Can Bethesda Corner the Single-Player Market?

With recent news and holiday games coming out, it’s becoming apparent that loot boxes and other micro-transactions are seeping into AAA games. For better or worse, these new monetization methods seem to be here to stay. You can read my previous article, The Loot-Box Surge, for more information on loot boxes and the players who spend money on them.

The buzz in the industry seems to revolve around big publishers seeking their own Destiny in turning a profit on micro-transactions and loot boxes. But what about other publishers like Capcom, Bethesda, Deep Silver, etc. that own massive single-player IPs? Will they follow the trend to cash-in while the gold rush is in full swing?

Most of Bethesda’s IPs and recent releases are almost exclusively focused on single-player experiences. This publisher is one of the few that owns a huge catalog of IPs that deliver great curated stories. Just check out some of their most notable games and how well they performed.

Wolfenstein & DOOM

Bethesda Wolfenstein 2

Wolfenstein is currently in a resurgence of popularity since the release of their 2014 hit The New Order. 2014 was a weird time when several games were available on both last gen and current gen systems. What helped Wolfenstein: The New Order is the lack of games during the early years of the hardware cycle—and it was a great single-player game. It currently sits on a metacritic score of 79 with a user rating of 8.1. The New Order received good reviews and was commercially successful. According to NDP, The game charted in 4th place during its month of release.

Bethesda regained some ground in the FPS single player market with Wolfenstein: The New Order. I’ve always heard of Wolfenstein games before, but the response to The New Order penetrated mainstream and video game industry conversations. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that when Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus was officially unveiled at E3, it quickly became a highly anticipated game that people were excited to play.

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is already receiving high praise; no sales numbers yet, but it is facing some crazy competition. Either way, with the love and care from Machine Games, Wolfenstein is a franchise that excels at single-player stories. The developer has even gone on record saying that they wanted Wolfenstein II to be a great single-player game and that any development for a multiplayer mode would “dilute” their vision.

DOOM surprised several players by bringing back the non-stop action shooter with heavy metal guitars.

DOOM was the most surprising entry for this writer. DOOM became relevant again in the gaming landscape for revitalizing an old-school demon shooter with satisfying levels and non-stop action. The spirit of this game is alive and well, while supplementary features like multiplayer and SnapMap keep players engaged. DOOM is great because it encourages the player to explore every nook and cranny for secrets, weapon upgrades, and Easter eggs. DOOM came out in 2016 and surprised several players by bringing back the non-stop action shooter with heavy metal guitars.

The Evil Within

Bethesda Evil Within

The Evil Within is a brand new horror franchise with psychological terror instead of zombies. Horror games aren’t always the money makers when compared to their film counterparts. Yet, in the right hands, they can have a wide appeal and become profitable. Resident Evil and Silent Hill were the leaders in the AAA space for horror games, but both franchises are struggling to stay current.

Director Shinji Mikami is considered a legend for creating the first Resident Evil and the wildly popular Resident Evil 4. So it’s no surprise that after leaving Capcom he help launch a new physiological horror franchise for ZeniMax, who then merged with Bethesda. The first The Evil Within had a mixed reception, but it’s a game worth picking up. Other players seem to agree, considering The Evil Withinset a new record for the highest first-month sales for a release in the survival-horror genre,” according to the NPD.

EA had the Dead Space franchise in their pocket, but it didn’t perform to their projections. Dead Space 1 & 2 were amazing games, but in a AAA market, the games didn’t sell well enough to justify the cost. EA is the same company who canceled Amy Henning’s single-player Star Wars game because “market trends” have shown that single-players games are no longer profitable. Yet there is still an audience that is hungry for horror games.

Capcom also noticed this trend after the poor reception for Resident Evil 6, even though it was a commercial success. Resident Evil 7 returned to its horror roots and has sold 4 million copies thus far, including extensive DLC. The Evil Within is a great series, and its only competition is literally Resident Evil 7 and a handful of indie games like Outlast.

Fallout & Elder Scrolls

Bethesda Fallout 4

Fallout and Elder Scrolls have been the staple hits for Bethesda on PC and several consoles. Merely  announcing that a new Fallout or Elder Scrolls game is in the works is enough to set the internet and social media on fire. The beauty of these two amazing franchises is that they both make huge open-worlds that are inundated with substantial, meaningful content.

The Fallout series sells like gangbusters and is the highest selling IP in Bethesda’s portfolio.

Fallout and Elder Scrolls support player freedom by designing each game in a way that allows players to go any direction desired. Finding interesting and engaging quests that flesh-out their respective worlds is part of the charm of Bethesda’s biggest IPs. I personally could never get into the fantasy aspect that Elder Scrolls offers, but did fall deeply in love with the Fallout franchise. Players will often choose one or the other depending on their tastes and preferences; both franchises offered an experience that couldn’t be matched. but several games are now offering that and more. The Dragon Age and The Witcher series are starting to develop their own polished open-world formulas that are giving Bethesda a run for their money.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim had sold more than 20 million copies, according to TIME magazine in 2014. That number has certainly grown by now, as they’ve re-released Skyrim on current gen systems, with a Switch port, along with a PlayStation VR version on the horizon.

The Fallout series sells like gangbusters and is the highest selling IP in Bethesda’s portfolio. These numbers alone are impressive, and Bethesda’s entire catalog of games doesn’t just stop there. The publisher also has Dishonored 1 & 2 and Prey, which are all stellar single-player games with vastly different mechanics and tone. Bethesda also made one of the best mobile titles, Fallout: Shelter, which made $5.1 million in added revenue.

But Can Bethesda Do it?

There are two scenarios that we could potentially see: a rise in profits for Bethesda from players seeking narrative single-player experiences, or Bethesda suffering from narrow profit margins from high-budget AAA titles.

No one seems to be talking about the potential for publishers like Bethesda to corner the single-player market. It seems big publishers like Activision, EA, and Ubisoft are happy to make single-player content, but only within bigger, multiplayer-focused worlds. Activision has Destiny 2, EA canceled their Star Wars game in favor for something like Destiny, and some of Ubisoft’s best selling games have been For Honor, Tom Clancy’s The Division, and Ghost Recon: Wildlands. Bethesda could adjust their games to be shared open-world experiences like those and The Elder Scrolls Online.

Single-player games will never be dead, and this year has proven it with some of the best single-player games in recent memory. Games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Nier: Automata, Persona 5, Super Mario Odyssey, South Park: The Fractured But Whole and Horizon: Zero Dawn. Even smaller games like HellBlade: Senua’s Sacrifice are showing that smaller scope single-player projects can also be profitable.

There are two scenarios that we could potentially see: a rise in profits for Bethesda from players seeking narrative single-player experiences, or Bethesda suffering from narrow profit margins from high-budget AAA titles. Considering Bethesda and its studios have always made games that are worth the player’s time and financial investment, especially with several DLC expansions, the publisher appears to be in a good spot.

Only time will tell how the pursuit of micro transactions and loot boxes will affect the AAA gaming scene. Activision Blizzard made over $1 billion from in-game sales, and Ubisoft made almost $400 million in digital revenue. There will always be single-player focused games that tell amazing stories or offer great experiences, and that could work in Bethesda’s favor.

What do you think the future of Bethesda looks like? Leave a comment below or reach out to us on Twitter!

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