Valve ‘Probably’ Done With Single-Player Games

Valve ‘Probably’ Done With Single-Player Games

The makers of such acclaimed single-player video games as Portal and Half-Life 2 want all of their future games to support connected, non-solo gaming, in some way, at all levels.

That assertion first appeared in the Final Hours of Portal 2, journalist Geoff Keighley’s recent behind-the-scenes chronicle about Valve’s newest game. It’s an assertion he told me he heard directly from Valve founder Gabe Newell and the company’s project manager Erik Johnson.

“Portal 2 will probably be Valve’s last game with an isolated single-player experience,” Keighley wrote in Final Hours, “What this all means is something Newell is still trying to figure out.”

Keighley told me that he considered the comment “curious,” noting that the quality of the solo-only main campaign of Portal 2 was a fantastic piece of work. But the signs are there, not just from within Valve but all around the pioneering games company that solo-only modes are on their way out.

Valve’s Portal 2 introduced multiplayer to the Portal games through a two-player co-op mode. The company’s recent 2008 and 2009 Left4Dead games were presented as a primarily-multiplayer experience, even on consoles where such an animal is about as rare as a Nintendo-made Halo game. Valve has also continued to aggressively support its multiplayer Team Fortress 2, a game launched alongside Portal in 2007.

The company’s primary vehicle for single-player-only experiences has been the one that the public hasn’t seen anything new of since 2007. The campaign portions of Half-Life put players in control of hero Gordon Freeman; other players haven’t been able to join the game’s main adventure. While Valve has used its Half-Life games to present a more lively, less lonely first-person-shooter campaign, it has done so strictly through improving the artificial intelligence and acting of Freeman’s computer-controlled allies, namely Alyx Vance (pictured with our hero above).

Outside of Valve single-player-only games have been vanishing. After a long stretch as leading single-player franchise, Super Mario games on consoles now include second-player support. Series that launch as solo-only such as Uncharted or BioShock add multiplayer for their second installment. Hold-outs like God of War seem destined to add support for multiple players, somehow, some way. A company like Capcom doesn’t just make millions with its four-player series Monster Hunter, but it’s slowly but surely been pushing its formerly single-player-only series, Resident Evil, into a vehicle for multiplayer console Resident Evil games (Operation Raccoon City) and multiplayer portable ones (Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D). Even Capcom’s Dragon’s Dogma, though single-player, simulates a multiplayer experience by giving the main player a host of computer-controlled allies who behave as joining Monster Hunter gamers might.

The comment from Valve is striking, though, in that it doesn’t sound like Newell and Johnson said they’d probably never ship a game that didn’t have a multiplayer mode somewhere in it. Rather, they told Keighley they “probably” wouldn’t make a game “with an isolated single-player experience.” That would mean no more modes that couldn’t connect in some fashion to other people. Would, say, letting a second player control Alyx in Half Life 3 do the trick? Or could Valve be cooking up something less expected?


  • I hate this push to multiplayer. Especially in franchises where the singleplayer experience was much much better

    Portal 2 co-op was great but it has even less replayability than the singleplayer.

    Co-op horror games kill the horror most of the time

    Really hope that they don’t apply this to the HL series(which has had multiplayer in the form of Deathmatch for sometime)

  • I think multiplayer is a fantastic way of sharing the experience of a game with friends – Gaming is so typically isolated, and I always feel that whilst there’s a lot of shovelware MP, the companies that do it right should still do it.

    I’m happy about this, personally.

    • If you have no attachment or interest in the story: plot nor character development. I enjoy solo experiences such as games with stories and things called books. Not so interested in the join-a-server/jump-on-Facebook casual/non-progressive games.

  • I’m with you Alinos. With Steam you can’t on-sell games so Valve is the company that can most afford to carry the torch on single player games at mid-tier prices. The most compelling game stories/experiences of recent times – Half Lifes, BioShocks, GTAs, Red Dead, Elder Scrolls, Mass Effects, FallOut, Dragon Age, are all single player and any that had multiplayer wasted their development money. Tacked on multiplayer is the most disposable commodity in gaming.

  • Note that he states that Portal 2 will be the last game with an “ISOLATED single-player experience”. It DOES have a multiplayer mode, so that would imply that they’re going to introduce some sort of community/= in to every single-player game.

    HOWEVER, this doesn’t mean that every game will be a co-op game. See this interview:

    It could be as simple as letting people see what their friends are doing, or something even more interesting like letting people leave their own commentary nodes. DOTA 2, although it is a multiplayer game, is planned to have a mentoring system to allow more experienced players to teach the less experienced, which could theoretically be applied to Valve’s other games (although I doubt it would be).

    My point is that this doesn’t necessarily imply that valve won’t be making any more games or campaigns intended for only one person.

    • Hmm. This is the most interesting response to Keighley’s comments that I’ve seen. Defining “Isolated” is worthy of discussion, because it can rewrite the implications of GN/EJ’s statements.

      While I doubt something as simple and passive as a leaderboard would count as breaking the isolated experience into a shared one, look at something like Demons’ Souls. Definitely a single-player game, with a unique take on extra players. It’s possible that, in a hypothetical Portal 3, we’d be able to leave other players messages in Rat Man-like hideyholes, or maybe even skip over to the other players’ screen (ala Portal 2 multiplayer) during their singleplayer game to help them out with a puzzle, or check out this easter egg they found.

      In my opinion, my Portal 2 experience could not have been isolated, no matter how hard I tried. In my Steam group chat channel, people were talking about it, how they solved puzzle x, how great the ending was, trying as hard as they can to tease but not spoil, and so on. Facebook was abuzz with commentary, and I was bombarded with coop requests from my friends, or asking what I thought of a given scene.

