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.
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.
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.