How Adding Online Elements Effects the Quality of Multiplayer Games

If there’s one thing I’ve talked a lot in later years is how much online gaming has shaped the games of late. Online multiplayer modes have became so popular that they keep getting tacked-on in games that probably didn’t need them, and then multiplayer modes became the excuse to keep releasing sequels of popular titles while diminishing the quality of their single player offering.

On one hand, the industry is getting better at differentiating when a game might not need an online component after all (just last year’s Rise of the Tomb Raider, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate and Fallout 4 are good examples of this). On the other hand, they seem to be missing the mark in regards of what their multiplayer games should be offering for their asking price.

2015 was indeed a good year to illustrate how bad this trend can get; at its beginning I saw myself as a first-day buyer of both Halo 5 and Star Wars Battlefront, but after reading news that the former was dropping its trademark split screen multiplayer in favor of better graphics, I also dropped my wallet back into my pocket and cancelled my pre-order on the later until I knew what was I getting.

Suffice it to say those two games were huge disappointments. In the case of Halo 5, the new four-player team and bigger battlegrounds made it pretty clear the game was meant to be player along with other people; to play it just by yourself meant you were at the mercy of the lousy AI of your NPC companions.

In the case of Star Wars Battlefront (aka, my most expected game of this generation) I set the bar really low, I would have settled for simply a prettier and updated version of its 2005 prequel, actually I would have settled with two-player split screen mode if (and only if) it retain the same frenetic action from the previous games, and it did! Except that it was online exclusive.

I don’t know exactly what the technical issues were that meant they couldn’t offer a local multiplayer game like previous Battlefront games did, but wasn’t it worth it to offer a more robust and replayable product? If the game plays right online… why can’t it play well offline too? Isn’t it supposed to be easier? This just doesn’t make any sense.

This new era of multiplayer games keep ditching local split screen mode in favor of the always more popular Online alternative; the developers are doing that under the assumption that you don’t need to invite you gamer buddies and share the screen with them when you can do that remotely from your own homes, in your own screen, and if your friends are not available, you can always just jump into matchmaking and play with anyone available.

That thought probably makes a lot of sense now that we’re living on this always-connected era, but it was made on the assumption that your friend or friends have their own console, that they also bought a copy of the same game, you all have the required online membership, there are not local Internet issues on anyone’s end, and you all have a somewhat similar schedule or you can arrange to a certain time and expect no interruptions in your respective homes.

Any real person would know those are too many conditions. Add to that all the upgraded pack of issues of playing games as an adult: the even tighter schedule, the responsibilities, and the fact that most of your other adult friends are losing interest  in video games. Local multiplayer doesn’t have any of these issues, if you have friends over, it doesn’t matter how invested in games they are, you just give them a controller and you’re set.

Don’t get me wrong, I love (well made) online games as much as everyone else, but if you have seen the trailers and gameplay footage in later years you’ll see how much the publishers are trying to sell you the multiplayer aspect from their games. From the witty banter that is supposed to be you and your friends on the Destiny live action trailer (below), to the downright choreographed gameplay footage of games like Assassin’s Creed Unity or Tom Clancy’s The Division.

While I think it’s fair to focus so much on advertising the core aspects of their multiplayer games, these ads should come with a warning, or at least you should keep the following in mind. While these ads are trying to sell you the kind of experience you and your friends might have in such games, those “friends” are not actually your real life friends, nor your brother, sister, parent, or significant other, nor a relative who came to visit for the holidays, nor your son or daughter you’d like to spend some quality gaming time with.

Those “friends” are probably strangers you met online or friends you had to make in order to play these kinds of games with someone else. That said, making friends online is not a bad thing at all (I have quite a few of those), but they’re mostly separated from your real life persona, and away from your everyday life. Every time you hang around with them is a moment when everyone else will consider you’re all alone or you’re be simply unreachable for anybody else in real life.

All of this is even more staggering on this era when concepts like Free2Play games exist, and while we know they’re not entirely free or that you’ll end up paying something at some point. In my case, I’m heavily invested in World of Tanks and I’ve probably spent as much on it as the cost of a new game, but all that was my choice. Going back to the same examples of before, why should anyone invest that same money in a game like Halo 5 or Star Wars Battlefront? And how long would it take for those games to start asking for more money?

Even more surprising was the realization that those exact games are already asking for more money as soon as you start playing them, Halo 5 now has micro-transactions for its multiplayer component, and Battlefront is already nagging you to buy its Season Pass. And let’s not forget that online connectivity won’t last forever, either servers are going to be shut down, or players are going to move on to the next big thing (Like it’s already happening to Titanfall and Evolve), rendering those discs effectively useless.

All of this made me wonder, what are we paying for? If I’m right, current online releases offer an overpriced fleeting experience we can’t even share with people actually around us. If the ongoing price cut of online-exclusive titles like Titanfall is any indication, the industry will realize this is an even riskier business model, and will probably give us back what we usually take for granted.

Daniel Castro

Daniel Castro

Daniel is an engineer, teacher, and freelance writer and translator. He considers himself blessed to be born during the the times video games were created, and has followed their development as an entertainment and artistic media ever since. He loves talking about video games as much as he enjoys playing them, and he's always ready to introduce gaming culture to a newer audience.

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