A quick glimpse of what’s coming out and a sobering stare back at all the games of a decade prior will reveal one undeniable fact: this industry has a deep love for multiplayer games. I remember selling preorders at GameStop during the last generation of console games and, more and more, I found myself disheartened by all the pre-order multiplayer bonuses I was handing out for sequels to profoundly good single player experiences. With rare exceptions, most people aren't touching these multiplayer modes anymore. So why do companies keep including them?
It does make a degree of sense. For starters, a multiplayer experience allows publishers to sell extra content to gamers after they’ve already paid full price for a video game. Single-player games don’t usually benefit from this, but in a competitive environment, often with a grind involved, it is easy to entice players when they’re still excited about their brand-new purchase. Second, a multiplayer mode might prolong the time a game stays in a player’s hands before they sell it back to a secondhand market. Fine, I get it.
It does get a bit annoying that the industry seems to believe that single-player games aren’t in high demand, though. Sure, Fortnite, Call of Duty, and Overwatch are games we find ourselves talking about quite a bit, and there’s something to be said about having a growing game with a growing community. I do not hate multiplayer at all. What I hate is tacked on multiplayer. Why in the world does Mass Effect 3, the end of a trilogy wherein players have become heavily invested in their stories, need multiplayer? And why did I spend any money on it?
The thing is, that these multiplayer modes pull resources from the primary game. Mass Effect 3’s ending was wholly unsatisfying and, in fact, tied to multiplayer mode in some way. That’s unfortunate because many gamers crave pure single player experiences. I’d even go as far as to say that the most memorable games are ones that offered a strong campaign, devoid of squeaking online trolls.
Sony seems to have this mentality, to an extent, with their first party titles. They’re not perfect, of course; Uncharted 3 also had a strange but, admittedly kind of exciting, multiplayer attached to it. But when we talk about Uncharted these days, we primarily talk about the story of its protagonist, Nathan Drake. He was a well realized character, and the writing there helped the franchise become an absolute hit.
Assassin’s Creed 2 also had a great story, and people began to be heavily invested in the lore. As subsequent games came out, a lot of the marketing talked about the multiplayer modes and what you could get from pre-ordering. These games are full of beautiful architecture and intrigue that will be worth talking about for a while to come. My college professor even brought it up in a literature class. We certainly didn’t talk about the multiplayer romps, though.
These modes are just fat that could be trimmed. They age quickly, don’t add to the primary experience, and promote this idea that games must have multiplayer. I’m fine with the modes, mostly, but I want to make it clear that I can take them or leave them, and I think that I’m in the majority opinion here. It would be horrible to see a future where games are required by publishers to have some form of ham-fisted multiplayer mode. Worse, what if multiplayer gets ham-fisted into the game entirely? What if the next time I play a Dragon Age game, it’ll be with a bunch of strangers? In the past, that was an unthinkable nightmare.
But maybe the publishers know more than me and they know how to make a quick buck better than I do. Maybe I’m just afraid of change. Or maybe single-player games are phenomenal, and I just want to consume a handful of 15-hour campaigns. Although, to be honest, I am likely going to turn around, sell them online, and use the money to buy more games because I love the second hand market.