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The Multiplayer Question

January 20, 2012
By Ryan Caso

Recently online I have noticed a lot of banter back and forth about the question of multiplayer in games.  There have been a lot of complaints about games not having it in an “age where there is no excuse for a game not having multiplayer” and cries of people being sick that “every game now has multiplayer just because it can”.  The sad fact in the matter is that never has either side been right, not once. This is not an age when every game should have multiplayer.  There never will be an age where every game should have multiplayer.  There might be an age where every game could, and it might be this one, but there will never be one where they should.  Games should only ever have what makes them fun.  Before I contradict this, which I will, let me explain.  Networking, believe it or not, is hard.  Getting games to make players think that they are sharing the same game environment as other players is not easy.  Yes, I said think they are sharing it.  You never play with others; you play with approximations of others.  Why is this?  Because sending data across the internet is not easy, nor fast, nor is it ever guaranteed to make it,  This means that to get players to think they are playing with others requires a lot of extra code on top of the game to make it work, and sometimes it ends up changing the game play.  This is why games usually have a disclaimer, “game play may change during online interactions”.  They are telling you the truth.

Since networking is hard, which it is, this means that for networked play you either need a team dedicated to it, or a whole lot of time dedicated to it.  Either way, it’s going to require a large amount of man hours.  This time, smaller teams, could, and probably should spend on making the core of the game fun.  Thus should is the wrong word.  Semantics, I know, but it’s how it is.

Not every game has multiplayer, and just because a game has multiplayer does not mean it has ‘sold out’.  Many games remain single player and do well.  The whole reason a lot of games do not have multiplayer is the above.  Others do not do it because the developers or producers do not feel it essential, which is just as good of a reason as any to not do it, because it would just take up more development time.

I personally would never complain in either direction at multiplayer unless a developer was attempting to squeeze a half baked multiplayer into a half baked game as a way to polish it off with content.  This is a whole other topic and rarely happens.  Since most of the time I do not have to fight for a single player mode I only have a list of reasons for multiplayer, but here it is.

My reasons for multiplayer:

– Anything fun is more fun with friends

– It’s the developer’s choice

– Games were meant to be social interactions

– Social interaction is good for us and a part of our society

Short and sweet; I do not need any others.  Mainly the second one is the only one I need.  I appreciate the developers enough to respect their decisions on their games, producers and publishers too.  If you can find a situation that is fun and prove that it would be less fun with friends I beg of you to tell me about it.  Games in ancient history started as mostly multiplayer.  They were social interactions, signs of status and ways of enjoying each other’s company, or preparing for war….  Finally, we are a social species.  Nobody can stay sane while maintaining little to no contact with others.  Thus multiplayer is a wonderful tool.  Actually meeting other people and enjoying their company outside of the digital realm is much better, but it is similar enough.

As the ending to this I would just like to share with you all an analysis of a comment that is probably all too common place in single player versus multiplayer battles.  It will go over much of the poo flinging at multiplayer and still provide some insight towards the single player side, at least by me.  However, be prepared for sarcastic Ryan, he comes out for this little tidbit.

A view of the new Mass Effect 3 multiplayer This beautiful gem I found on Facebook is a reply from a disturbed game player; a so-called Mass Effect fan (though if he is a fan is for you to decide).  The original post was on the Mass Effect 3 page linking to a recent in house interview about the Mass Effect 3 multiplayer.  Many of the comments before it were the standard whining about Mass Effect having been born and made into a success because it was single player and multiplayer having nothing to do with it. Also the whole RPG deal about how RPGs are apparently incapable of being multiplayer games.  (Might I point out the MMORPG genre?  World of Warcraft, Rift, Everquest?) Note: I did not use the commenter’s name as a nicety to them.  They shall be called “disturbed gamer”.


“Bioware. Here’s a very SIMPLE solution to the multiplayer issue. HAVE IT AS DOWNLOADABLE CONTENT. Solo play made your game successful NOT multiplayer, its obvious EA are in on it as they’re giving the early demo to a MASSIVE multiplayer community (bf3) most of which have never heard of an RPG. A silly little co-op ass fest isn’t going to broaden your target market, so try not to dilute the one you already have like you did with dead space. I wonder if this is the reason me3 was pushed to next year, so you can sell multiplayer to bf3 fans and rake in the cash.” – disturbed gamer


Let me break this down for us.

“Bioware. Here’s a very SIMPLE solution to the multiplayer issue. HAVE IT AS DOWNLOADABLE CONTENT.”

First and foremost, you do not make multiplayer itself a set of downloadable content, you just do not.  It really does not work that way.

“Solo play made your game successful NOT multiplayer, its”

I will just ignore the ignorant claim that being single player only can ever have an effect on how well a game sells.  I will also ignore the grammar mistakes.

