Why Multiplayer?

In the early days of the shooter, before the genre took over the world in popularity and number of titles, creating a multiplayer mode was the obvious thing to do. These games were simple shoot’em ups, and the AIs were the brightest, so good competition meant having a human controlling your enemies. Plus, you didn’t have a new shooter coming out every week, so the audience didn’t fragment itself into pieces.

Flash forward a decade, and I am left wondering why today’s story-based shooters feel any need to incorporate multiplayer.? Call of DutyModern Warfare, Halo? Of course, absolutely. They are rooted in shooter history. Gears of War? Okay, I guess, though it’s weird you have to strip out your iconic cover shooting to make your (competitive) multiplayer mode play well.

But then there’s stuff like The Darkness. Though not a great game, I had fun with the single player game and story. I lost my girlfriend, went to Hell, got some revenge, the end. Multiplayer Darkness? Really? Why? A pair of announcements in the last couple weeks take this absurdity further: Bioshock 2 and Uncharted 2. Better games than The Darkness. Game of the Year candidates for 2007, in fact. And the previous versions, notably zero multiplayer elements. Once upon a time, Bioshock’s website said:

BioShock features a compelling storyline that revolves around the experiences of one man as he enters the decaying world of Rapture. Having a multiplayer component would have compromised the story we were trying to tell so we made the decision to keep this game as a single player experience.”

How has that changed? There’s significant development cost to tacking on a gameplay mode, and multiplayer is one of the most expensive you could choose. At some point or other, that cost came out of doing something else, or doing something better. Maybe, if you believe that the addition of multiplayer is going to mean more sales, and you increased the budget accordingly, then, it might not come at the expense of something else. But probably not. And as for increasing those sales, take a look at forums like this one, where reaction to Bioshock 2 and Uncharted 2 multiplayer is tepid at best.

So just why is multiplayer being added to these story-heavy shooters? My guess: The Marketing Department. Some bright MBA grad looks over at the sales of shooters such as Gears or COD4 and says: they are a shooter like us, they have multiplayer, they sold better than we did, and as a bonus multiplayer discourages GameStop resales, so let’s add it to our title. What, it wouldn’t make sense? It would cost a lot? Just make it happen. Stupid game designers, what do they know?

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