We all know about the unfortunate downtime with the PlayStation Network, which has been sporadically offline for parts of this month and has been completely down for nearly a week straight. Playing games online has been impossible, and the timing couldn’t be worse with three major releases hitting just prior to the outage. PlayStation 3 users are now faced with the dilemma of trying to play games alone or via local multiplayer, which is something foreign to many newer game players who have been trained over the course of this console generation that it’s all about online and all about multiplayer. Instead of hours of playing Call of Duty with friends in other states, players must now be satisfied with having people over and playing in split-screen. In the worst-case scenario, they’re left to play the solo campaign, which has been the weakest link of many games within the past year.
You would think that a long-duration outage like this would remind publishers and developers that solo play is important, but it’s very easy to interpret comments from Geoff Keighley after his interview with Valve’s Gabe Newell and Erik Johnson as a dismissal of single-player importance:
Portal 2 will probably be Valve’s last game with an isolated single-player experience.
This is another sign of growing sentiment within the video game industry that the importance of single-player games has been supplanted by a multiplayer focus along with online play. Frank Gibeau, label president for EA Games, echoed such a sentiment last December. While Newell and Gibeau’s comments are the only ones to have gone public, it’s foolhardy to think that the movement is not catching on with other companies. It’s another sign that the industry is setting the trends and consumers are forced to either fall into line or find a new form of entertainment to partake in.
We’re already seeing the decreased effort in single-player modes of play. More and more games are delivering solo campaigns of about four hours in length. We saw it with Kane & Lynch 2. We saw it with Medal of Honor and with Homefront. Some are even talking about Portal 2 taking them between 4-6 hours to complete, although defenders of the game charge that the game isn’t possible to finish that soon. If you’re someone who doesn’t take part in multiplayer or if you don’t play online, doing the math indicates that you’re basically paying $15 an hour for these games. Movies and music are substantially less expensive, in comparison.
We’re also seeing multiplayer modes forced into formerly single-player titles. Bioshock and Dead Space were excellent solo adventures, and yet their sequels had multiplayer thrown in. Resident Evil 5 took the series into the realm of forced co-op, where you couldn’t play alone as you were given a CPU-driven buddy to play with. Castlevania: Harmony of Despair takes the series from its successful solo roots and punishes anyone who plays alone, forcing co-op play onto anyone who actually wants to have fun playing it. Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is another, although somewhat more forgiving, example of this trend, too.
Why is the industry so quick to dismiss the single-player experience? When happens when an online service goes down, which happened to Xbox LIVE a few years ago and is currently affecting PSN? What happens when your internet service provider has c0nnectivity issues or goes down completely? If today’s games are more about connectivity and playing with others, wouldn’t the $60 spent on each game be a waste at that point? Defenders of this trend fall back on the same list of excuses:
- It’s only for a few days.
- Why not go outside and do something else?
- Surely you have other games to play.
- Stuff breaks; just deal with it.
Initial reviews of Capcom’s Lost Planet 2 are beginning to surface now, and I’ve noticed a common denominator in reading them: Co-op play is good to great, while the single-player campaign leaves something to be desired. This isn’t the first Capcom game that has made co-op play a priority– Resident Evil 5 forced players to have a CPU-controlled partner as the game was really meant to be a co-op experience.
More and more games these days are trying to capitalize on the social aspects of gaming by encouraging cooperatirve and/or competitive multiplayer modes of play. I really don’t have much of a problem with this, since online gaming means that there are literally millions of potential partners or opponents out there to play with (or agaiinst). It’s more convenient than having a house full of friends over sometimes, ahd not having to play these games in a split-screen capacity is easier than squinting and asking yourself where the hell you are on the playing field.
Where I’m having a problem with the exploding multiplayer trend is that games like Resident Evil 5 and Lost Planet 2 are trying to force me to play in a certain way– with a partner or partners. Sure, you can play by yourself, but success is predicated on the AI subroutines of your computer-controlled partner… and in a solo game, I don’t like having to rely on someone else. The idea of a solo game is to play solo. This is not a difficult concept to grasp, and we’ve been playing games like that for decades. Games that have tried the forced co-op thing, like Secret of Mana, for example, can get frustrating when your computer-controlled partner(s) decide to get stuck in an obstacle and you’re forced to go either go back and try to get them to follow you or you have to plug in a second controller and move them closer yourself. Naturally, if you want to play with a friend, this problem doesn’t come up– but again, that’s not a solo experience, is it?
There’s no denying that online (and local) multiplayer has been a big focus and has almost become a necessary addition to today’s games. Uncharted and Bioshock, two wildly successful solo games, added multiplayer modes to their respective sequels. The multiplayer modes never interfered with the quality of the solo campaigns, however. Uncharted 2 and Bioshock 2 both still delivered excellent single-player adventures, and the multiplayer modes complemented and added replay value to each. The Call of Duty / Modern Warfare games are other examples of this; each game contains at least a decent solo campaign as well as excellent multiplayer functionality.The point here is that you can play all of these how you want to: solo, cooperatively, or competitively. There’s nothing forced about these experiences.
No matter how good Resident Evil 5 was, or how good Lost Planet 2 may or may not ultimately be, I refuse to buy them. I won’t play them. Capcom has completely removed me from the equation by literally forcing me to play a certain way. These are two cases of an industry that is trying to tell me, the consumer, how I want to play games. It doesn’t matter if I prefer solo games, because co-op play is the wave of the future. Evolve or die… that sort of thing. What the industry is forgetting, at least in the case of this one relic of a video game player, is that I still ultimately make the decision of whether to buy their games or not. I’m the one that contributes to their bottom line. What I think should matter for something… and I have a suspicion that I am not alone with this line of thinking.
Don’t tell me how to play. Don’t tell me that I want 3D gaming, or that I want to waggle around like a moron and work up a sweat while I’m trying to relax. Don’t tell me that traditional play controls and solo gaming are things of the past and are no longer what people want. I know what I want, and it’s none of these things. I refuse to evolve to the point of spending my limited disposable income on these trends of the future, because there’s no reason or precedent for it.
The video game industry has not only stopped listening to its consumer base, but it simply doesn’t care anymore. The industry thinks for us. They think that we’re all hopelessly hooked on their products and that we’ll buy whatever they throw out there in front of us, because video games are super-popular now. They now tell us what we want to play and should be playing. It’s all about them and no longer about us, despite the fact that we’re the ones paying for the privilege to play their games. Hell, we don’t even buy games anymore. We buy licenses. We don’t need instruction manuals, because nobody reads them. We should understand that used games are an indirect form of piracy. We should realize that DLC is for our benefit, rather than merely a secondary source of revenue and a way to charge even more money for already-overpriced games. We know that, even though we’re buying hardware that’s got a higher error rate than in any other console generation in history, we’re just going to buy replacements.
The list just keeps growing, much like how game prices keep creeping up. Having opinions like these likely makes me sound like an old relic, like that Atari VCS in your parents’ basement. I sound negative, and I don’t really like that. I do enjoy video games now as much as I did over 30 years ago. I guess I’m just angry that we’ve gone from a time when the gaming industry seemed eager to attract new gamers to the current time where the industry just assumes that we’re going to accept and like all of these changes that they assume are necessary. Why not build on the foundations that have already been in place instead of completely changing things?
Evolve or die, indeed. Perhaps, as a video game player, I am at a crossroads. I can’t help but to wonder if I’m not alone here.