The video game industry is changing, but not all video game experiences need something new tacked on, such as multiplayer.
Stereotypes regarding video game players have been numerous, and one of the most prevalent of those stereotypes is the gamer who lingers in a basement, alone, munching on pizza in the dark, playing a video game. Although that stereotype isn’t as dark and bad as it sounds in reality, the stereotype had to come about somehow (even if it is false to an extent).
Engrossing single player video games were the origin of such a stereotype, but even if people are playing alone in such a manner, is it a bad thing? Do these people want or need their games to start to become more multiplayer focused? Not to be misunderstood and to be more clear though, gamers do not necessarily fit that stereotype.
Single player games are fantastic in general. They are not bad experiences by any chance, and do not need to be sacrificed for other elements like multiplayer, by developers. EA Game’s president recently said, that his company does not develop games exclusively as single-player experiences anymore. This is perfectly acceptable, as long as developers keep things in perspective.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, and Shadow of the Colossus are each single-player focused and exclusive to that play-style. Sure, multiplayer can work for Skyrim (turn it into an MMO) and Corruption (Metroid Prime: Hunters style multiplayer would work, but in order to incorporate it without making the solo or multiplayer component mediocre, development time would have had to increase), but for Colossus, you’d have to sketch your mind a bit to figure out how that would work without ruining the game.
It is true that most games could benefit from a social or multiplayer inclusion, but developers shouldn’t stray from single-player only experiences, as semi-mentioned in the Metroid Prime 3: Corruption example. A better example may be Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, however. Echoes had a tacked-on multiplayer and it was a waste of most people’s time. The development time of that mode could have gone towards the single-player experience to make it even better. No matter, many people do not like playing games with others. Many people want their solitude and being forced to be socially connected or not have much in the way of single player games may anger those who are socially declined. And if the single-player experience is going to be compromised for the multiplayer, it is not ideal to include it.
Dead Space is a fantastic game to play by yourself. Maybe it’s time for a switch-up for the game series (EA thinks so with Dead Space 3’s co-op), but the aspect of co-op is an iffy one in horror games, because being by yourself adds to a sense of helplessness. If you always have someone to rely on, that sense of helplessness is weak. This sort of destroys the idea of the game being about horror.
People are more comforted when playing with others or simply being with others. Forcing multiplayer or co-op on a horror game can ruin potential horror. While it’s unknown how co-op will affect Dead Space, it runs the risk, especially if the game is designed mostly for co-op. The Resident Evil series has adopted a co-op system too and it works fine, but many probably prefer the dark game that was Resident Evil 4, where your partner was exclusively AI controlled and defenseless, adding a sense of depth and strategy to the game. Resident Evil 5 has lost this element due to the partner being AI or player controlled with the ability to fight back as well as player one.
All in all, the industry, when you step back a bit seems to be coming full circle. At first, simple experiences were made in the industry, then epic, huge and complicated games came along with multiplayer as a bonus (maybe) and now games are going back to simple bounds with multiplayer.
Not to be misunderstood, these games with multiplayer are not necessarily simple, but multiplayer games play like arcade games: get the best score possible, survive, die and try again, usually with no story progression or contrived puzzles to solve in most FPS or sport games, for example. This position, however, is not true with all games though, as some games already feel like this by nature, like the Mario series, which mainline or not, Mario games are very multiplayer friendly and its includes has not truly affected the single player experience too much. Some games are even drastically improved by an online environment like the FIFA series and some games may not even function without multiplayer or quickly become a bore without it, like with World of Warcraft. FPS games have certainly improved thanks to multiplayer.
The combination or including multiplayer whenever possible, even forcing it, along with the effort to simplify games is not necessarily good. We’ve got games that are heavily involved and everything, but they’re becoming easier and more friendly. This is good for newcomers to the industry, which is always a good thing, but eventually it’s going to create a huge rift in the gaming culture, if it hasn’t already. Already there are many gamers who could really give a care less about multiplayer games. Many people just want a good solo experience and if the industry continues the way it is, that may be an increasing rarity. Sure there will still be single player experiences, but they won’t likely be like they used to be. To make this point: many single player experiences from 1983 are not like they are today, to any degree. Evolution is apparent and it could be a good thing, but if its taken in the wrong direct and compromises single-player experiences, there could be a problem.
The future is a scary place as its filled with the unknown, and maybe, eventually if enough is tacked on, what everything was tacked onto will be lost in tackiness.