I survived and had to defend and wait for help, eventually one of my teammates came in with another copter and took out the enemy, I got into the copter and we flew off, blah blah blah' the other person might say 'nice, that hasn't happen to me but one time me and my pal were riding down the road full speed, taking out enemies and trying to dodge bullets, well right as we were about to reach the objective deep behind enemy lines a plane came out of no where and shot our vehicles, we got out before we could take to much damage fought off some enemies for awhile before our ammo ran out, lucky for us our commander dropped some supplies and we were about to get out of there alive' and the conversation continued in this manner. The real question is, which conversation would you rather have?
Many people of the RPG and other genres traditionally dependent on the single player would most likely have the former conversation rather than the latter, while people of the FPS and RTS genre would rahter have the latter conversation. But really, most people would rather have the latter conversation because it has more room for more thing to be talked about just from the virtue that each person had a different experience and they can share that experience knowing that it is unique to them. This thought of uniqueness, when playing in multiplayer, is more real that any customization option or avatar will give you because it was really you and other human beings who created the experience, there is no pre-scripted runs or attack patterns, most of the time it is on the fly, spontaneous or random. And this is why multiplayer will soon, or is, eclipse the single player experience.
But one interesting thing to note, is how the creators of single player experience are using the knowledge of why multiplayer is fun and putting it to good use, one case in point being the Indiana Jones game corning out in 2007. This game is using an engine were the actions that the NPCs carry out aren't really prescripted, the animations or the actions, go here
for more. This is great because it opens up the possibility of unique experience to happen even in a generally pre-scripted single player mode. It is great to see this happening, not only from this game but from many other including games like Medal of Honor: Airborne Assault and others.
The greatest example of this fusion of single player pre-scripted restrictions on uniqueness of memories and the multiplayer creation of unique memories is Guild Wars. The game at its core is a single player RPG that can almost be play through without actually using the help of any companions, even though it is a MMO. The interesting thing that comes into play is that even single player missions can become multiplayer missions, all you need to do is have a party with you. And this is where the great fusion of single and multi player comes into play, you can still participate in the semi-pre-scripted fun that the single player offers while simultaneously creating unique memories with your friends. Remembering killing the hoards of drakes and other creatures with only yourself is uneventful and usually boring, but add in the group dynamics and general fun associated with taking out the hoard with your friends, and it will probably be remembered better and more fondly.
The recognition of why many people now prefer playing the multiplayer over the single player will greatly assist the makers of single player experiences of recognizing their goal of giving the player the sense that they are fight along or against real player while not actually doing so and in the process provide the randomness that is inherent with playing multiplayer games. In the creators of single player experiences will have to evolve to embrace the idea that unique memories that multiplayer can produce while still keeping at their core the stories and memorable missions( like Omaha beach) that have defined single player games.