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What if Wolfenstein 2 doesn’t sell?

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Bethesda’s latest game is under a lot of pressure

Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus - dual-wielding weapons against oncoming flame trooper MachineGames/Bethesda Softworks

Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus is a very good game. There are just enough weapons, there is plenty of replay value, you can play it however you’d like without punishment and there is next to nothing on it or in it that feels tacked on or extraneous.

And that puts it in an awkward position after EA shuttered Visceral Games.

But those are all good things, right?

Not necessarily. But it doesn’t have much to do with Wolfenstein 2 itself.

The end of Visceral Games is largely seen, accurately or not, as a judgment on single-player games that don’t offer microtransactions or other ways for the studio or publisher to make money outside of the game’s $60 asking price.

It’s expensive to create story-based campaigns of the quality that players demand, while prices of new games aren’t going up in the same way. In fact, new games seem to go on sale faster than they ever have.

“I do think the economics of taking a single-player game and telling a very high fidelity multi-hour story get a little more complicated,” Microsoft’s Shannon Loftis told GameSpot recently. “Gamers want higher fidelity and they want higher resolution graphics.”

This is a business, and businesses need to make money. Everyone in the industry is looking at successes like Destiny 2, Overwatch, Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds, or even online modes of primarily single-player titles like Grand Theft Auto V that are setting the world on fire and they’re seeing a clear trend. Even single-player-only games are trying to find ways to shoehorn in some kind of economy that allows players to continue paying after the game has been purchased.

Size and success won’t isolate you from these industry trends, but keep in mind that developers and publishers are reacting to how people are spending their money as much as they’re trying to force a particular business model on you. Loot boxes and multiplayer modes make money because players are spending money on these models. It may not be sustainable, but there is certainly a gold rush mentality to game design right now.

So while Bethesda is likely happy with the positive reviews of Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus, the real test is going to be whether a game with production values this high and no multiplayer to speak of can be a financial success in 2017. It won’t help that it’s going against Super Mario Odyssey and a new Assassin’s Creed game this week as well. Developers and publishers are interested in reviews, but they’ll be watching the sales information much more closely.

And if Wolfenstein 2 stumbles in terms of revenues, you can expect that funding for other single-player games will be much harder to come by in the next few years. This is a well-reviewed game in a popular franchise being released by one of the most powerful publishers in the industry. If The New Colossus can’t work as a single-player game, it’s very possible that other large publishers will see the task as being impossible.

So if you like story-based single-player games, pray for Wolfenstein 2. It may not be your cup of tea, but it’s very likely to be the canary in the coal mine for other publishers who are already looking at that sort of experience with skepticism and fear. If Bethesda can’t make the act of punching Nazis a success in 2017, everyone else in the business will suddenly become a lot more conservative about their single-player bets, and that would be a shame.