Pure PlayStation’s Dom O’Leary has been scratching his head recently. He scratched it so hard that all of his inner-thoughts spilled out onto the ground. He quickly assembled what he could gather and threw it at his screen. What you’re about to read are the true thoughts of Dom on multiplayer/single-player games. Names and locations have bee- oh, right then, it’s not a horror film. Okay.
In the wake of the announcement of an extensive single player campaign for Titanfall 2, this writer considers whether multiplayer focused games require some form of single player campaign to really deliver satisfaction.
On Thursday (11/08/2016) Respawn Entertainment’s official Titanfall 2 blog updated with some tantalising new info on the single player campaign for their upcoming title (check out the short but sweet game-play teaser above). This and a fairly in-depth preview on Eurogamer, based on a trip out to Respawn’s LA studio, have piqued my interest for a game that was barely on my radar until recently.
This article isn’t looking to rehash the details found there though. Rather, I would like to discuss a thought that occurred to me when reading this news. This question had cropped up more and more recently in my overall gaming experience and in discussions with friends. It was unsurprisingly the topic of some debate in Eurogamer’s comment section and I’ve seen it crop up with other recent releases like Rainbow Six: Siege and Star Wars: Battlefront. That question comes in many forms, but it always boils down to this: does a multiplayer game need to have a single player component to offer value?
In this way, the announcement of a Campaign mode for a game whose predecessor was ‘multiplayer only’ bucks a recent trend in gaming in general (as well as shooters in particular), and may come as a shock to some. The reason for this is a story that spans the history of multiplayer gaming.
Many of you will remember a time when the term ‘game mode’ determined whether you were smashing enemies along to a vague ambient story line or smashing the same enemies against the clock. Similarly, multiplayer meant playing with people sat in the same room. Since the gradual rise in popularity of online games, from the early days when it was a niche pursuit of the PC purist or terminal tech-head to today’s environment of server farms and big-money e-sports tournaments, this has changed somewhat.
Today, when we say game mode, we could mean anything: Ranked or Casual, PvE or PvP, online or offline… you see where I’m going with this. The ebb and flow of gaming trends has already led to many lapses and resurgences of the ‘story mode’ as publishers desperately scramble to hit the zeitgeist of the current era.
What we normally see happen is this; a game is produced that attains unprecedented popularity (for a fairly recent example, lets use Call of Duty: Modern Warfare) for its multiplayer mode, the next game focuses on the multiplayer side and the single player campaign is criticised for brevity or a shallow story. Meanwhile, the ripple effect of the game’s popularity on the industry as a whole sees a similar cycle hit other franchises (not to mention direct clones).
If the series continues, maybe the developer decides to abandon the single player campaign to focus on multiplayer – or vice-versa – then the game is criticised for a lack of content. Of course, on the other side of the coin we have the single player games that get multiplayer modes shoehorned in. They of course, are judged guilty of ‘betraying the franchise’ or taking resources from the single player for a multiplayer component no one wanted. This goes on and on.
Let’s face it; big budget games are always going to be forced into appealing to the widest market possible, publishers need to justify their investment after all. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, it’s logical. The problem is that both publishers and developers can only judge what their fan-base wants by the feedback they receive and opinions can be divisive.
Be honest, the last time you were asked for your opinion by a company, did you answer the question with an objective view of the topic or based on how you felt? If a game you cared about was the topic, would you tell them what you felt was best for the franchise or give them your view of how the game ‘should’ be? Further than that; as human beings and not machines, how do we tell the difference?
The reason that Titanfall 2 leads me down this line of thought is thus: Titanfall was a well received and popular game. It sold well, passing 10 Million units sold across all platforms last October, and the metacritic average score was 86. So why did the developer feel that a solid single player campaign was necessary to the success of the sequel? Well, the answer, in part, can be seen in the average user rating – a much less healthy 64. If you happen to read the user comments, there are clear trends.
