Friday, July 05, 2013

Focusing on Multiplayer : Why It's Bad For Future Games

At E3 2013 there was a lot of focus on online modes and multiplayer for most of the new games coming out on the Playstation 4 and Xbox One. The biggest games of the show, Titanfall and Destiny, are largely multiplayer driven, with their core gameplay clearly linked to the ability of your console to go online and connect with other players. Major developers like Vince Zampella of Respawn Entertainment have gone on record to say that it isn't worth spending several years to make a single player experience that players can break down in mere hours. Online functionalities in games are expanding with these new consoles; developers are focusing on multiplayer because it keeps their games relevant, and it keeps from players selling their games back to stores like Gamestop, which is bad for developers (in terms of keeping their games continuously profitable).

I think that this focus on multiplayer is actually a bad thing. This approach isn't something that hasn't been done before. Previous games like Shadowrun for the 360 only had multiplayer and had no single player campaign at all. Of course there are the massively multiplayer role-playing games, which are essentially time-sinks for players and don't really have any real semblance of storyline or anything that remotely resembles a real game campaign.

I don't really agree with just focusing on multiplayer so much. Not everyone has a great internet connection. It seems to me when these developers make games, they make them in a "perfect bubble"; they assume that all the players will have as great a connection as they do back in their office buildings. But that just isn't true. Not everyone has a great connection, and as we've seen with the Xbox One reversal of their DRM policies, there are enough gamers out there who prefer to 'play offline' with their games. It's not something they don't want....everyone wants to try some online multiplayer from time to time but I don't think most people have this in mind when they spend their 60 dollars.

Games are essentially a power fantasy. I believe it was Adam Sessler who said this in one of his videos on Rev3Games at Youtube. When you play a game, it's like you become the focus of every virtual character....you become essentially the center of the universe, the most important person in the virtual world. Think back to every good single player game experience. All of those basically 'work' because it lets you live a fantasy, that you are this really important guy, "the hero" that will save the day. No matter how bleak or how grim the situation is in that virtual world you're entering, you're the guy that's going to fix it and save everyone. It's a power fantasy. It's slightly different from movies but in that sense movies are kind of the same, except you're not in control of the action when it comes to film.

Multiplayer completely kills that fantasy. You become just one soldier, among millions. The guy with the fiber-optic connection with the amazing upload/download speeds is the true 'hero'. The rest of you are just fodder.

No matter how good you are at single player mode, online, you are limited by the technology you have available. And not everyone is going to have that amazing fiber-optic connection that will let their bullets land on target, on time, every time. Time and again I've played multiplayer games and latency is still a huge issue; no matter how many developers claim to have finally solved the latency problem, it just is never perfect. And the experience ends up more bland and more generic because of this. You lose that 'power fantasy', you lose that sense of 'escape', and then gaming just relegates to something so stressful, something no different from going to work from 9 to 5; unfortunately playing a video game doesn't give you back any paychecks, unless you are a pro gamer (which is clearly an exception). The point is, not everyone is going to 'go pro' with gaming. Some people just want to relax, unwind, just escape their real-life problems for a bit and feel important. Even if it's just NPCs or virtual characters that are making you feel that way. If you think about it, that's really the reason that people play games; they do it to feel good about themselves, to escape reality for a bit, just like watching movies, to give themselves an easy goal that they know can be accomplished with a little effort. It's all fake, yes. But that's the point. Sometimes you want fake. Sometimes you want to just get that feeling of success, maybe because in real life it isn't that easy and you just want to get that feeling so you can escape the real life frustration of not getting it in real life (does that make sense?) It's really a fantasy, and that's what these multiplayer focused devs are completely forgetting. They forget why people play video games.

Of course there will be those who prefer to be competitive and to feel that they're better gamers than other players, and there should be a place for them and games for them. But I hope game developers don't forget that not everyone plays for that reason.