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Consoleation: Solo, so long

Peter Skerritt's picture

Call of Duty: Black Ops Screenshot

We all know about the unfortunate downtime with the PlayStation Network, which has been sporadically offline for parts of this month and has been completely down for almost a week straight. Playing games online has been impossible, and the timing couldn't be worse with three major releases hitting just prior to the outage. PlayStation 3 users are now faced with the dilemma of trying to play games alone or via local multiplayer, which is something foreign to many newer game players who have been trained over the course of this console generation that it's all about online and all about multiplayer. Instead of hours of playing Call of Duty with friends in other states, players must now be satisfied with having people over and playing in split-screen. In the worst-case scenario, they're left to play the solo campaign, which has been the weakest link of many games within the past year.

You would think that a long-duration outage like this would remind publishers and developers that solo play is important, but it's very easy to interpret comments from Geoff Keighley after his interview with Valve's Gabe Newell and Erik Johnson as a dismissal of single-player importance:

Portal 2 will probably be Valve's last game with an isolated single-player experience.

This is another sign of growing sentiment within the video game industry that the importance of single-player games has been supplanted by a multiplayer focus along with online play. Frank Gibeau, label president for EA Games, echoed such a sentiment last December. While Newell and Gibeau's comments are the only ones to have gone public, it's foolhardy to think that the movement is not catching on with other companies. It's another sign that the industry is setting the trends and consumers are forced to either fall into line or find a new form of entertainment to partake in.

We're already seeing the decreased effort in single-player modes of play. More and more games are delivering solo campaigns of about four hours in length. We saw it with Kane & Lynch 2. We saw it with Medal of Honor and with Homefront. Some are even talking about Portal 2 taking them between 4-6 hours to complete, although defenders of the game charge that the game isn't possible to finish that soon. If you're someone who doesn't take part in multiplayer or if you don't play online, doing the math indicates that you're basically paying $15 an hour for these games. Movies and music are substantially less expensive, in comparison.

Portal 2 Screenshot

We're also seeing multiplayer modes forced into formerly single-player titles. BioShock and Dead Space were excellent solo adventures, and yet their sequels had multiplayer thrown in. Resident Evil 5 took the series into the realm of forced co-op, where you couldn't play alone as you were given a CPU-driven buddy to play with. Castlevania: Harmony of Despair takes the series from its successful solo roots and punishes anyone who plays alone, forcing co-op play onto anyone who actually wants to have fun playing it. Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is another, although somewhat more forgiving, example of this trend, too.

Why is the industry so quick to dismiss the single-player experience? What happens when an online service goes down, which happened to Xbox Live a few years ago and is currently affecting PSN? What happens when your internet service provider has connectivity issues or goes down completely? If today's games are more about connectivity and playing with others, wouldn't the $60 spent on each game be a waste at that point? Defenders of this trend fall back on the same list of excuses:

  • It's only for a few days.
  • Why not go outside and do something else?
  • Surely you have other games to play.
  • Stuff breaks; just deal with it. 
You know, I understand that stuff breaks. My internet goes down here at the apartment on occasion. Maintenance does need to get done from time to time. Even if it's for, say, a day… I can understand. When you get to multiple days—or over a week, as in the case of PSN—there's cause for concern and frustration. Don't tell me (or anyone else) to go outside or how else we should be spending our time, especially when you're probably sitting inside typing your trollish responses. And, yes, I do have other games to play… notably original PlayStation and PlayStation 2 games which don't require an online connection or another player to get the full experience.

I'm willing to concede that the multiplayer revolution has emerged victorious and that I have to evolve and accept this reality if I am going to keep playing current console games. As with other trends that I strongly oppose, such as DLC, more expensive games, and constant connectivity, the console gaming industry is setting its own pace and doesn't really care if I agree or not. If I want to keep playing, I'm going to fall into line and keep paying. I do hope that the industry learns from current events that putting all of their eggs in this one unreliable basket will eventually lead to lacking consumer confidence, lagging sales, and a growing amount of disinterest.

If not, there could be much rougher seas ahead for gaming than a widespread network outage.

Category Tags
Platform(s): Xbox 360   PS3   PC  
Articles: Editorials   Columns  
Topic(s): Game Design & Dev   Business  

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Its a dying age, sad to say.

I totally agree with your article, Peter. More and more games nowadays are too similar, with rehashed and recycled mulitplayer games becoming the norm. The favourite 360 games I've ever played were Fallout 3, Mirror's Edge, and the original Mass Effect, completely devoid of multiplayer, and yet I never found myself bored with them. I want to say that the general game industry will come to their senses and realize that people still like playing good-quality long games, and not total suckers. Alas, I don't think it's gonna happen. Plus, I never go to stores like Gamestop or EBGames anymore, can't stand em.