Discounting the extreme comments (by which I mean fanboy 10’s and contrarian 0’s) and focusing on the more balanced scores and those who have posted reasoned likes and dislikes about the game, a large amount of negative comments are from those who enjoyed the game but took issue with the multiplayer focus or perceived lack of content. Conversely, many of the positive comments are from those who enjoyed the gameplay and judged the game in the context of a multiplayer shooter only. My point is not that either of these opinions is right or wrong, merely that both opinions exist among players who bought and enjoyed the game.
If these are the opinions expressed by those who donate their time to give feedback, you have to assume these are a decent representation of the opinions that will be fed to the game makers, either directly or through market research. That makes for a pretty confusing picture when the ones holding your purse-strings are telling you to please all these people.
The developers in this case, Respawn, were keen to stress when interviewed that this will be an immersive ‘cinematic’ experience, a worthy companion to the online mode as opposed to the same multiplayer gameplay taken offline. This is telling; it speaks to their fears that this will be perceived as a tacked on, shallow experience and prejudged by their audience.
But hold on a minute… we are these people aren’t we? Do any of us really want our favourite developers, whoever they may be, chasing their tails to cram as much content as possible into a game and producing a lukewarm product as a result? I don’t think so. Perhaps this means that we as ‘the gaming community’ (if you play games at all you are a member of this community; fact) need to take some responsibility. After all, if a developer and publisher of this scale are feeling the pressure it shows what a difference our opinions can make.
To illustrate my point, let me briefly describe my feelings toward one of the recent ‘multiplayer only’ games I’ve already mentioned in this article. Namely, Star Wars: Battlefront – I played this game on and off for a couple of months after release. Generally I came away underwhelmed; after the initial excitement of admittedly one of the most meticulous recreations of the Star Wars universe found in a game, the repetitive content turned me off quite quickly.
I was not alone in this interpretation, though others chose different ways of expressing their sentiment. DICE and EA quickly racked up internet hate points like nobody’s business. Over time, the developers have added content to the game. They have even gone so far as to add an offline mode that adds single player vs AI and more couch co-op options. To me, this adds significant mileage. More options to enjoy games with my friends is what I look for in a multiplayer game.
Others disagree, however. Many fans have complained that it doesn’t go far enough; longing for the campaign modes of the Battlefront games of old. It’s a legitimate concern, if not a sentiment I particularly agree with, and serves to demonstrate that the interpretation of a game’s value can depend heavily on your expectations going in. I was happy to accept this as a multiplayer game because that’s all I was looking for, while others were disappointed. That doesn’t sound like a problem that’s easily solved, does it?
The fact is; every developer works under the constraints of time, money and resources. I’m not suggesting in any way that Titanfall 2’s Single player mode will be good or bad, only time will tell. But if the multiplayer and single player modes are both memorable experiences in their own right then Respawn will have pulled off something rare. In this case we have to ask ourselves; are we asking too much when we demand a tight multiplayer and single player mode in the same game?
I admit that I wouldn’t want to see developers stop trying to deliver on this; there are many ways multiplayer and single player can be interwoven and for some games it just works. But at the same time, isn’t there room in our lives for different types of games? Perhaps next time we feel the need to rage about the lack of one type of gameplay or another, we should really ask ourselves whether this is enhancing the overall experience. Let a multiplayer focused game be what it is, avoid it if it’s not our thing. Maybe this way we can keep the game makers focused on delivering the best experience they can rather than striving for some unattainable product that pleases all the people, all the time.
So… glad you stuck around for that. You may be asking by now
why you bothered what my answer is to the question posed at the beginning of the article. Do multiplayer games need campaigns? I don’t think so. You may disagree. But isn’t that kind of the point?
We’d love to hear your take on this in the comments below. Does the Single Player campaign make you more or less excited for Titanfall 2 on PS4? What do you think of multiplayer Vs single player, should developers focus or shoot for the stars?