The Risk of Adding Multiplayer to Games That Don’t Need It

Competing against others is part of our human nature. We all like participating in tournaments or matches against other people just so we can demonstrate that we’re much better than them. Of course, this principle also applies to video games, but what does exactly happen when developers shoehorn multiplayer features into their games? Do all games need multiplayer modes?

First and foremost, it should be noted that some games are more adequate to play against others. Genres that immediately come to mind are fighting, shooters, strategy and racing games, amongst others. In fact, in the aforementioned genres, multiplayer features of some kind are expected. What would it be of franchises such as Call of Duty, Halo, Street Fighter, Super Smash Bros., Counter Strike or StarCraft if it wasn’t for the inclusion of various compelling multiplayer modes? With the same logic though, some other genres don’t necessarily need multiplayer like adventure or action games. A clear example that immediately comes to mind is the recently announced God of War: Ascension which is supposed to have a novel “multiplayer” mode.

God of War Ascension Multiplayer Mode

This mode will be competitive, allowing up to four players to select their fully customizable combatants and fight each other or participate in a kind of “horde mode” so characteristic of games such as Gears of War. As somebody who has played most titles in the God of War series and really enjoyed them, my question is: does a game like God of War really need multiplayer? It may be nice to compete against other players, but I know that at the end of the day, the reason why I play a game like that is because of its tightly contained single player experience. Additionally, once the novelty of multiplayer wears off most players won’t get back to it ever again.

But what if these features aren’t necessary? What’s the problem with that? After all somebody may end up liking it, right? Well, the problem lies in the budget of the games, as usually developers pay so much attention to multiplayer that they give huge parts of their budgets to have that feature. As a result, the single-player experience may be compromised by the fact that a given company “invests” more time and money on the multiplayer than on the single player.

Dead Space 2 Multiplayer

When I think back to the time when I was playing titles such as Onimusha, Shadow of the Colossus, the Grand Theft Auto trilogy (GTA III, Vice City and San Andreas,) Beyond Good & Evil or Metal Gear Solid, at no time do I remember saying something like: “this game could have been so much better if it had co-op in it.” Because when I think about my time playing GTA Vice City for example, what I remember is an almost intimate experience that couldn’t have been replicated in a multiplayer environment. The same happens with Shadow of the Colossus, Beyond Good & Evil and all the other games I mentioned.

From a business perspective, adding multiplayer makes a lot of sense. Development companies believe that more people will buy their games should they include some sort of multiplayer. They are probably right, as many players pay a lot of attention to that, even if they never actually try it. Developers also believe that their games may get better scores from critics if their games include multiplayer. Wrong. If its inclusion is poorly executed they may get worse reviews.

In the end, I believe multiplayer should be one of that features that developers use to be creative (such as Journey’s multiplayer,) or at least it should add something to the core experience (like Modern Warfare’s) and not a way of blatantly try to sell more copies of their games. When in doubt, developers should simply try to put more effort on the single player portion of a given game and make that more meaningful for players, as usually that is the most notable part of the experience.

  • fosforic

    God of war does not need multiplayer. It’s a hack n’ slash game. That’s just bad taste.
    The problem with multiplayer is that it needs to either be somewhat attached to the single player or it has to be the core element of the game. Otherwise a feature like that just fails.
    Uncharted 3 is not what you would call something of the same genre , but the multiplayer feature failed terribly. Not to mention it felt and looked like a ps2 game. Not that lower graphics is necessarily a bad thing, but when you’re coming from a beautiful environment single player mode into that, you’ll undoubtebly have the feeling ” what the f is going on? “.
    There’s a good chance the multiplayer feature will end up killing or limiting a part of the single player experience. Which is really something that is not necessary to happen.
    God of war is just one of those typical games that gives you the feeling of being powerful while playing as Kratos. Adding in a multiplayer where the mediocre player will most likely get their head bashed in by the more experienced player, will destroy this feeling. And that is not what you want with a game of this nature.

    • eric_s07

      Hi Fosforic! I agree with you in the sense that God of War doesn’t need multiplayer at all and that the overall experience of playing the game may change due to its inclusion. Although I wouldn’t consider myself a huge fan of the series, I did play and enjoy the first two iterations and at one point I’ll definitely get the PSP games to see what they are about. In the meantime, a new God of War in which Kratos hates everyone and seeks revenge doesn’t seem like an extremely refreshingly unique title to me.

      Maybe developers should have payed more attention to the story and characters, instead of focusing on the multiplayer features. Unfortunately, this has been a trend for a while now and it doesn’t seem like it’s going away any time soon. Then again, maybe fans are attached to the main protagonist and would like to play multiplayer in GoW. Nevertheless, I think the series would definitely benefit from some changes that don’t involve co-op or competitve multiplayer.