Over the past few generations, online multiplayer has become an extremely important part of gaming. Single player games like Mass Effect 3 and the upcoming Arkham Origins have added multiplayer modes and many gamers gravitate towards games simply for their multiplayer component. But is this trend a good thing? Let’s take a look.
Humans are social creatures; we like to share what we love with our family, friends, or just about anyone who will listen. How many times have you re-watched a movie or an episode of a television show with someone else because you wanted to show them how much you loved it? We like to experience things together (most of us anyway) and this has led to a large interest in multiplayer games.
Video games have had a competitive multiplayer element since the very beginning, with famous example Pong being a virtual recreation of a competitive tennis match. Arcade games would routinely offer co-op modes, competitive modes, or even asynchronous forms of competition such as competing for a high score. This sense of community was one of the best parts of gaming; it could be shared with whoever else loved the game.
Over time, storytelling became more important in games and many games began to break away from multiplayer and instead focused on telling a riveting single-player story. Some of these games would keep multiplayer aspects (especially shooters) but many would never use a multiplayer mode at all.
But ever since the birth of internet-connected home consoles, multiplayer in gaming has skyrocketed and many game series that were once focused solely on single-player are now adopting their own multiplayer modes. This has led some gamers to resent the idea that their favorite single-player games might be getting an unnecessary mode that could take away something from the single-player portion of the game.
The Mass Effect series has been one of the most popular new series of this gaming generation and its first two entries took players through an immersive single-player experience that changed with player choice and created a colorful and dynamic world to explore. Before the final installment, Mass Effect 3, was released, developer BioWare announced that a multiplayer element would be added to the game.
Fans far and wide began to voice their concerns that the multiplayer would take emphasis off of the single-player experience and be a tacked-on nuisance. The complaints only got worse when it was revealed that the multiplayer could affect the outcome of the single-player campaign and would be necessary to get the best possible ending.
As we now know, the multiplayer wasn’t at all mandatory in order to fully experience the single-player story and it was even fairly well received by fans (the later controversy over the game’s ending probably helped take off some of the heat as well). The multiplayer mode was successfully added onto a game series that may not have needed it, but did benefit from having more gameplay variety and extra content.
Mass Effect 3 may have benefited from the addition of multiplayer but a game doesn’t even necessarily need to benefit from it to help the industry as a whole. Just the idea of trying something new is valuable for the future. For years, multiplayer in games consisted of only a few simple schemes like racing or a deathmatch. But as more games tried to add in a multiplayer element, more innovation became necessary to stand out in the crowd.
Gears of War 2 pretty much perfected co-op multiplayer with its popular “Horde” mode, in which a group of players must hold out against waves of increasingly difficult A.I. enemies, and the “Horde” archetype actually became a template for many cooperative online modes in other games. The Halo series has been giving players tons of new game types for years and things like capture the flag have become the preferred way to play multiplayer for some gamers. The good old fashioned deathmatch may never go away, but it’s comforting to see we have expanded on that basic idea and made multiplayer more than what it used to be.
The Last of Us is a perfect example of a game that did not need any kind of multiplayer to be complete but thrived with its addition. Naughty Dog’s post-apocalyptic adventure would have worked just fine as a single player experience but the multiplayer in the game actually tried something new. The multiplayer tasked you with gathering supplies for your camp while you played through matches. If you didn’t get enough supplies, people in your camp would get sick and die. Each multiplayer match represented one day for your group’s survival and you needed to survive 12 weeks total to “beat” the mode. The idea that your multiplayer matches were all connected to a larger goal was an interesting way to make each match count for more than just leveling up a character.
The trend of adding multiplayer modes to more and more games is a good thing because it can help push the idea of multiplayer (and what it can be) forward. The more people we have trying to create unique experiences, the better off the industry will be.
The upcoming “next generation” of gaming is set to give us gaming consoles that are pretty much always connected to the internet (or at least they should be to get the optimal experience). With this connectivity comes the expectation that we will be able to experience new and improved online and social gameplay that will further refine the online multiplayer experience. Dynamic worlds, large-scale games with hundreds of players, connected experiences that draw us in and immerse us fully; these are all things that we can expect in the coming generation and they will all be possible thanks to the innovations of online multiplayer.
And to those who are concerned that it will take away from the single-player experience, remember this: Most multiplayer modes that are added onto games are developed by a different studio entirely. Even if a different studio is not making the multiplayer, a different development team is which means the single-player offering usually remains untouched.
So the next time a single player game franchise you love decides to add some multiplayer, don’t worry. Even if the mode is tacked on and unnecessary, it is helping the overall evolution of multiplayer which is in turn driving forward gaming as a whole. We’ve spent years on our own, it’s time to come together and see how much better gaming can get.