Opinion: Multiplayer is ruining the video game industry

15 mins read
In light of Matt’s opinion piece on how he believes that shooters are killing the games industry, I figured it would be as good a time as any to counter with my argument. This is something that has been stewing in my mind for quite some time but has never really had an appropriate time to be brought up. But now, with our tempers recently flared, I think it’s time to speak up.
Contrary to what our beloved Editor-in-Chief feels, I believe it’s not the shooters that are the problem. The problem is multiplayer – or, rather, how it seems that each and every game released these days needs to have some sort of multiplayer mode.
Single-player gaming at its finest!

I remember a time when all a game needed to succeed was an engaging story. Gaming used to be an individual experience, something that one would enjoy by oneself and would talk about with friends after the fact. Role-playing game classics like Final Fantasy or The Legend of Zelda, point-and-click adventure games like The Secret of Monkey Island, even shooters like Half-Life, Deus Ex and System Shock 2; all of them were single-player affairs that focused entirely on telling a compelling story.
Of course, games are an inherently social construct, so the development of multiplayer games was inevitable, and it just so happens that shooters loan themselves quite well to multiplayer. Games like Doom, Quake and Unreal Tournament were released, introducing the industry to things like deathmatches and capture the flag matches, and things were never really the same again.
Now don’t get me wrong: it’s not that I dislike multiplayer games. As I mentioned in my impressions on the demo of The Cursed Crusade, I’m a sucker for co-op games and, once upon a time, even partook in competitive multiplayer shooters. I won’t get into too many details but let’s just say I frequented a dedicated Call of Duty 2 server for so long that I became an honorary clan member. I love playing games with my friends, whether competitively or (especially) cooperatively.
It would be silly to deny that games are inherently social when so many are so much better when experienced with another person. Heck, I even like watching my friends play single-player games, specifically because we can experience it together. The problem I have is that the industry has devoted itself body and soul to creating multiplayer games and have given up on the single-player experience, and Call of Duty is a prime example.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare multiplayer:
the beginning of the end.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was the beginning of the end for the franchise; while the game boasted a robust and exhilarating single-player campaign, it seemed like half of the game was devoted to multiplayer, and each of the games that followed gave even more attention to that aspect of the game. The single-player campaign of World at War was little more than a revamped campaign from Call of Duty 2, and let’s not forget the fiascos that were the campaigns of Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops; neither game offered anything substantial, instead opting to hide their inadequacies behind big plot hole-ridden “conspiracies” and bigger explosions in a failed attempt to draw players in.
No, every Call of Duty game after Modern Warfare fell victim to the same formula: put together a same-y campaign with lots of explosions and focus the majority of effort on the multiplayer. And why not? With so many people devoting so much time to the multiplayer, it seems a safe bet to spend more time on that aspect of the game. And heck, when you have people who openly admit to not even playing the single-player campaign, why bother putting too much effort into it?
It might be old but I guarantee System Shock 2 is a
better game than a lot of titles on the market today,
and it didn’t have any multiplayer.
But it’s that sort of mentality that will ultimately destroy the video game industry. It’s bad enough that publishers aren’t willing to risk capital on new intellectual properties – an issue Matt touched on when talking about the upcoming shooter reboots of X-COM and Syndicate – but it’s when the shareholders actually start demanding multiplayer as a core aspect of a game that things start getting unbearable.
Take Assassin’s Creed, for example: the original was a game that came largely out of nowhere but did well enough for a sequel to be developed, and Assassin’s Creed 2 took home its fair share of game of the year awards. And then what happens? A year later, in a much accelerated development cycle, Ubisoft pumps out Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, a game which featured a multiplayer mode that obviously got far more attention than its single-player counterpart (which really accounted to little more than an expansion pack).
Uncharted 2 multiplayer? Was this really necessary?
Assassin’s Creed isn’t the only series to fall victim to this sort of mentality: BioShock 2 was a completely unnecessary sequel that brought multiplayer to a world that didn’t really need it; Crysis 2 was a pseudo-sequel with a lacklustre multiplayer attempt; Dead Space 2, a science-fiction survival horror game (and a personal favourite), had multiplayer included; even Uncharted 2 – a game which is, according to its developers, based entirely around creating a cinematic single-player experience – boasted an unnecessary multiplayer mode that met little success.
Does Medal of Honor’s multiplayer look any different than
Call of Duty 4 above? Predictably not.
And then there are the new intellectual properties that actually do get green-lit. Take Homefront, for example; a fairly mediocre and disappointing game with a sub-par multiplayer offering included specifically to rival Call of Duty. Or the reboot of Medal of Honor, a game that actually had a fairly decent single-player campaign but got critically panned largely because of decisions made concerning the multiplayer mode. Or even Red Dead Redemption, a game that won multiple game of the year awards; the multiplayer mode, while different enough to be interesting, was something that was unnecessary and became a ghost town fairly soon after release.
All of these games had the potential to be at the very least decent but, though some titles (Uncharted 2 and Red Dead Redemption primarily among them) were great successes, most were met with middling support and more often than not had their multiplayer offerings critically panned. In fact, very few games – other than Call of Duty and a select few others – have much success with multiplayer, yet still the trend continues and still games are being designed with multiplayer included.
I’m not entirely sure why the industry is so set on pursuing the same brand of multiplayer gaming without innovation. While some games have had success, it’s as if every other developer is intent on finding that same Call of Duty formula for themselves. I suppose I understand it from a business standpoint: developing multiplayer modes for your game is relatively cheap when compared to the cost of developing single-player campaigns. And with the possible return of great profit, it’s certainly not a hard decision to make – especially to people who only care about the bottom line. However, given the exceedingly low rate of success for multiplayer gaming, I find it mindboggling to justify devoting even limited resources to such a goal.
Castle Crashers: doing multiplayer right!
If anything, it’s digitally downloaded titles that are utilizing multiplayer to the best of its ability. Games like the critically acclaimed Castle Crashers, the newly released titles Dungeon Defenders and Payday: The Heist, even the much anticipated Journey; all these games use multiplayer in interesting and entertaining ways, often blurring the lines between single- and multiplayer. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy downloadable titles so much: I’m not sure if it’s because of the smaller budget, a greater vision from the developers or the fact that they don’t have suits making demands of the team but, whatever it is, digitally downloaded titles seem to pull things off much better when it comes to this.

