Ever since it was announced that the new Tomb Raider title coming out this year will have multiplayer, I’ve seen a common thread of conversation running through forums, articles, and social media platforms. This thread claims that the lucrativeness of a multiplayer model for selling games is ruining the overall gaming industry. Basically, people seem to think that now developers are taking time out of developing single player campaigns to develop mediocre multiplayer modes that will compel gamers not just to buy their game for that flush $60 price tag when it first hits the market, but to hang onto that game and purchase any DLC that may come out for it in the future.
I have a few problems with this attitude. First and foremost, I have a hard time believing that gamers are going to hang around for even a mediocre multiplayer set-up. If your multiplayer mode sucks, no one is going to play it. Going along with this point is the fact that I think it’s unfair to judge a multiplayer mode before you have the chance to play the finished version. Why does everyone think that Tomb Raider’s multiplayer is going to suck? Sure, it might suck. But it also might be awesome. Before we start throwing stones, I think we need to give the game a chance.
Mass Effect 3 is a great example of this philosophy. A lot of people were angry when it was announced that Mass Effect 3 was going to have a multiplayer mode. I read comments that said that multiplayer was an affront to the Mass Effect franchise, that BioWare was just trying to cash in on a fad (much like the accusations leveled against Tomb Raider), that the multiplayer mode was just to lure people in who would otherwise never play Mass Effect, and, of course, that the multiplayer mode was going to suck. The opposite turned out to be true. Tons of people loved, and still love, Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer mode. Even people who downright hated the ending of the single player campaign are still playing the multiplayer. In addition, BioWare has offered excellent support to that multiplayer mode. There have been more multiplayer DLC packs than single player DLC packs, and each pack has contained not just new maps, but new characters and new weapons as well.
Also couched within these negative assertions is that a game can have good single player or good multiplayer, but it cannot have both. Mass Effect 3 again rears its head as an example here, boasting an excellent campaign on both sides. Portal 2 can be used as another example, although it is not strictly multiplayer, only two-player co-op, but neither campaign suffers because of the other. Also factoring in here, I think, is the fact that a lot of the best multiplayer games, although they can be played single player, are made to be multiplayer. Games like Borderlands and Left 4 Dead are obviously more enjoyable in a group, and Left 4 Dead has modes and challenges that can only be accessed in a group. In addition, there are games like Call of Duty and Battlefield, which have single player campaigns, but are ultimately lauded for their multiplayer campaigns, to the point where some people who buy the game only ever play the multiplayer features, never giving the single player ones a second thought.
I’m not going to try and completely deny that there are developers who are probably going to try and cash in on the popularity of multiplayer, but developers try to cash in on popular features in games all the time. Once choices in RPGs between being (essentially, although this is simplifying it a bit) good and evil became popular, lots of RPGs incorporated this feature on a basic level. Faery: Legends of Avalon is a great example of this. Although Faery is a pretty decent RPG, it takes the good vs. evil choices mechanic to an extreme, to the point where you either have a character who is so nice to everyone that it kind of makes you want to barf, or a character who is a raging evil lunatic. Romance mechanics are another good example. Consider Skyrim’s marriage mechanic, which allows you to pick a spouse. The mechanic is incredibly basic, and besides offering a perk or two after the marriage takes place, there is actually no romance involved, unlike many games that pioneered this mechanic, such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Dragon Age: Origins.
The basic point that I’m trying to make is that just because a game chooses to incorporate a multiplayer mode doesn’t mean that it’s selling out, or that the experiment won’t work. I think that we need to give all these games a chance, just like we give any game a chance, and not make our assumptions before we can even get our hands on the final product.