“its obvious EA are in on it as they’re giving the early demo to a MASSIVE multiplayer community (bf3)”

Finally; something that seems reasonable.  This might make sense, EA attempting to cash in on a good product.  It’s almost like they’re a business or something strange like that.  Even stranger is the thought that a business would want to maximize the amount of people who would want to use their product.  Just odd really…can you read the sarcasm?  (By the way, just in case you do not know of it, bf3 is Battlefield 3, though I cannot imagine many people being unaware of it.)

most of which have never heard of an RPG.”

Oh, no!  What is this?  Oh, I get it, if you play anything other than RPGs it is because you never heard of them, this makes sense now.  Good so far, I agree with everything.

A silly little co-op ass fest isn’t going to broaden your target market,”

Wait, so the demo and multiplayer are now not going to attract that “MASSIVE” multiplayer community from Battlefield 3?  Ok, you just contradicted yourself twice, can you clarify?  No?  Well I can attempt to stamp your tirade out of existence.

People playing games in an Arcade I love RPG games.  I love games.  I have been playing them since the early 1990s.  In fact I was probably busy tossing Gannon around in A Link to the Past while you were being born.  I am NOT in the largest percentage of gamers by age.  Your parents might be, and no I am not including Facebook games.  The current average age of gamers is probably around 30-35.  These are people who grew up playing games in arcades where almost everything was multiplayer and if it was not directly it still was.  You were in a social environment playing either with or ‘with’ other people.  The second with meaning you competed against high scores; whether the ones listed in the game or ones that you and the group of friends you are with keep track of personally.  Both the average gamer and I know about all the various types of games there are available out there.  We have played them.  We know about First Person Shooters, thank you Id Software.  We know about Role Playing Games, thank you ancient history.  A majority of us like both categories because we understand that the category of a game is not what makes it fun.  What makes a game fun is the interaction you have with it.

Why just one comment?  Why this comment?  I picked this one because of how bad it was.  It was as simple as that.  This comment covered most of the mistakes and self-delusions that anti-multiplayer arguments tend to hit on.  Of course there are some people who can make very convincing arguments against multiplayer in games by using actual reasoning but most end up falling into one of these holes.  The comment regarded game genres as exclusive barriers.  The commenter is probably actually upset about a game he likes changing, not so much about the multiplayer.  The barring off of other genres shows that he does not want change.  They state that first person shooter players just would not understand because they play multiplayer all the time.  They also imply role playing games are fundamentally different from first person shooters and that you cannot combine them.  This is obviously not true as many role playing games have a plethora of first person shooter aspects to them.  Mass Effect not excluded.  Another sign that their problem is with change is how angry they get about the early demo or anything in general.  Anger shows a strong connection with the game, but usually not good.  This connection is bad in that the commenter’s current view of the game is the only one they want to accept.  This is bad in general because games as a medium are constantly changing.  Point in fact that it’s the change though, and not the multiplayer in general, comes from the style of multiplayer revealed and the first part parts of the comment.

Some context for this: the multiplayer is revealed in the interview to be optional. The player’s gain the ability to advance their standing in the single player experience through it but not in a way that changes the game.  In the end someone who did both single and multiplayer versus someone who did an equivalent amount of play in just single player would have the same end results in respect to the game’s points (the whole ending system with weights for different endings).

With that context, re-read the opening lines of the comment up to “DOWNLOADABLE CONTENT”.  Notice how they want the optional content to be optional but not on their copy.  Take it off the disc and make anyone else who wants it have to download it.  That really is the argument in a nutshell.  The rest of the lines were just for explaining the other less informed reasons people give.  In the end they all ultimately end up being people that just do not want change.

Finally, anyone who uses the line that one style of game play made your game successful and not another, in reference to single and multiplayer, is clearly just annoyed by a change.  Neither has ever made any game successful.  Rather the only way this works is when one or the other is excluded.  This happened recently to me with a game that I thought was a lot of fun but I would have preferred having the option for single player also.  I ended up not buying the game because I did not want to just do multiplayer.

The fact is that games are fun with friends but sometimes friends are not on.  Everyone wants the ability to play a game at anytime so single player is great for the ability of a game to sell and be fun, to not want a multiplayer on a game is illogical however.  If a game has a single player mode then it probably will not be going anywhere which means the multiplayer will always be optional.  This means there is no reason for it to not exist.  It can only provide a larger audience for the game and who knows, maybe in the larger audience you might make some new friends by just trying it out.


One thought on “The Multiplayer Question

  • The only place Multi-player can really take away from a game is in horror games. Playing Resident Evil 5 with a pal was at no point scary. The game itself sucked too, but fear just never seems as real as when you are alone. I am reminded of playing Dead Space for the first time and actually being a bit nervous when I played it alone. That’s why I was happy Dead Space 2 made multi-player a separate thing unlike Resident Evil 5. Personally I just have a harder time being frightened playing a video game with a friend. It is definitely fun though.

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