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In defense of tacked-on multiplayer

"I think that model is finished," Electronic Arts Games chief Frank Gibeau told Develop two-years back. He was discussing what he called "fire-and-forget, packaged goods only" or, as they're commonly known as, single-player games. He said that developers needed to continue the connection with players, and that a good method was through some sort of multiplayer component. In one interview, one of the leaders of the second biggest game publisher had signed a death warrant for single-player gaming. People were understandably upset, thinking that the era of single-player was over.

But it wasn't, and I don't think that's what Frank Gibeau meant. Instead, a significant aspect of what he was acknowledging is the importance of replayability in an age where video games cost more to make, and people have less money to spend on them. And he's right; single-player "fire-and-forget" games generally don't have that much replay value, and it’s hard to justify keeping a game after you complete the campaign. The solution to this problem is to add multiplayer--even if it isn’t really “needed.” And while some might see multiplayer added to any single-player franchise as sacrilege, I think it can be a good thing. Sure, sometimes it backfires, but "tacked-on multiplayer," as many have called it, can often end up being pretty damn fun.

Take, for instance, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. The original Uncharted was a bastion of single-player cinematic storytelling, so fans were understandably livid when news broke confirming Uncharted 2's multiplayer modes. Some silly deathmatch mode for what had previously been considered a proving point for the Games as Art movement? No thanks. And then it came out, and it was surprisingly well-developed, and in-line with everything that made Uncharted work.

A year later, and the flip-out cycle repeated itself with Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. Said one GamesRadar commenter: "I can imagine a AC multiplayer mode: two players will stand and stare at each other for hours, each waiting for the other guy to make the first move so that they can counter it...then another guy just runs up and stealth kills them both." [sic] And, yet again, "tacked-on multiplayer" proved to be extremely fun. With each Assassin's Creed release since then, the multiplayer has been improved upon, to the point where it's as much a part of the series as ancient aliens wearing togas.

But there's no greater example than Mass Effect 3. Honestly, you’d think that BioWare had just announced that the Reapers were real and coming to wipe out all life on earth, but no: It had just revealed that the game would have some multiplayer. People. Were. Pissed. One GamesRadar user said, "Even if i don't know what the multiplayer is about, the fact alone that it exists is a bad sign, period." [sic] His comment was followed by many others, agreeing that the announcement was a disaster. Yet, when we had our 24-hour Marathon a few months ago, it was one of the few games folks were clamoring to play all night. The wave-based co-op was so good that BioWare has continued to support it with DLC and updates, and many gamers have told me that they’ve put more hours (and spent more money) into unlocking new races and weapons than they did playing through the single-player campaign.

And then when there were rumors that BioShock: Infinite would have multiplayer, and everyone freaked the hell out all over again. As history has shown, this mindset is silly. It also doesn't make sense given publishers' recent schemes to keep games in gamers' consoles longer. Answer us this, would you rather have a multiplayer mode that might be good, or be forced to download an ending weeks after release (as was seen in 007 Legends), or pay for slowly doled-out or on-disc DLC (basically everyone else)?

When Infinite was confirmed not to have multiplayer, gamers were ecstatic, acting like it was some sort of great victory for single-player gaming. “Thank God!” one commenter exclaimed; “I'm so proud of those guys,” said another. “I've never wanted my SP purchases to be compromised by the addition of an MP add-on.”

What great single-player purchase was compromised by multiplayer? Was Dead Space 2 ruined by the Necromorphs vs. Humans battles that most agreed were an absolute blast? Was BioShock 2 destroyed by its entertaining Splicer-filled team deathmatch? I know XCOM: Enemy Unknown wasn’t held back by the addition of multiplayer--if anything, it was amplified by the mode. While there are some examples of good single-player games not having a strong competitive side (Spec Ops: The Line comes to mind), there aren't many examples of the multiplayer actually compromising the campaign. Meanwhile, there are plenty of examples of great success in formerly single-player games being complemented by multiplayer components.

Listen friends, gamers, everyone: Stop freaking out. When a publisher or a developer reveals some sort of co-op or multiplayer for its game, give them the benefit of the doubt, because for all you know, it could totally be the next Uncharted 2 or Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood or Mass Effect 3 or...

