Breaking Down the Multiplayer Conundrum

January 2, 2013Written by Chandler Wood

With the recent reveal that the upcoming Tomb Raider reboot will include some form of multiplayer, the internet has again flared up with cries of anger against a beloved singleplayer franchise receiving the multiplayer treatment. This is in no way a new trend as a multiplayer mode was added to Uncharted 2 back in 2009. Since that time, many primarily single player franchises have added both online and split-screen multiplayer components, including Dead Space, Mass Effect, and God of War.

Is multiplayer really that bad of an addition to these titles though? Does it effectively ruin what was once a beloved singleplayer game by adding features that require an internet connection or a second controller? Let’s take a closer and rational look at some of the most common outcries against adding in multiplayer.

“The single-player game will be a lower quality”

For every new game that has a multiplayer mode announced, it is instantly assumed that the singleplayer campaign is going to take a massive hit in quality. The claim is that resources are being divided and full attention is not being poured into the meat and potatoes of the game. This is an extremely difficult claim to quantify. If we had insight into some bizarro universe where Dead Space 2 released without it’s competitive online mode, maybe we could more easily confirm or deny this. While Dead Space 2’s main campaign was a great game, would it have been better without the inclusion of multiplayer? Unfortunately we are stuck with the single linear universe that we have without knowledge of how alternate realities may play out.

Most titles with a multiplayer component have separate teams working on each portion of the game. Internally, studios grow in size to have multiplayer specific developers, as shown by job listings in the industry. This means that the individual developers working on the singleplayer are generally only working on the singleplayer without dividing their attention. The hope is that they will be able to afford the additional coverage of workload as multiplayer is meant to make the game appeal to a broader audience.

This is also a double-edged sword. On one side, it frees up individual resources and allows one team to focus entirely on the singleplayer campaign. On the other, the multiplayer can feel disjointed and different from the main game when created by different people, which causes a lot of the “tacked on” comments that multiplayer modes get from fans. There is also the chance that the extra budget for the multiplayer may not pay off in the long run.

In most cases, I would argue that the inclusion of multiplayer in no way affects the quality of the singleplayer game. If the main campaign turns out to be shit, it is likely that it was going to be that level of quality regardless of the inclusion or exclusion of online components. Again, this is nearly impossible to quantify, so we are left to make our own assumptions, and it’s easy to blame multiplayer for a crappy game. Rationally though, the addition of multiplayer isn’t likely to muddy your singleplayer experience in the development process. If you need proof, see Uncharted 2 and 3, Assassin’s Creed III, Mass Effect 3, Far Cry 3, and Metal Gear Solid 4 for core examples.

 Lower Quality Single-Player Verdict: (Mostly) Myth

“The developers are just milking us for DLC money”

This argument goes into a realm that is far beyond just multiplayer modes, but games with multiplayer tend to fall victim to it the most. DLC is developed to add features to a game. Sometimes these add-ons are free, but most of the time they require us to open our wallets and fork out additional cash. Developers add costumes, characters, weapons, maps and game modes to the multiplayer of most games and then charge the player to have access to these additions. The addition of multiplayer to a single-player game opens up a money-well that the developer can easily tap into.

Is the addition of user purchasable content a negative thing? First, it allows you to only pay for the content that you want. People may argue that the content should have been included in the game in the first place. Your opinions aside, the harsh reality is that you really have no say in what content should be in the main game, released as DLC, or saved for the sequel. There is no rule-book that says what content should or shouldn’t be in a game. It’s only fan opinion and most opinions tend to err on the side of “gimme, gimme, gimme”.

Second, this source of funds for developers allows for additional money which can help in the development of future games. Continued release of multiplayer content for Uncharted 3 is providing funding to Naughty Dog, part of which is presumably going towards resources for future titles, which I have no complaint against. If Uncharted 3’s multiplayer is what is responsible for even partially funding the inevitable Uncharted 4 and/or The Last of Us, then keep the content coming. There’s always the chance it’s just booze money for listening to fans bitch about the multiplayer mode though.

DLC Milk Money Verdict: True (though not necessarily a bad thing)

“It’s just to avoid used sales of the game”

Multiplayer extends the life of most games. Where a singleplayer game may be completed, sold, and forgotten, gamers tend to keep the titles with multiplayer in their collection for longer and go back to them more often. This leads to less used copies on the shelves and even when a used copy is purchased, it generally does not include the dreaded online pass. Traditionally included with new copies of games, the online pass must be purchased for around $10 when the title is bought used.

Similar to DLC adding funding for developers to continue to release great games, devs want you to purchase their game new so that they can succeed as a studio and maintain the industry. As developers do not get paid or credit for the sale and purchase of pre-owned titles, the online pass was created as a way to recoup some of the money that may have been lost in used sales of games.

David Cage of Quantic Dream once mentioned a statistic based on the trophy information of Heavy Rain – about one out of every three people who played the game did not purchase it new. This may include buying used or borrowing from a friend. While used sales are a core part of the industry and allow many people to buy and play games that they otherwise wouldn’t, there is call for another discussion on how to find the best middle ground so that used sales don’t break developers and still lend to the success of a game.

Cut Used Sales Verdict: True (yet again, not a bad thing)

“I won’t buy it if they add multiplayer”

This one is not as much an argument against multiplayer as it is an irrational statement that I have seen commented before. If they add multiplayer to your favorite game franchise, would you really not buy the game? We’ve already determined that the single-player campaign is not always likely to take a significant hit with the addition of multiplayer, so at this point are you just sticking it to the man? Is your choice to not purchase just to make your voice heard to the developer that you don’t want that feature in the game? Well you’re depriving yourself of a great game in the process. Let me break it down another way for you:

Imagine that there is a sandwich shop that makes amazing sandwiches at the same price as all of the other sandwiches out there. One day, this sandwich shop decides to hire additional support to provide you with chips with your sandwiches at no extra charge. Now you, being the extremely opinionated person that you are, do not like these chips at all. So instead of simply not eating the chips, and getting the same delicious content that you have been getting all along from the sandwich developer at the same price, you stop buying your favorite sandwiches and deprive yourself of how great they are.

Uncharted 3 would probably be the amazing singleplayer game that it is regardless of the multiplayer mode that has been added to to it. The game would still have released at a price of $60 new at retail and people would have still bought Naughty Dog’s delicious sandwich of a game. Why when the bag of chips that is multiplayer gets added to the package at no additional charge, does it suddenly make it undesirable?

I Won’t Buy It Verdict: Your Loss

Final Remarks

I know that there are plenty of rational reasons why a single-player franchise should not include multiplayer. I didn’t go into the arguments about ridiculous multiplayer trophies or the fact that a poorly executed multiplayer could tarnish the reputation of the developer and series. While it may seem one-sided, this article is not necessarily for or against singleplayer games having multiplayer added. It is simply to open up channels of thought and help people make more logical arguments for or against their particular viewpoints.

So which is it? Is your opinion of the affected games such as the upcoming God of War: Ascension, Tomb Raider, and The Last of Us or already released titles such as Assassin’s Creed III, Uncharted 3, and Dead Space 2 swayed by the fact that they have multiplayer? Or can you separate your opinion of the multiplayer mode from the singleplayer campaign and judge the game based on it’s campaign content? Sound out with your rational and irrational arguments in the comments below and watch with PSLS as every franchise you ever loved gets multiplayer added to it whether you like it or not.