So true

Absolutely correct, sir. Of course, I say this as a person whose favorite games are the Elder Scrolls series, which is as single-player as it gets, really.

I don't get the whole multiplayer thing, really. I play video games for escape, not community. If I want to spend time with my friends, or my spouse, or my two boys, I do other things -- movies, meals, board games, or just hanging out. I wish so much that developers would stop shoving multiplayer down my throat... sorry, no thanks.

100% MP/Coop seem quite logical for Steam

Reasons why 100% MP/Coop seem quite logical for Steam:
- 100% of their games need online activation, so you got to be online at least once. Being online incl. some downtimes is no real problem in the long view.

- their Steam service logs every minute you play, so they a) know that solo with it's 4+ hours campaigns are not the deal for paying 60$, but playing 100hours online, which make games far cheaper than music or cinema and b) know that many gamers are always online when they play with steam (that has an offline mode).

Would it be different the idea of offering only coop play would not be announced publicly.

What Han Solo said

Except for the two boys bit, don't have any children. But as for the rest of it, he might as well have reached inside my head

The Why of Multiplayer

Peter, here are a couple of reasons why the multiplayer experience is a dominant force in the industry.

First, multiplayer is what most consumers want. Many of the biggest selling games are either pure multiplayer or have multiplayer components. The "multiplayer revolution", if it took place at all, happened on the NES. There were tons of successful multiplayer games like Bubble Bobble, Gauntlet, TMNT 2, Double Dragon, California Games, Contra, Ice Climber, not to mention the countless sports games like Tecmo Bowl, RBI Baseball, or the generic Nintendo versions such as Ice Hockey. Even games like Super Mario Bros 3 had fun multiplayer elements. These games offer social interaction that people cannot get from movies, books, and solo games.

Consumers still want these types of games, only new technology has enabled different kinds of experiences. The internet has made it easier to play games without having to have someone else physically in the room. Now we have new experiences such as MMOs. Motion controls and peripheral devices have enabled new games such as Just Dance 2 and Guitar Hero.

Second, I think multiplayer experiences offer ways to create content at less cost. This is because AI characters don't offer the challenge or social interaction of a real person. The industry also seems to think that solo experiences require more narrative elements, which means more dialogue, cutscenes, animations, voiceovers - and exploding budgets and $60 for 10 hours of play with no replay value. Contrast that to a tight arcade/sports game like Mario Kart Wii, which is insanely fun with the $5 wheel peripheral.

a huge number of 360s are

a huge number of 360s are never hooked up to the internet. And only half (roughly) of them have gold accounts. The concept that EVERYONE plays online is simply wrong.

Online multiplayer certainly has been the cool new thing for a while. But the idea that everyone wants strangers, on the internet, screaming at them over a headset... thats just not correct.

Ridiculous article

I just finished Nier, Just Cause 2, and 3D Dot Game Heroes. They are all fairly recent and surprisingly long games that aren't hindered by multiplayer at all. Even games that have multiplayer... such as Dead Space 2, Crysis 2, or Uncharted 2 are games with, what some people call, thrown in multiplayer are still great single player games as well.

Making the assumption that everything is moving towards mutliplayer is a gross overstatement. In fact, most of your articles are now that I think about it. You don't like it, then don't play it. There are a lot of games that will survive on the single player alone coming this year...

LA Noire, Rage, inFamous 2, Batman: Arkham City, Elder Scrolls V, Red Faction: Armageddon, Saints Row 3, Uncharted 3, Shadows of the Damned, Kingdoms of Amalur, Mass Effect 3... I could go on.

not everyone plays online

joe wrote:

a huge number of 360s are never hooked up to the internet. And only half (roughly) of them have gold accounts. The concept that EVERYONE plays online is simply wrong.

the statement was made by Valve. Their main platform still is the PC resp. Steam. And the average Steam-PC has to have internet connetion. 100%!

The CPU-buddy, optional coop gameplay will increase but Sony and MS won't dismiss SP completely so fast and i doubt Valve will in the next years if they want to sell multiplatform.

The reason i assume why they follow that strategy is simple. MP gamers don't sell their games. SP gamers can when they are done with the campaign. So 60 can become effectively 20 or less...

Except a) for the most part

Except a) for the most part you can't resell PC games and you -certainly- can't resell Steam games, so Valve for one hasn't got that incentive, and b) sure, someone that's done with a singleplayer game might be able to resell it (if it's on a disc and for console), but they're also in the market for another game after 10 hours, whereas that multiplayer gamer spending 600 hours with the same game...? Not so much.

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