You know that kid at parties who talks too much? Drink in hand, way too enthusiastic, ponderously well-educated in topics no one in their right mind should know about? Loud? Well, that kid’s occasionally us. GR Editorials is a semi-regular feature where we share our informed insights on the news at hand. Sharp, funny, and finger-on-the-pulse, it’s the information you need to know even when you don’t know you need it.

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105 comments

  • bass88 - December 1, 2012 1:30 p.m.

    Better yet, don't give them the benefit of doubt. That way they might put in that extra bit of effort in impressing us. I don't like multiplayer too much. Never will. It's usually overflowing with idiots, bellends, racists, misogynists and mentally imbalanced sociopaths. I don't want to waste my free time in that company. So when a developer announces it's not bothering with multiplayer, I have a little celebration because I know they are putting all their best tricks into a single player experience. Also, developers are usually under contract not to badmouth parts of their game before release. So, obviously, they are going to singing about how "great" multiplayer is. I don't remember 2K Marin slamming the "tacked-on" multiplayer prior to Spec Ops: The Line's release. Nice article but I still remain unconvinced.
  • Redeater - December 1, 2012 1:45 p.m.

    "Stop freaking out. When a publisher or a developer reveals some sort of co-op or multiplayer for its game" I understand what you were going for in the article but the problem with this is that for every AAA game that gets an alright MP there are 20 AA games that get a terrible MP which dies within a couple months. I'm not going to go through my giant library of games in which this is the case but since Singularity is right in front of me that is just as good of an example. Did multiplayer help that game sell better in any form? No. If they had cut out the development cost and time creating MP they might not have seen it as such a failure. (Not a guarantee but you know what I'm getting at)
  • Redeater - December 1, 2012 1:53 p.m.

    I don't even want to touch the slapdash MP DLC they release for mainly single player games either. I guess my main complaint about this article would be that while I can pop into the SP of any number of games I own I'm only able to play the MP for a month or so until it dries up. Basically, this portion of the game that I paid full price for becomes invalid. (I know this isn't the case for most AAA games but it seems about 90% of the time this happens to anything that isn't COD, Borderlands or any other ridiculously high profile game.
  • Bloodstorm - December 1, 2012 2 p.m.

    "And he's right; single-player "fire-and-forget" games generally don't have that much replay value, and it’s hard to justify keeping a game after you complete the campaign" I've never understood this sentiment. Whatever happened to the days when people just kept their games? I mean, I may never play some of the games sitting on my game shelf again, but I'd rather them sit there and collect dust than not having them if/when I suddenly feel like playing one again. Anyways, the problem with tacked on multiplayer is that it does tend to come at the cost of the single player campaign. You used Dead Space 2 as an example, and you know what, the single player campaign might have been good, but it surely wasn't better than the first Dead Space. Whether that had to do with the multiplayer component, that would all be speculation, but the game was shorter, turned into a corridor shooter, and lacked any interesting boss fights, which I was surprised I actually missed from Dead Space. A lot of single player franchises with newly tacked on multiplayer seem to suffer much from the same problems, as their multiplayer components get 'better' their single player portions scale back. It's usually all about resources, and multiplayer takes away development resources. Some franchises have been successful with added multiplayer by having a separate, but closely related studio working on it without pulling away from the single player team, but more often than not, one or the other does suffer, and for me at least, I want a single player narrative I can enjoy and discuss, that will stick with me fondly in memory, than I do another competitive multiplayer experience to just come and go as soon as the next multiplayer juggernaut comes out. I can get behind co-op modes, but they best be done right and spectacularly well, otherwise I'm going to blame the faults of the game on needlessly tacked on multiplayer.
  • Redeater - December 1, 2012 2:12 p.m.

    "I mean, I may never play some of the games sitting on my game shelf again, but I'd rather them sit there and collect dust than not having them if/when I suddenly feel like playing one again." I'm completely with this sentiment! Though I do get a bit angry when I see Wreckless still sitting on my shelf.
  • taokaka - December 1, 2012 6:06 p.m.

    My sentiments exactly regarding dead space 2 "Was Dead Space 2 ruined by the Necromorphs vs. Humans battles that most agreed were an absolute blast? " Nope, the singleplayer portion managed to do that just fine.
  • Redeater - December 1, 2012 2:02 p.m.

