Unlockables, collectibles, infinite progression tracks, and heart-pounding adrenaline shared across a map with dozens of other players.
Yes, modern multiplayer gaming is a sight to behold – but has the market become over-saturated with curated experiences that rely primarily on churning hundreds upon hundreds of hours played in perpetually resetting online arenas?
There used to exist a time where multiplayer was a bonus add-on to a fleshed-out singleplayer campaign. Of course, this was largely in part to the technical limitations that existed when it came to bandwidth and server technology, but nonetheless – the concept of multiplayer was mostly relegated to what you’d do with close friends and siblings during late-night game-a-thons.
Fast-forward to the present, and AAA studios are cutting campaigns out of long-standing franchises quicker than you can lance an infested boil. The quarterly reports have spoken, and they have shown the way forward: multiplayer is where the money is. With titans like Call of Duty, Battlefield, and World of Warcraft churning out millions upon millions of dollars in revenue over the years, studios have quickly picked up on the hints, and change their game design philosophy accordingly.
But what happens to the inherent structure of a game when its tailored specifically to be a persistent, infinitely repeatably experience that does all in its power to avoid throwing the player into bouts of boredom? Things quite drastic, in fact.
The Loss of the Memorable
Do you remember your first round of Call of Duty? What about your five hundredth? It’s inevitable that after some time, the details will blur together in one giant mishmash of time spent slaughtering endless waves of opposing players.
Now, contrast that with the most vivid and powerful experience of a single-player narrative that has stayed with you for years on end – do you find yourself remembering distinct set-pieces and narrative twists with near-perfect recall? If you do, then you’re witnessing the point of what can happen when a team of highly-talented individuals crafts a scripted experience for the sole purpose of instilling a certain feeling or emotion in an individual.
This, of course, comes with a tradeoff. Because the experience is so scripted, the impact is highly lessened upon repeated encounters – contrast this with the modern multiplayer structure, and it’s no wonder why multiplayer madness has taken hold: although far less scripted, multiplayer games have the potential for being exponentially emergent. That is to say, no round is ever the same. Sure, you might not encounter a major twist in some narrative that sets out to rival Dostoyevsky, but chances are you’re sure as hell going to remember the night you and three of your pals fought through scores of enemies to emerge as the winners of the latest and greatest iteration of a battle royale game out on the market today – chicken dinner included.
Less Work, More Payoff
Let’s face it. Making video games is hard work. And crafting one with such immaculate detail that can rival the visuals, character arcs, and narrative satisfaction of major blockbuster movies is a herculean order – not to mention incredibly fiscally troublesome. Should your title fail to tap the vein of the current cultural zietgiest, your years of hard work could be condemned to sit on the shelf along its other mediocre brethren.
In a best case scenario, the ravenous hordes of players could devour your oh-so-intricately detailed plot within hours, only to demand more and more downloadable content for them to plow through. And therein lies the single greatest flaw of the linear story: it has an end. What better than to opt for infinity?
Although pursuing a multiplayer venture is by no means a guaranteed hit, it does wonders to put you that much closer to building up a fervent playerbase that’ll spend hundreds of their hours killing one another over a bloodied virtual battlefield.
Single-player narratives aren’t going anywhere anytime soon – that’s for certain. But the caliber of storytelling that they’ll need to bear to pull away the masses from their opiate of drop-in, drop-out high-octane warfare will be something on the scale of Santa Monica’s God of War if they’ll have any hope of pulling players away from the perpetual conflict they so crave with one another.