Like in a strange Orwellian novel, modern people enjoy a near permanent connection to the internet, through mobile phones, desktop PCs, and even fridges with Twitter functionality. However, the drive to connect everything to the internet has at least proven one thing: in many cases, it’s almost entirely unnecessary.
As far as video games are concerned, online play is difficult to escape in 2016. Even famously antisocial titles like RPGs and survival horror have somehow found themselves lumbered with multiplayer. In the latter case, with games like Dead Space 2, consider how effective the concept of a “claustrophobic, lonely nightmare” is in a crowded multiplayer lobby – yes, that’s what we thought.
Arguably the most infamous example of forced multiplayer is 2013’s SimCity, a single player game ruined by always-on connectivity – that’s if you could even play it at all, as the servers couldn’t handle the load in the first few days. Diablo III, another classic solo game released the previous year, had many of the same issues.
There’s also Tomb Raider (2013), a game about one woman’s desperate fight for survival, with a multiplayer death match mode tacked on, and the Last of Us, a moving story about a journey across a post-apocalyptic America, with the same done-to-death multiplayer shoehorned in. Mass Effect 3, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Watch Dogs, Far Cry 4; and the list goes on.
It wouldn’t be so bad but there’s evidence that multiplayer actually comes at the expense of a compelling single-player experience. For example, the length of Call of Duty’s single-player game halved in length between 2008 (World at War) and 2013 (Ghosts). Similarly, SimCity’s map size (2km x 2km) was half that of its predecessor.
The concern is that multiplayer isn’t what all players want; in fact, the average gamer is in their thirties, and likely grew up with the type of single-player experience typical of pre-internet consoles. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that Fallout 4 and Skyrim, neither of which have multiplayer of any kind, proved to be two of the most popular games of their generation.
Solo experiences continue to dominate in another area of gaming too – casino titles. For example, mFortune places a heavy emphasis on slot machine-style games like Buster Ghost and Hansel and Gretel, the second of which has two minigames to keep players excited. The website, which also has European roulette in its range of games, is currently offering a mobile slots no deposit bonus for newcomers as an incentive to sign up.
The question that needs answering is why are multiplayer experiences so important that developers will risk damaging beloved franchises to include them? Sadly, it’s an example of the industry thinking with its wallet – the unfortunate truth is that multiplayer games are easier to monetize with microtransactions and downloadable content.
Returning to Mass Effect 3, the game included options for players to purchase “blind” boxes containing weapons, characters, and other goodies to use in multiplayer modes. However, while each box could be found in-game, their rarity meant that stumping up a few dollars was a convenient way to get an edge on the battlefield.
Microtransactions are a perfectly legitimate business model but it’s far easier to forgive a mobile developer for relying on them because their apps are usually free. With Mass Effect 3 and Dead Space 3, EA’s microtransactions added an extra levy on top of the $60 sticker price, making the titles two very expensive outer space adventures.
As a final bit of speculation, it could be argued that the addition of multiplayer to single-player titles has nothing to do with gaming at all. The much-maligned Digital Rights Management schemes force players to remain online at all times to prevent unauthorized play; it’s not too much of a stretch to assume that the near necessity of multiplayer is being used as a convenient anti-piracy measure.