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Is single-player gaming under-threat?

Dishonored stands alone this year as the only big Christmas release without online play...

EA labels president Frank Gibeau stated in Sep 2012: "I've not green lit one game to be developed as a single-player experience," confirming what we've long feared - that all games are being forced online. He was quick to clarify his view, claiming to "believe passionately in single player games," as long as they "had an ongoing content plan for keeping customers engaged."

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So what does this mean for those who fear solo-player experiences are being marred by needless multiplayer modes? Dead Space 3's contentious co-op mode was born from listening to the fans, claimed Gibeau, causing said fans to hit the messageboards in force. "Co-operative play in a survival horror game?" they replied. It's a bromance! It's a buddy comedy! It's Gears of Dead Space 3! It's Resident Evil 5 all over again - a game as bloodcurdlingly terrifying as two happy spaniels on a trampoline. "Pah," scoffed the internet. "Shameless money-grubbing!"

EA's decision caused internet uproar because, as fans saw it, it was the clearest example of a publisher ignoring the wishes of its fanbase in pursuit of higher sales. Dead Space 3 might be the most high profile case, but it's far from the only title pushing gamers towards online play.

Online modes only work if players don't feel they're being fleeced...

In fact, over 90% of pre-Christmas AAA console releases contain a degree of competitive multiplayer, like Hitman Absolution's Contracts mode. Only Dishonored is single-player-only, although DLC is surely likely at some stage. So why are so many games online? The short response is that online components - whether that's micro-transactions, DLC or competitive multiplayer - make more money for publishers over time than a straight single-player game. "Multiplayer provides several key draws," says games analyst Steve Bailey. "Publishers gain a key selling point, console manufacturers gain usage of their online services, and players themselves find lots to engage with." Online modes only work if players don't feel they're being fleeced. One of the key promises of Modern Warfare 3's multiplayer was it would always free. If you want the standard experience, then you pay the price on the box. If you want the extras, you pay.

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"Call of Duty is a key example, with Activision staggering the releases of map packs to keep players engaged in between releases and taking the idea even further with a subscription service like Elite," says Bailey. "This opportunity to monetise players is an ongoing balancing act: publishers can see greater return on investment in an environment where producing cutting-edge games is becoming more expensive, while players can see the content and feature sets expanded for a game that they like, provided they feel that the value is there."

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