Not being Call of Duty seems a poor reason not to like
Brink. And yet…
I’d also like to take this moment to give an honourable mention to Brink, a game that was critically panned simply because it wasn’t another Call of Duty. Brink managed to completely change the way I viewed multiplayer shooters; the lack of any distinction between single- and multiplayer was truly visionary and I believe it is the only way that multiplayer can redeem itself as something worth devoting time toward.
I long for a time when a game only having single-player is enough but it seems like that era is dead and gone. Even genres that seemingly can only be experienced by a single person, RPG’s large among them, have started falling victim to this same formula: notwithstanding MMO’s which, by design, are intended for large groups of people, there have been a handful of titles that have started including multiplayer aspects within the game. White Knight Chronicles springs to mind, as does Demon’s Souls and the newly announced cooperative portions of Mass Effect 3 (which, admittedly, sound pretty cool).
Don’t get me wrong; I like the occasional round of multiplayer. I have very fond memories of playing GoldenEye 007 and Super Smash Bros. with friends, I recently played through the entirety of Gears of War 3 with a friend and a buddy and I are currently playing through a season of NHL ’11. As I’ve mentioned, games are an inherently social construct so to say that multiplayer is the problem with games is perhaps a bit presumptuous.
Will Battlefield 3’s multiplayer be different enough to be
worth playing? I didn’t play the beta, so I can only hope.
That being said, the games industry got along just fine before multiplayer came along. I think that it would do just fine going back to its single-player roots and putting an end to all of the incessantly similar multiplayer modes all of these developers keep trying to shove down our throats.
If a game is designed with multiplayer in mind, then so be it – but to merely include multiplayer because it’s what’s hot on the market? That speaks of nothing more than desperation to make a quick buck. Developers should be happy to stand by their products, multiplayer or no, and their publishers and shareholders should give them the support they deserve to make that come true.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to continue my single-player playthrough of Batman: Arkham City.

– Nick J.

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