there’s no place for multiplayer any more

Why do we fight the machine? I don’t mean in a Terminator sense, they are not taking over the world or anything [1], but rather in the sense that a huge number of games are single player, you verses the computer, even in multiplayer games this happens. According to the review of UT3 by Tom Francis in PC Gamer UK, Epic have said that more than half the copies of UT2004 sold have never been taken on-line. I myself have played more UT2004 off-line than on, even though I ran a DM server for a few months. Hell even in an MMO like world of Warcraft the majority of people play against the engine, sure they go and kill boar complete quests with other players, but the quests themselves are still fighting the game.

I spent 30+ hours of my life [2] where my only conversations were with the NPCs in Fallout 3, I have uncovered a conspiracy by NPCs in Deus Ex, saved the world from an invasion of NPC Daemons in Doom 1 2 and 3 [3], and am currently exploring an underwater city full of creepy NPCs with the help of genetic modifications in Bioshock. In fact, if I look at the list of 70 Games in my Steam account, at least 33 of them have no multiplayer at all, and only about 10 of them have multiplayer as the main game mode and most of these are HL1 mods. If we only count full games games which were developed with multiplayer in mind it is just four, Team Fortress 2, Unreal Tournament 3, Quake 3 and Left 4 Dead.

Four. Out of Seventy. And I like to think I have quite a wide selection.
Video games are clearly about the single player then. People clearly like to play against the computer (or the challenge set by the developers, depending on the type of game) rather than playing against other people on-line.

So why is this?

Lets look at UT2004 first, as it is a game I have played both on and off-line. It is a competitive shooter so there is no plot there, just you against either the machine if you choose to play off-line or other people if you play on-line. I have done both, but which do I get more enjoyment out of? Well it depends on servers where you know some of the players and they are of a similar ability as you then it is clearly more fun than the AI bots could provide. But this rarely happens. My experience of playing UT2004 on-line was not always a good one, games would fall into one of three categories. The first is when everyone else on the server is slightly better than me, this isn’t too bad but can get frustrating, it is far more stressful than playing the bots and I play games to relax. The second, and probably the worst, is when I end up on a server with players that are worse than me. I feel really bad when they quit the server because I am beating them. To be fair this does not happen to often. The third cause for grief is a when a game is about half way through and a pro joins who overtakes everyone on the leader board to win the game. Not fun.
And this is before you get to unfair vote-kicks [4], screaming American kids, people that shout aimbot when you kill them. Other people are not fun. For a relaxing time I would much rather take on Malcolm and the rest of the bots.

So, if you could fix the matchmaking and get rid of the idiots would multiplayer become the main game mode? I still don’t think so. Apart from a lack of screaming idiots and professionals, the other thing single player games have is a story (some more so than others). A story is something I have never seen in a multiplayer game, Left 4 Dead comes close, but in the end you are still playing against the computer. Even in World of Warcraft [5] the majority of the story is from the NPCs. Games like Unreal Tournament and Team Fortress have no story at all, The attempt at a story in the single player campaign of UT3 was laughable.

Respawners? on a Battlefeild?

At least with that one line they admitted it was all tongue in cheek. No, to have a truly immersive story, it has to be single player, it is impossible to get real people to role-play correctly to do what the writers want. Single player is the only way to get your Half-Life’s, your Bioshock’s, your Fallout’s, even your Doom’s, lets face it you are not going to find people that want to play an imp, you get to hide in a cupboard in the dark until the marine walks by, at which point you jump out, he unloads a couple shotgun shells in your face and it is game over. Games need a story, without it you just have 16 or so people screaming at each other over their microphones and complaining that someone let the team down, a story on the other hand can draw you in, a story can make you feel something [6].

If games are treated as an artistic media like films, then there is no place for multiplayer any more. Cooperative could still work, but even in Left 4 Dead that totally ruins the immersion. Bioshock 2 is adding a multiplayer mode. I have no idea why, it isn’t like Bioshock was poorly received, it isn’t like people said “I would buy it, but it doesn’t have multiplayer so I’m going to pass”. When will the developers learn that the single player story is what really matters, we want to be entertained not frustrated.

Now all they have to do is make conversations work without stooping to dialogue option boxes like a choose your own adventure book…


[1] Yet.
[2] Not all in one go.
[3] Three times! I wish those scientists would stop opening that gateway!
[4] I was vote-kicked from my own server because two friends wanted to play on their own! I disabled Vote-kick and rejoined, but if it isn’t your server you can’t do that.
[5] Before you start screaming, no I have not played it, I have watched it being played and most of the time it was killing things controlled by the computer.
[6] Other than hatred for the other players.



3 Responses to “there’s no place for multiplayer any more”

  1. May 16, 2009 at 12:05

    Nice article.

    As you say, there is a place for solely multiplayer games, but most of the time you need a good single player part for it to be any good.

    The closest I’ve ever come to a real story in a multiplayer game is Role-Playing Garry’s Mod server. You have to have just the right people and the right atmosphere but at times it was great. I wasn’t playing Gmod, I was a Scrap Merchant.

    Story is why I had more fun with Morrowind than Oblivion, although both games are well above similar offerings. A world you can get totally lost in, MMOs try to do this, but they never work. The NPCs are too bland and, as you say, human players want their own story.

    One day…

  2. 2 8iceman8
    May 17, 2009 at 14:26

    DotA AllStar is the best game to play online ;)

  3. 3 Garreett
    July 11, 2009 at 11:03

    8iceman8, DotA has good gameplay, but the people who play it are utter dickheads.

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