This fall, quite a few games are hitting consoles with co-op or competitive multiplayer as their core feature. And none of them seem to realize online multiplayer is, for the most part, a huge waste of time and resources.
Titan Needs Players Badly
Titanfall is a superb example of this. It’s not that said game can be considered a failure by any logical stretch of the imagination, but compare the overall hype, which was that it was going to make everybody desperately want an Xbox One and was the killer app the system had been waiting for, with the reality, which was that it couldn’t even sell a million copies in its first month.
The simple truth of the matter is that many developers and publishers sorely misunderstood Call of Duty‘s success. If you quiz hardcore gamers, the people who buy the games consistently, I’m betting you won’t find much intersection between them and the hardcore CoD crowd. Call of Duty, for whatever reason, has managed to become the one game that millions of people who otherwise never play video games in the first place buy, every year, just like Madden and FIFA.
And that’s not even getting into the more fundamental problem, which is that multiplayer can go wrong well before a match even starts.
The fundamental problem of online multiplayer is that everybody plays games differently. For example, I’m a plodding, methodical gamer: In most FPS games, I figure out which guns I can use to scope the terrain, pick off any obvious problems I can hit at a distance, deal with anything that ticks off, and then carefully advance forward. I hoard resources and only whip out the big guns when I absolutely have to.
It’s not even that I’m not typically a go-in-guns-blazing guy, it’s that I don’t get people who do that. Similarly, I doubt the guy who finds his fun in walking into the level with two fully automatic rifles gets why I’m back there headshotting dudes one at a time. To me, that guy is Leroy Jenkins, and to him, I’m a tax accountant. That’s not a recipe for a fun game for anybody.
And then there’s the time problem. I have no hard data on this, but I’d lay down money that the ages of Call of Duty‘s biggest multiplayer gamers form a perfect bell curve with age 18 at the tip and 23 being where the participation really starts to slope off. Even if you want to play, it’s a matter of finding time, which becomes increasingly scarce as you get a day job, find out getting laid is easier now that you’ve gotten through puberty, and other distractions reveal themselves. Now try to coordinate an entire group of people going through that.
And furthermore, it’s really around that point that hanging out with people who don’t have responsibilities and really have nothing more important going on that topping the leaderboards gets annoying. It’s common to fault the players for this, but really, I don’t. I’m in my early thirties; what teenager wants to hang around a guy in his early thirties?
One suspects that if you got your hands on some honest marketing data, most gamers would admit that they don’t even look at multiplayer features. Why would they? They’re just going to go unused, especially if they’re tacked on to a game with a great single-player campaign. It seems largely to exist because CEOs believe that at some point, they’ll hit the same vein of gold.
It’s sad in a way because there are some genuinely good multiplayer games out there. The Last Of Us and Batman: Arkham Origins both had interesting ideas, for example. But they’re dwarfed by the single-player games they’re bolted onto. I don’t expect multiplayer to die any time soon, although it’s telling that Wolfenstein: The New Order was allowed to just be a single-player game.
I expect to see more of that in the future. The truth is, online multiplayer games have a future, but not tied to single-player experiences. Don’t be surprised if the future finds us with two separate games, and we only pay for the experience we actually want.