I'm not an impartial commentator on much, and I won't hide the fact that I loathe Phil Harrison's stupid bald head more than waking up in the morning and finding out that I'm out of milk. So when I'm just casually perusing the Internet and I find out that he's declaring that the single player way of life is over, I see red. Here's what he said to Eurogamer in some recent interview:
Alone in the Dark is a beautifully crafted single-player adventure game. I don't think the industry is going to make many more of those. I just don't think consumers want to be playing games that don't have some kind of network connectivity to them, or some kind of community embedded in them, or some kind of extension available through downloadable content.
Before we all start raiding the cutlery draw in an eager dash to perform DIY lobotomies by sticking forks through our ears (it's required to seamlessly integrate with the majority of Xbox Live players) it's probably worth mulling over what exactly Harrison is banging on about. No more beautifully crafted narrative adventures that unfold at a linear pace? I like a bit of Call of Duty 4 and Halo 3 online as much as the next guy, but the idea of never seeing a "beautifully crafted single-player adventure" again absolutely terrifies me. He can't be right, can he?
I hate to say it, but on some level I think he is. With news that even Resident Evil 5 wants to tap into the co-op trend, I definitely get a feel that the days of sitting on your own and enjoying something in a similar way as you would sit and enjoy a book are over. Social gaming is reaching a new epoch, so it's only a natural extension that everything tries to get on board. But, then, I think about it a little more. Harrison is pretty much just doing what he usually does and making a grand sweeping statement that declares something that is far from the truth. I presume he's basically predicting that everything will come with stuff like online scoreboards and uploadable replays. I don't think slapping a few of those in everything heralds the end of the "beautifully crafted single-player adventure".
Lovable beady eyed Harrison is hardly a prophet here. When I predicted that eighty percent of all games in the next two years would use a cover system after playing Gears of War for the first time, I didn't think I was making a clever and astute piece of social commentary: after spending most of my life playing videogames I was fully aware what a horribly derivative and unimaginative world they usually are. The rise in online co-op is probably just another piece that your average - and let's face it, Atari are pretty much the epitome of average - developer has drained from the popularity of Gears of War and Halo 3. At least those expensive focus groups are good for something, I guess.
Most console gamers still do not play online, unless the facts have changed in the last year. I’m sure online use with console is on the rise not the decline, but you have to figure that at some point just going online once or twice a month is actual meaningless and that the counting will have to switch over to counting how many people playing online much of teh time.
I suppose what I am alluding to is that single player is here to stay and those developers/publishers that venture too far out beyond sight of single-player-land will find that indeed, “thar be monsters in the briny deep”. In that case of XBL thar be racist, foul mouthed monsters with poor sportsmanship.
You could almost say there natural check valve of online or co-op only games, i.e. the currnt ilk that play such games are rat bastards or Pied Pipers who happen to like rats. Truthfull, we need not discuss that old chestnut, except to say that as much as developers might want their games online, the world isn’t ready to play with rats.
As far as Harrison is concerned, well he started believing his own press long ago and that is always distracting when you also have some power. If I’m not mistaken his current belief was he was ahead of the wave for casual games and he was the only one at Sony who “got it.” Perhaps true from a certain perspective, but this explanation leaves out the actual developers who were pitching these gems years before Phil started staying they sprung like Athena from his bald Zeus-like noggin. And least we forget this “genius” with games was green lighting Karaoke and quiz shows. That was a stretch because evidently in his mind these were controversial ideas that nobody had been doing for decades.