Call of Duty changed the landscape for online multiplayer games. Phil Nachum wonders whether the genre is getting ready to change again
Since the release of 2007’s Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, the landscape for online multiplayer has been irreversibly changed. Persistent characters with progression systems became the norm, as more and more games adopted skills, perks and customizable classes. As DLC grew in prominence, publishers found that a multiplayer mode was not only a good way to get people holding on to their games longer, but also an avenue to sell additional multiplayer items. As a result, multiplayer modes became both more ubiquitous and more homogeneous.
But that seems to be changing again. Last month, the critically acclaimed BioShock Infinite launched without a multiplayer mode, which has not only become unexpected for first-person shooters, but is especially odd considering that BioShock 2 had a competitive multiplayer option.
Furthermore, Eidos Montreal producer Stephane Roy recently announced that there would be no competitive multiplayer in the upcoming Thief reboot, saying, “Our main goal with this team is to give you the best single-player experience, just to bring back this franchise, to convince you we’re part of the future and not something holding onto the past. It’s really demanding, so I don’t want to see my team wasting any energy… I want to see them focusing on that.”
CD Projekt RED gameplay designer Maciej Szczesnik expressed similar concerns about development focus when he announced that The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt will also not feature a traditional multiplayer mode. He said, “With single-player, you just want to jump in and enjoy the story. Huge multiplayer features can be more destructive than helpful. We’re not trying to have multiplayer just to have it.”
It’s important to note that neither Eidos Montreal or CD Projekt RED have outright said that their respective games will include no multiplayer features. Rather, they said that the traditional adversarial multiplayer mode won’t be included.
These non-traditional multiplayer features have grown increasingly more popular in the last several years. 2012’s Journey received exceptional praise for creating an emotional relationship with an anonymous co-op partner.
Furthermore, Kotaku recently reported rumors suggesting that Quantic Dream, the developer behind Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls, is hiring for a multiplayer project. While there’s no information on what this project is, it’s safe to say, given Quantic Dream’s track record, that it won’t be a traditional adversarial multiplayer mode.
With such obvious monetary incentives for including competitive multiplayer, why have so many games recently opted for something different? While some games don’t inherently lend themselves to competitive multiplayer, titles like Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood proved that not to be problem.
If one of the primary reasons for creating multiplayer modes is to keep players from selling their copy of the game and adding to the used market, this might explain why The Witcher 3 won’t feature traditional multiplayer. After all, CD Projekt has promised a 50-hour single player mode with multiple endings, meaning the game will occupy players for a long time without need for additional modes.
Another possible explanation is simply cost. Publishers may be weary to add to already enormous development budgets with a mode which may end up barren shortly after launch. As with all things, it’s a matter of risk, and reducing the risk by ensuring a higher quality product is even more expensive.
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