Opinion

10 Years Of Updates May Be Too Much Even For Great Single-Player Games

Too much of a good thing?

screenshot from Starfield Shattered Space trailer
Bethesda

Just a few days after Bethesda revealed a trailer for Starfield’s Shattered Space DLC during the 2024 Xbox Games Showcase, studio director Todd Howard announced that more expansions are on the way — and there may be more than even the game’s fans were expecting. In a new interview, Howard says that Bethesda may have given up on its previous games too early and hopes not to repeat that mistake in the future.

In an interview with YouTuber MrMattyPlays, Howard says that Bethesda is already working on the next expansion coming to Starfield after Shattered Space, and even gives a hint of when players could expect it. Howard says the studio hopes to release expansions on a “more or less” annual basis for “hopefully a very long time.” And while that’s about as vague as a statement can be, we did get some indication of how long “a very long time” could be, from the same interview.

Todd Howard covered the past and future of Bethesda in an hour-long interview.

Howard notes that Bethesda has supported Skyrim and Fallout 4 in some capacity for around 10 years, but says “we wish we had supported them longer,” adding that for Elder Scrolls 6 and beyond, “we’ve got to start now by thinking about a 10-year horizon.”

For hardcore Starfield fans (there have to be some out there, right?), the idea that they could still be playing the game in 2034 might be exciting. Skyrim has certainly shown that kind of longevity, gaining enough popularity to receive a frankly ridiculous number of ports since its original release. But is the best path really to begin a game’s production with a decade’s worth of updates in mind?

Howard clearly seems to think so, but I’m not so sure the appetite is there from players. When Skyrim launched, it felt like a complete experience, and any DLC or continued support was just a bonus. Starfield launched to a much more lukewarm reception, and even Howard admits that Bethesda struggled to make its sense of exploration — spread across countless barren planets with little to do — as appealing as it has been in the studio’s past games. In some ways, Shattered Space feels like a direct response to that criticism, centering on just one story on a single bespoke planet.

Bethesda offered the first look at new Shattered Space gameplay during the Xbox Games Showcase.

It’s good to see Bethesda giving players what they were missing with Starfield’s initial outing, but it does make the game feel a bit like a launching platform rather than a full experience of its own. Starfield’s much-publicized “1,000 planets” didn’t give a large number of players the sci-fi fantasy they were hoping for, but it sure makes for a convenient way to slot in more interesting adventures in future updates.

But if Bethesda is able to craft more focused experiences, it does raise the question of why it doesn’t do that from the start. The studio is known for its games’ massive scale and sense of freedom, but at a certain point, that scope seems to work against the games themselves, as it did in Starfield. There’s an argument to be made that a smaller game with fewer updates down the line could be both more successful and more enjoyable than a largely unsatisfying expanse of space that’s only filled in with more interesting storylines once most players have moved on.

Bethesda has supported Skyrim for over ten years and it could do the same for Starfield.

Bethesda

It’s easy to see where the pressure to constantly update single-player games comes from. A subset of players is extremely vocal about the idea that developers should support every game they put out for years to come, labeling anything that isn’t receiving constant updates as a “dead game.” But while that’s a more reasonable thing to expect of multiplayer live-service games, it makes no sense for single-player titles.

When a developer releases a single-player game, that game should be considered finished and not demand that they continue investing time and energy into it. Development timelines for blockbuster games have ballooned to five years or more in many cases, bringing a host of problems, from developer burnout and impossibly high player expectations to instability at studios who have to gamble that half a decade’s work pays off enough in the end to keep them from closing down.

Starfield didn’t reach the heights of some of Bethesda’s previous games, but its developer is committed to supporting it for a long time.

Bethesda

Releasing one small expansion per year actually sounds like a reasonable effort for a studio as large as Bethesda, but it’s also not something either studio heads or players should demand as standard practice. After all, for as good as Skyrim’s expansions were, they ultimately aren’t what has kept players engaged for over a decade. Bethesda’s excellent modding support is arguably a much bigger factor, letting players craft their own adventures and tweak the game to their hearts’ content. Bethesda clearly recognizes that, as it’s even begun to capitalize on mods through its Creations program.

“There’s a place for giant games,” Bethesda video game designer Emil Pagliarulo said in an August 2023 interview with Inverse’s Shannon Liao. “Skyrim was a perfect example. It’s so big, there’s so much to do. People are still playing and 10 years later. And it’s a commitment to make a game like that. And you have to know what you’re getting into up front.”

In many ways, it’s good to see Bethesda offer updates for devoted players, whether they come in the form of new quests or simple bug fixes. But given how long its games can take to launch (it’s been six years since The Elder Scrolls 6 was announced, with nothing shown publicly yet), committing to 10 more years on top of that starts to feel like it’s siphoning energy away from potentially great new ideas in order to serve a dwindling number of players for earlier games. Bethesda obviously knows what it’s doing, having released back-to-back hits for years, but I can’t help but feel that the more time it spends giving fans of older games a reason to keep playing, the less likely it is to create something truly new and surprising instead.

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