Multiplayer vs. single player is one of the most substantial genre divides that defines styles of video game fans. While plenty of avid gamers regularly play both game types, it’s far more likely nowadays for casual players to focus mostly if not solely on games like Fortnite or Overwatch than meaty single player campaigns, in large part due to the social component of multiplayer gaming being an easier sell to many. Valve’s founder Gabe Newell, however, thinks the pendulum could soon swing back in the other direction, as advances in AI could improve single player gaming experiences across the board.
This opinion may already be influencing Valve’s strategy as a company as evidenced by the recent release of Half-Life: Alyx. Though it’s not quite Half-Life 3, it’s nonetheless a new entry in a gaming franchise for which a proper sequel had become a Chinese Democracy or Duke Nukem Forever—which is to say, a sequel eagerly anticipated but endlessly delayed. Prior to this year’s new and long-awaited Half-Life title, Valve has focused solely on multiplayer games like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Dota 2, so its release marks a notable shift.
Half-Life: Alyx is a vote of confidence that single player gaming could be dominant once again as much as it is a gamble on the gaming public’s willingness to use VR. While VR functionality may not be the exact feature Newell believes will propel solo gaming to new heights, it’s similarly a recent advance in gaming technology that helps Half-Life: Alyx feel new and modern, as AI could for future titles.
Newell explains that AI technology has already reached a point where bots exist that can beat 99 percent of Dota 2 players. While the skill ceiling is in place, what remains to be developed is bots that are entertaining to watch and play. That said, Newell thinks this final advance in technology is not too far off; in as soon as five years, he believes, what are functionally “ten or a hundred people” could be living in people’s everyday computers.
Single player gaming, of course, hasn’t really gone anywhere. Games like God of War and Control are still garnering heaps of critical praise. They’re just not the titans of the gaming world the way a marquee single player title, like a Mario 64 or Final Fantasy VII was back when they were released. The prospect of facing off against an AI that can play at the level of an advanced human player could be just the development to make, say, a sequel to Control years down the line an unqualified industry leader.
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