Welcome to online gaming. In case you are still under the illusion that competitive multiplayer is a craze for the ‘street-wise’ gamer, as in people who don’t like to fork out cash for games too frequently, then I’m afraid it’s time to wake up.
Internet access built into titles is now pretty much a standard function, whether it is a fully fledged deathmatch-CTF-job, or a simple but engaging leaderboard system asking you to beat the campaign mode in record time. The big question that pops up occasionally when people reflect on what games they’ve bought and what games they actually play, is whether going online undermines the ‘old’ reward system of more traditional offline play.
Before you bombard the comments with hot words, let me explain. Back in the days of PS2/Xbox/Gamcube, online features were less mainstream, and the majority of gamers were content with the satisfaction of blasting, chopping, punching, smashing, burning, dropping and shooting the legions of AI henchman that games tended to throw at us. It felt good to emerge victorious from a crumbling building hefting a car-sized rocket launcher on your shoulder, with an alarmingly large pile of cloned-replica bodies lying behind you. But ever since the whole online play phenomena really took off, players are realizing that doing all that cool stuff is way more fun to do with and against other REAL people.
I myself found it hard to excite any sense of danger when going back to the campaign of Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory after pouring in hours into the online multiplayer. It just couldn’t compete, and it still to this day can’t match the buzz of lurking in the shadows whilst some dude scans the WRONG wall with his flashlight *snap*.
The satisfaction and the expectation of satisfaction skyrockets when you play against other people, it can’t be helped. We used to just get snippets of this when we had the opportunity to play locally with buddies (high five to Timeplitters, Ratchet Gladiator, Soulcalibur 2, War Of The Monsters and so many others), but when they weren’t sitting next to you, you were happy to go solo again. And that was fine back then because not many people had any other option.
Now, it is so easy to find other people to play, and there is no longer that necessity to invest enjoyment back into the single player experience. Granted that titles with masterfully crafted campaigns and stories will absorb and immerse thousands of players for a healthy chunk of time, but then we always turn to multiplayer after one playthrough. Suddenly those ‘terrifying mutant-zombie-droids’ are ridiculously inferior to ‘kentboy776’, and that unfortunately makes a lot of sense.
Obviously games with simple leaderboard integration are in a slightly more offline-bound state than other titles, but the goal then becomes to ‘be the best’ instead, as opposed to a desire to progress through a fantastic game world.
The possible issue and consequence is this: people will overlook and utterly ignore games that lack that multiplayer punch. The thought that so many artfully constructed ideas could be left to rot, simply because the developers didn’t ‘throw in a team deathmatch mode’ is horribly depressing. Perhaps we should see a move towards more online-only titles? Keeping the offline stuff re-playable for gamers, but then you could see the problem of online-only titles dominating the market.
It’s a hugely tricky problem for game developers, with many teams tacking on a multiplayer like a must have fashion accessory. I greatly enjoy both halves of the gaming world, but sometimes I fear that one is trespassing in the territory of the other.
What are your thoughts on this next generation (sort of) dilemma? Maybe you think that multiplayer games should be more expensive and that games like Enslaved and Castlevania should be cheaper from the beginning? £20/$30 for Arkham City maybe? I’m not entirely sure.