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.
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.
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.