There have been a few moments of panic over singleplayer games across the last several years, but a lot of this discussion emerged back when EA cancelled Visceral's Star Wars game (opens in new tab), which coincided with the closure of the studio in 2017.
EA didn't say anything about singleplayer games specifically, but the reason given at the time was that the company was "listening to the feedback about what and how they want to play, and closely tracking fundamental shifts in the marketplace". EA's Blake Jorgensen later suggested, according to this GameSpot article (opens in new tab), that the game wouldn't sell enough copies to justify itself.
Other factors have led to a sense that singleplayer games are in trouble: BioWare making a disappointing co-op game in Anthem instead of the singleplayer RPGs it's known for, for example. Black Ops 4 was the first Call of Duty game not to feature a campaign. GTA 5's possible singleplayer DLC (opens in new tab) was mothballed in the face of more content for the successful online component, the demands of porting the game to more formats, and making Red Dead Redemption 2. Jedi Fallen Order (opens in new tab) was marketed on being a singleplayer-only game with no loot boxes, which felt like an admission that EA had gone too far in the other direction.
I won't dismiss the panic as being for nothing, because I've shared it: The biggest games of the last few years, like Fortnite and PUBG, are multiplayer-only, and they offer long-term ways for their publishers to keep making money, like Battle Passes and cosmetics. Singleplayer experiences are finite, in theory—but they are having a really good 2019 so far, which makes me think there's little to worry about in the immediate future.
How about a quick list? These 2019 games all feature prominent singleplayer elements, and range from good to great: Slay the Spire, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Devil May Cry 5, Resident Evil 2 Remake, Heaven't Vault, Rage 2, Sunless Skies, Tropico 6, Anno 1800, Yakuza Kiwami 2, Outward, Imperator Rome, Mortal Kombat 11, Hypnospace Outlaw, Total War: Three Kingdoms, and Metro Exodus.
Of those, a few have been publicly confirmed successes, like Anno, Capcom's games and Sekiro. In the case of Rage 2, it's had what seems like a slow start in the UK boxed market (opens in new tab), but perhaps a more relevant metric is looking at its all-time peak on Steam (opens in new tab): 13,591, compared to Doom 2016's 31,623 (opens in new tab). Clearly it hasn't seen the same level of success, but Doom was a more remarkable game, and Rage 2 doesn't look like a disaster by any means. There are also players we can't see, as it's available through Bethesda's launcher, too.
I would think there's something for everyone in that list, and many of those games are from major publishers. While there have been a few multiplayer breakouts like Apex Legends and Mordhau, it feels like the year has so far belonged to solo experiences. Some games from last year have had a healthy extended life, too, if you're willing to spend money on yet more hours of Assassin's Creed Odyssey. Hitman 2 is getting a bank level (opens in new tab)!
The pervasive fear around the death of singleplayer games is likely more about where they're going, though, rather than where they are right now—so let's look ahead.
What about the rest of the year?
The rest of 2019 is looking healthy, too. You've got Doom Eternal and Jedi Fallen Order, as well as a few co-op games that you'll probably have no issues enjoying solo, like Borderlands 3 and Wolfenstein: Youngblood. Even Call of Duty will have a campaign again this year, if that's something you're looking forward to. Ghost Recon Breakpoint will let you play in singleplayer, too, with a drone helping you out in lieu of human players. Watch Dogs 3 is rumoured to be set in London, and that's historically been a singleplayer-focused series. That seems likely to be released either this year or next, based on the usual wait for Ubisoft sequels.
Remedy's Control looks like a slightly weird proposition for a blockbuster played solo, and of course, Obsidian's The Outer Worlds is a big ticket game for long-time RPG fans. Divinity: Fallen Heroes, a tactical spin-off for Larian's series, will be playable in both singleplayer and co-op, and that's possibly going to release this year.
What about 2020 and beyond?
This is slightly less predictable, but we can make a lot of educated guesses on what's down the line. Starfield, Elder Scrolls 6 (opens in new tab) and Cyberpunk 2077 (opens in new tab) will all be primarily singleplayer games—and interest in each is huge.
What succeeds during the next console generation is likely to shape a lot of the blockbuster games we see over the coming decade, since almost all triple-A games are created to be multiformat now. If we assume the next Xbox and PlayStation consoles are launching late next year, I would predict some slowdown of big releases generally nearer the beginning of 2020, based on how the last generation panned out. That said, Cyberpunk has been confirmed for Xbox One and PS4, which suggests it's unlikely to be released in the distant future. Maybe that's a good candidate for the first half of next year.
Singleplayer-friendly games are unlikely to change too much right away. Series that seem certain to return in the next few years are Assassin's Creed, Forza Horizon, Grand Theft Auto, Resident Evil, XCOM, Final Fantasy, Kingdom Come: Deliverance, and Far Cry, at a minimum. We know a third Total War: Warhammer game (opens in new tab) will be with us at some point. Another Nier game seems likely, based on Automata's long-term success. We can probably assume that Square Enix's coming Marvel games, featuring the Avengers and reportedly the Guardians of the Galaxy, will have a singleplayer story component of some kind. Fable is reportedly returning (opens in new tab) in the hands of Playground Games, and like all Xbox games now, expect that to be on PC. That's a dependable array of solo experiences to look forward to. If you believe the rumours, too, From Software is going to have its own effort at an open world game, with contributions by writer George RR Martin (opens in new tab).
What seems most likely to me is that singleplayer games will keep following the recent curve of getting longer, and finding more ways to keep you playing. Genres will probably change a lot, too. There are types of games that thrived between 2007 and 2012 that mostly don't exist now—linear third-person shooters that emerged in the wake of Gears of War, for example, which is likely why Visceral's Star Wars game didn't continue in its previous form. The era of Call of Duty competitors like Homefront and Medal of Honor 2010 feels like a distant memory, too. If I had to predict anything, it's that my beloved immersive sims and stealth games will be less prominent during the next era of singleplayer games, as Jody explored last year (opens in new tab). Those are never the games that will sell ten million copies for a publisher, so they feel the most at risk.
That doesn't mean that singleplayer-loving players won't be able to find plenty to enjoy on PC, though. If solo gaming is your thing, 2019's games already offer lots of evidence that there will always be something to play.
Check out Chris's piece (opens in new tab) from 2017 on why singleplayer games aren't dead, but are changing.