      It’s that kind of secondary, social interaction, I think, that Valve might be aiming for, in light of Flay’s link to Erik’s interview with Gamasutra. Should this be the case, there’s no significant cause for alarm. Of course, it’s all speculation until we get further information or statements from Valve…

  • This is definitely worrying, in my opinion. Multiplayer games, especially local coop or voice-chat enabled, tend to fail to have any atmosphere to them. When you have 3 guys over the mic making jokes and laughing, you can’t possibly have a serious game going on underneath. It becomes all about min/maxing, finding optimal paths and playstyles, and joking around. There’s no room left for story, for ethical or moral choices or dilemmas, for atmosphere, or for character development.

    If the future of gaming is multiplayer, the future of gaming is banal.

  • Couldn’t the next Half life installment just come with ‘Multiplayer’ when you start it up (instead of having a separate game all together)?

  • When I play a game, its usually when I get home from work. I want to be able to start and leave whenever I choose. I don’t play games for the social experiance

  • When I play a game, its usually when I get home from work. I want to be able to start and leave whenever I choose. I don’t play games for the social experience

  • Valve… who own steam?
    Which makes money (a small metric eff-tonne of it, if the rumours are true)… from selling games?

    So by pushing multiplayer, they sell multiple copies of games, on their proprietary network?

    Am I the only one who sees an issue with Valves dominance?

    • I personally don’t see an issue with that. If it wasn’t Valve that had brought Digital Distribution mainstream with all the features steam is currently swarming with, Another company would have.

      But as Valve has a main stream income through steam, this allows them to easily fund and maintain their operation of steam and producing games. You know they will produce quality because they aren’t rushed to meet a deadline (To get a product out to stay financially stable).

      Regarding this story, I wouldn’t be too surprised if after the next Half-life instalment, if they do phase out of the single player games. What they have done with multiplayer works, it in a sense also phases out piracy to an extent and allows their creativity and communities that particular game (Team fortress 2 blogs, or the custom content for Counter strike) flourish.

  • I actually think Gabe is onto something here.

    That being said, I don’t think it’ll be something that comes suddenly, but something that comes gradually over time.

    Increasingly games are made with multiplayer specifically in mind, with the single player kind of attached on.

    It just seems the norm now. The trick is to integrate multiplayer in such a way that keeps players attached to the game without incorporating the mind numbingly boring aspects of MMORPG’s, that is, endless grinding in order to achieve anything.

    Seems to be what happened with achievements, and seems to be cropping up in my multiplayer experiences of late, even games based purely on PvP or multiplayer aspects (League of Legends anyone?)

    Portal 2 seems to be going this route anyways, the campaign was great don’t get me wrong, but they basically have to open up their options with Co-Op in order to keep people interested.

    Otherwise what’s the point? My options are; go to the Piratebay and download the cracked version of the game which I can finish in 8 hours or less.

    Or, make a really awesome game which has infinite replay value and I’ll happily purchase the game no questions ask.

    It’s not that I would go out and pirate the games, but honestly my perception of value is decreasingly rapidly for single player based games, as I see less value in spending $50 on a game that will last me one night, and spending $100 on a game that will last me months.

    Just my 2c.

  • Nooo! Valve have made some pretty damn find single player games. I tend to shy away from multiplayer games unless I’m at a lan party as a lot of the time I find asshats and/or cheats in online games. I deal with people as part of my job. The last thing I want to do is deal with people when I get home trying to relax.

    A multiplayer _option_ is fine, but if I _have_ to have other people in my games to be able to play them, I’ll be sticking to my DS and PSP for my gaming fixes.

  • Sounds to me like Gabe Newell was more referring to just Portal, in that it had no multiplayer at all and they changed it a bit by adding co-op to Portal 2. Half Life 1 and 2 still have multiplayer so i don’t think it will affect Half Life 3 when it finally arrives (hurry up!)

  • Best I can work out, VALVe think the market is changing, and are trying to work out how to adapt to keep their products revelant.

    As a lot of people would probably agree, VALVe are one of the best studios out there, with an extremely talented staff, who value story, characterisation and the overall player experience. If anyone doubts this, I suggest listening to the commentaries sometime. I’ve found if there’s an aspect of the game I’ve found iffy, there’s usually commentary explaining why, or provides extra insight.

    Yes, they’ve done multiplayer, but they’re still including story and characterisation, they’re just working out how to do it right. The only time valve have really added multiplayer as a cheap tack on would be for half life itself, and that hasn’t ended too badly.

    As a summary
    L4D: Coop vs zombies was the point since people were doing it in CS
    TF2: Always has been MP
    Portal 2: While I would have prefered harder puzzles in singleplayer, you’d be hard pressed to claim the coop was a cash in.

  • By “probably” not making single player games, do they mean, not until we figure out how to bleed the single player experience dry with endless paid DLC upgrades for the characters?

  • I don’t know about you guys, but I find the solitary experience of games still pretty appealing. Not that I’m saying there’s no room for multiplayer games, just that getting into a deep game without any real world distractions is a good thing in itself. Fallout 3 for example… I think having someone else in the game would take you out of it a bit. Same with Fable 3… I find it a lot more enjoyable by myself, I can go at my own pace and explore everything properly… as opposed to the Borderlands co op experience, rushing for the loot.

  • Great. I don’t like multiplayer, and I considered Valve one of the last suppliers of quality single player gaming experiences left. I’m sad to hear they’re turning away from that, when they’re SO GOOD at it!

  • Gabe said a few years ago that Half-Life 3 would include a playable deaf character. At the end of Portal 2, it is revealed the protagonist is a “deaf mute lunatic”. Just saying.

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