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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