    As for the thing about gamers being ecstatic over no MP in Bioshock Infinite...... Correct me if I'm wrong but hasn't information surfaced revealing B:I's huge delay was because they COULDN'T get the MP right and decided to scrap it altogether? Putting a giant picture of B:I in the article and trying to defend tacked on MP when this is most likely the cause of a lot of the delay is kind of canceling any point you are trying to make. (Wow, sorry Coop I seem to be super cranky today. I think I need to relax with some of the insanely happy people on Miiverse.)
  • GR HollanderCooper - December 1, 2012 3:59 p.m.

    The Infinite delay because of MP thing was a rumor, they never actually confirmed that was the case. They were thinking about adding MP, and there was a delay, but causation/causality or whatever.
  • Meleedragon27 - December 1, 2012 2:07 p.m.

    While I understand why developers put in multiplayer (usually because the publishers demand it as a means of getting consumers to hold onto their games for longer and curb used game sales), I still can't bring myself to embrace it. Many demand an online connection to play (which may or may not cost extra, demending on your system of choice) where many of the people you're playing with are generally unpleasant to deal with, and even if you can play locally, the game still demands you go out and get some gamer friends to enjoy it with. The requisites feel so arbitrary and rarely feels worth it that I have a hard time viewing multiplayer and co-op with anything other than utter contempt. I don't need friends to enjoy a good movie, TV show, or book, so why am I being forced to do that for video games? C'mon, Coop; was Resident Evil 5 really improved by the forced co-op partner? Is Borderlands really any fun if you're playing alone? Are you really happy with CoD cramming the campaign mode down to something that can beaten in 5 hours (if even that) because the devs decided they want to pool all of their resources into a multiplayer that's full of the most unpleasant people to ever obtain an XBox Live Gold subscription? This forcing of multiplayer (multiplayer that, mind you, will likely have empty lobbies and be dead in a few years, tops) only tells me that the industry is only interested in short-term successes nowadays. No one's gonna remember these games in a decade or two and no one's gonna go back to them because what "greatness" they had died out long ago. The single-player is what's gonna last, and if a game doesn't have that or if it has a severely compromised one, it's not gonna be worth jack in the long run.
  • Redeater - December 1, 2012 2:14 p.m.

    Well what about Epic Mickey: The Power of Two......oh wait.....never mind.
  • xx_CaPTiiN_SpAiiN_zz - December 1, 2012 4:42 p.m.

    not enough furry in that game for him lol...
  • Meleedragon27 - December 1, 2012 9:31 p.m.

    Whatever. At least I don't bring up irrelevant issues from other sites like some internet tough guy. And for what? To defend some date rapist who condones puppy-diddling? This idiotic internet tough guy attitude, combined with your terrible grasp of the English language, is why I can't look at you as anything other than a troll account. Seriously, if the guy I've attacked has a problem with me, he can bring it up with me himself; he doesn't need some dunce like you white-knighting him and I'm sure he'd agree with me on that.
  • Eternalenki - December 1, 2012 2:12 p.m.

    I don't tend to ostracize a game for it's multiplayer, but the real fear in adding a multiplayer mode is three fold. Firstly, there's the fear that the MP is going to become the greater focus of the game, leaving the single player as an afterthought. Not to jump on any bandwagons, but that influence for that is the short, generic, mildly repetitive SP campaigns from recent Call of Duty titles. Secondly is the fear that the online multiplayer is going to shut down within a small timeframe following the release of the game, making it obsolete unless you can find four guys that want to play with you routinely. Thirdly, it's the players that play. A lot of players that are part of the player base of online multiplayer games, shooters mostly(though that could account to the excess of shooters in the market), tend to be very immature and poor sports. I'm not saying all, but some. Those are the major reasons I get concerned about when multiplayer modes are announced for games, but I never toss a game in the trash over it.
  • Brutalicus - December 1, 2012 3:01 p.m.

    You raise a good point. I do take issue with EA's heavy-handed stance on multiplayer for the most part, and I used to be firmly against including online modes in my single-player games. While I simply haven't had the desire to try out the multiplayer modes for my favorite single-player franchises, I did try Mass Effect 3 co-op out back when that demo dropped on Valentine's Day when I was desperate for more ME. Developing such a feature seems like a huge risk, and I don't think it brought any fans to ME3 who wouldn't have already bought it, at least on day one. I have to wonder if Bioware knew they really had a great combat system before they pulled the trigger on the inclusion of co-op, but the gamble paid off. Plus, as you said, the phenomenal post-launch support for ME3 has been what's kept the multiplayer afloat. I hope that people continue to play the game for a long time, and that the developers can build on their success in the next ME.
  • chipninja - December 1, 2012 4:54 p.m.

