Is multiplayer killing story mode?


Multiplayer video games have thrived off the fundamental concepts of competition and community since games like Pong. And within the past decade, especially the last 5 years, developers have pushed the boundaries of online multiplayer. In games like LittleBig Planet and Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, creators consistently push forward technological advances in order to create new and exciting experiences. Following suit with with the technological improvements, it seems the amount of games with some sort of online feature, specifically an online multiplayer mode, has been increasing at an extremely fast rate, while only single player experiences have been on the decline.

Giving credit to my claim, EA label president, Frank Gibeau admitted:

“[We're] very comfortable moving the discussion towards how we make connected gameplay — be it cooperative or multiplayer or online services — as opposed to fire-and-forget, packaged goods only, single-player, 25-hours-and you’re out. I think that model is finished. Online is where the innovation, and the action, is at.”

That was back in 2010, and with the announcement that Dead Space 2 would have a multiplayer mode, his seriousness was quite evident. And that terrified me. Whether or not it’s a minority of gamers who enjoy a solitary experience, developers should still consider the entire market and not just the newest trend. Adding fuel to this fire since then have been analysts and designers who are convinced that single player will die sooner or later, some had even assumed by 2014.

Thankfully, such claims did not come true. 2014 promises some incredible single player only stories with Bound by Flame and Witcher 3: Wild Hunt amassing enormous hype. Considering Bioshock Infinite was hailed by critics and dominated most top ten charts in 2013, there is clearly some love for solely single player games.

witcher 3

Still, there is some resonance in Frank Gibeau’s strategy. Both Tomb Raider and The Last of Us featured a multiplayer aspect despite the core essence of each game being found in the story. Admittedly, The Last of Us proved itself  capable of handling both modes with finesse,  but Tomb Raider seemed to throw in multiplayer just to keep up with other big titles and appear to be an entire package.  I don’t want to be going into a store thinking they probably added this mode just to up the price; even if the price was just as high without online play, at least I would not have to worry that production efforts spent on online features took something away from the story. For Tomb Raider, the multiplayer element didn’t seem to hurt the story in any way, but it’s easy enough to question “Could there have been something else added in?”

My particular concern for throwing in such features grows from watching multiplayer literally consume the story in the Call of Duty series. Never a franchise to offer an exceedingly long narrative, in recent years they have shaved off a few hours to their already tight story modes. I know the Call of Duty series has been running for a long time, and even in the beginning multiplayer held a strong sway, specifically for the PC version, but it’s ridiculous that their focus on online play has gotten to the point that developers are frustrated with those of us sticking to the story. When Black Ops II was coming out, David Vonderhaar, Game Design Director, had this to say about solitary players.

“As popular as CoD is, there are a lot of people who don’t play multiplayer. And quite frankly, this bugs the shit out of us. They should all play MP. And Combat Training helps us get there.”

call of duty

I understand that they put a lot of effort into the online aspect and want players to enjoy it, but calm down. Despite the dwindling story aspects, single player gamers are still buying Call of Duty games, even buying Call of Duty: Ghosts for 60 dollars, which can be beaten in 4 hours. They are the ones who should be pissed, because I don’t care if your focus is online gaming, having such a short story shows an immense lack of effort. And the sad thing is, other major first person shooters like Battlefield also have extremely short narratives that usually end under 10 hours. There’s a large group of gamers who can’t afford online play, and there’s a lot who don’t want to play online. Yet the selection of first person shooters that don’t follow an online focus are limited, so this group is practically forced into buying some overpriced title just to get their fill of gaming . It’s frustrating to the point that if you can’t think of a story, I’d say don’t bother with an entirely new game. For those less bitter about the way things are progressing, I think we can agree that it should, at the least, not cost 60 dollars.

 So multiplayer does have the ability to diminish a story to the point that it is almost irrelevant to the game. Luckily, the majority of games actually hold onto a core single player experience as their selling point. And though at present, we are pretty secure in holding onto a decent selection of single player titles, multiplayer features have been showing an uncanny ability to mess around with great stories in an unsettling way.

Mass Effect 3 and Dead Space 3 both come from non-multiplayer origins, but now have multiplayer modes. Unlike, recent titles like Tomb Raider, these games already had a gathering and nothing to prove, but the ability to continue an impressive story. And within each of their online modes, the main story could be affected. In Mass Effect 3 you could go so far as change your ending. Arguably, an innovative idea to try out as gaming becomes more interconnected, but I find such a feature almost intrusive; it violates a sense of control that I want to have. Also, those who like the idea, but can’t access that mode, probably feel like they don’t have complete control over the game either. And I don’t understand why you would add an element that could effect the conclusion of a major trilogy that everyone who’s followed the game might not have access to. Such features might not be killing the story, so much as destroying the sense of a complete game lone players receive from playing.

In the end, multiplayer might not be killing single player experiences in the entire industry, but it has been affecting the experience lone players get, and developers need to be aware of that. It is understandable for a sector of the market to always be striving for a way to introduce online aspects in new and interesting ways. Just keep those away from on-going trilogies, and make sure there is a sector of the market dedicated to providing a large variety for people who want to play alone.

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Written by

He's been playing games for as long as he can remember. Starting out on the Sega Genesis with games like Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Mortal Kombat he developed a love for video games. Now waiting for the PS4, he still loves video games no matter the genre or system they belong to. However, he does prefer strategy games and RPGs, and despite his love for current console games like Dark Souls, nothing is better than challenging his girlfriend, Sarah, at Mario Kart on the N64.