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The Scourge of Multiplayer
Posted on Friday, November 18 2011 @ 15:29:55 Eastern

This member blog post was promoted to the GameRevolution homepage.
The biggest game of the year has just been released. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 has been available to purchase over retail counters for a few days and now seems as good a time as ever to discuss how multiplayer has progressed from humble beginnings to the powerhouse it is today.
 


Way back in 1958, Tennis for Two was developed on an analogue computer and is arguably the first example of a multiplayer game. Other early multiplayer games include other sports games such as the renowned Pong, shooter games like Spacewar! and racing games like Astro Race (thank you, Wikipedia). There have been massively multiplayer games, there has been multiplayer on lone console units. Ever since there was gaming, multiplayer was a factor.
 
Services like Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network have made multiplayer not just a nice extra, but a powerful reason to buy a game. So powerful, in fact, that games which don’t lend themselves to multiplayer have been given that component to appease the fans and make a grab at that extra market. I’ll be honest; I’m not much of a multiplayer gamer. I dabble in some Gears Horde and some Halo Firefight; I do frequently co-op games with friends but that’s about the depth of it. You may notice a theme here: it’s the competitive side I stay away from. While competitive multiplayer isn’t completely the water to my hydrophobia, I do tend to steer clear of it for the most part, and this is why the recent shift in attention to multiplayer somewhat concerns me.
 
Call of Duty proves that there are a lot of people out there willing to pay for multiplayer. It proves it so hard that those people will pay £45 for the game and an additional £35 for the yearly Elite service they have rolled out with the third Modern Warfare. Ok sure, Call of Duty is a multiplayer game with a single-player campaign tacked on, but that doesn’t mean the same rule applies to every game, right?

Absolutely, there are still plenty of single-player exclusive games like L.A. Noire and the upcoming Skyrim which focus completely on the storyline and single-player gameplay… I think I may have to take back the ‘plenty’ back there, though, as the only other major game I can think of that fits that criteria is Batman: Arkham Asylum/City. Of course there are smaller titles such as the fantastic but underappreciated Alice: Madness Returns and the surprisingly sexual (given the rating) Bayonetta which are only single-player, but you could say that about the first Uncharted.

Franchises like Uncharted, Mass Effect, Assassin’s Creed, Grand Theft Auto and even frigging Bioshock started as single-player games and then caved to consumer pressure to include a multiplayer component in later iterations. A couple of games like Halo: ODST and Rage even included a separate disc solely for multiplayer!



Sometimes these components are surprisingly innovative like the Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood Free-for-All mode where players need to stealth around blending in with NPCs until they kill their target. Of course the targets are doing exactly the same thing and incorrect kills change your target, so it can be quite challenging. Let’s face it, though, most multiplayer portions of games are cookie cut from other, more established multiplayer games.
 
I’m sure you’re wondering by now what my problem is; if a game can take care of single-player and multiplayer fans, then why shouldn’t it? Well, my concern is that most developers can’t afford to have one team develop solely for the single-player and one for the multi. There will invariably be a loss of focus on the single-player and there will be a conflict of interests as far as gameplay goes. A good single-player game requires different elements than a good multiplayer, and it’s hard to get both of them right - it’s not impossible, but it is difficult.

So which type of game suffers most? Obviously this issue is decided by the developers and publishers, but which would you focus on: a game where the sole focus is to get through once, and perhaps twice to get all the collectibles, or a game where the focus is to continually play a series of small matches and then later buy add-ons in the form of extra maps or weapons to continue playing the (easy to develop) small matches?
 
Another issue is the long term impact on a franchise’s overall feel. It’s hard to remember now, but way back in 2003, the original Call of Duty – developed by Infinity Ward – was released. You may recall that this game was based in WWII and focused entirely on single-player. Even when multiplayer was introduced in the second game the single-player story remained important. Compare this to the state of the franchise today and you’ll see that the six-hour campaign is there to justify its own existence.
 
Now that Mass Effect 3 has confirmed multiplayer, will it become a Bioshock 2, or an AC: Brotherhood? Only time will tell, but I sincerely hope the story doesn’t suffer to placate the masses.
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