Could the ability to watch an entire game from beginning to end online be the death of linear single-player experiences? It’s an interesting question. Streaming has been around for a while, especially on PC, but now that streaming straight from your Xbox One or PlayStation 4 has lowered the barrier for entry and discovery, the question carries more weight.
Sure there are games, like The Walking Dead or Mass Effect, where the narrative can take numerous turns to create the illusion that “no game is the same.” And there are open-world games, like Assassin’s Creed or Grand Theft Auto, where the narrative runs alongside a playground that players need to experience to understand. But games in which the main story path is fairly limited and predetermined to a degree could be endangered.
Why play The Last of Us Remastered when the day it launches you can watch someone else play the entire experience right on your PS4? Did South Park: The Stick of Truth have fewer sales overall because world-renowned YouTuber Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg played through the entire experience online before the game was even available for purchase? The jokes were the same whether you watched it on YouTube or played it yourself.
To me, the answer to that question is easy; I want to play the game. I have no desire to watch someone else play through the experience, but there are plenty of people who do.
For many, perhaps it is just a question of budget. Why buy a game that you can watch when funds are limited? Yes, we love to support developers by buying their products, but few people out there can afford the thousands of games that come out across the spectrum of platforms in a given year.
I know I love well-crafted single-player experiences, and I would hate to see them fade from existence because developers can’t sell enough units due to players watching them online. On the other hand, if developers can’t create experiences compelling enough for you to need to play them and not simply watch them, can the consumer be blamed for simply watching the experience and walking away?
The experience on the gamepad becomes paramount to survival in this brave new streaming world. Developers need to innovate and hone the experiences, not add more scenes where mashing buttons opens a sealed door or stops a falling column. Player agency and ownership of the action will be what defines the games and gives weight to the stories that developers tell.