    Well here's the thing. Developing the multiplayer like that really isn't the risky thing. The big developers don't like to take risks... and currently the vast majority of games are heavily focused on MP. Do games like Call of Duty, Black Ops, or Battlefield have SP campaigns? Sure. Short 8-10 hour (at most) campaigns. Why does everyone get them in the first place? To shoot friends online. With every huge success the big companies take a look and say, "What can we create like that?" Why? Because they know that even if one player isn't really interested, they still like to play games with their friends so it's a pretty safe bet that as long as they do a decent marketing campaign they'll make money. The real problem here is that the "fire and forget" explanation really doesn't suit the situation. Single player games require updates, and get content added to them all the time. In fact, those old enough remember a lot of single player games back in the day that featured full expansions with countless hours of play added to the original game. Games with too much focus on multiplayer however, end up being the exact same recycled garbage being released as a new game in an attempt to milk every last cent out of the fan base. While "tacked on" multiplayer may not directly lead to the downfall of single player gaming, it does lead to it indirectly. When developers are convinced that the addition of multiplayer is what will save their product, it won't take long before they come to the conclusion that the single player aspect costs too much to develop properly, and then treat the stories as the tacked on portion of a multiplayer game. Unfortunately I don't think this is going to change any time soon. The gaming industry follows what Hollywood is doing almost to a T. Given that Hollywood has come out and stated they are only interested in creating sequels and remakes... well it doesn't take much to connect the dots. While I don't see AAA single player games disappearing entirely, I would expect to see a lot less in the near future when developers come out making statements like these. If you're looking for innovative and new single player games start taking more of a look into indie titles. These guys are really the only people who have the courage to do things differently lately.
  • Brutalicus - December 2, 2012 8:21 p.m.

    You're definitely right about many big titles being opposite - with the single player campaign being the "tacked-on" bit. I can't get into those games usually because a) the campaigns are terribad and b) the multiplayer is 99% focused on competitive game modes, where my nearly two decades of gaming experience counts for nothing and I am shit on repeatedly by anyone who can memorize a map. On the same topic, I couldn't get into Guild Wars 2 because the PvE felt tacked-on and secondary to the competitive PvP (sure, this is the entire point of the GW series, guess I should have realized). Also, I think the publishers are the risk-adverse business that Hollywood has been for a while, not the developers per se. In ME3's case I don't think the inclusion of multiplayer hindered development of the campaign since they were handled by two specialized Bioware studios. I do, however, think that the single-player game suffered at the hands of EA's tried-and-true franchise treatment. If we were voting, ME3 would be my favorite game since, well, ME2. It could have surpassed even ME2 if the right people had had more say in the game's development, though.
  • Genericide - December 1, 2012 3:13 p.m.

    The general sentiment I have is something like this: I have nothing against multiplayer modes, and sometimes tacked-on multiplayer can indeed be entertaining. Few people have anything against the multiplayer itself existing. What people have a problem with is the multiplayer interfering with the single player. Whether it be from forcing mulitplayer aspects (like a persistent co-op partner) into the single player, the construction of the multiplayer taking time away that could have been spent on the single player, or the multiplayer not meshing well with the online community. But the biggest thing that worries me when companies like EA make statements like this isn't that developers are choosing to make multiplayer modes. It's that they're being forced to make multiplayer modes, that industry heads are nudging everyone in the direction of multiplayer because of its increased profitability. People fear single player games are being to some extent phased out of the AAA game industry, and obviously that thought makes single player fans worried. Now, multiplayer modes themselves are fine and people certainly over-react in regards to multiplayer announcements, but I don't think all concerns over these statements are completely without merit.
  • tehtimeisnow - December 1, 2012 3:40 p.m.

    if a gane dosent have mutlipleyer then its not werth playeing at all seruiousely cuz single palyer ganes have no repay value and mutliplayer is more worth ur money and we live in 2012 and mutlipleyer shuold b required for every game the make
  • eskimobear - December 1, 2012 3:54 p.m.

    10/10 would read again.
  • xx_CaPTiiN_SpAiiN_zz - December 1, 2012 4:44 p.m.

    well multiplayer is important to a lot of people especially young kids like black ops wouldnt have gotten big without the multiplayer. but i think the singleplayer is important as well and the story can make the game what it is but you have a point about the multiplayer.

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