In celebration of April Fools’ Day, writer and contributor Ethan Smith decided to engage with himself in a conversation about something that had been on his mind since a certain EA announcement several months ago, an issue brought up again by their recent statements about microtransactions. This exercise in cognitive dissonance seeks to answer the question: “Does every game really benefit from having multiplayer?”
Pro-Ethan: Must we do this?
Anti-Ethan: You can drop out if you don’t think you can handle it. Your position is pretty stupid.
Pro-Ethan: Appeal to ridicule. We have not even started yet and you are making logical fallacies. This does not bode well for you.
Anti-Ethan: Alright then. I’ll save my ridicule for the end. I’ll even be nice and let you start.
Pro-Ethan: Fine. Multiplayer substantially increases a game’s life. Players can get hundreds of extra hours of playtime for very little extra effort on the part of the developer.
Pro-Ethan: Too bad there isn’t a specific example we could use to use. Oh, wait! I can think of one. The Goldeneye 64 multiplayer took a few weeks to make. The team’s bosses didn’t even know about it. It is one of the most iconic and beloved multiplayer experiences of all-time.
Anti-Ethan: Except who would give such a multiplayer a second look under today’s standards? The character roster was not exactly competitively balanced, many of the maps are just slightly-altered from single-player (and thus unbalanced for multiplayer), and there is no distinguishing spectacle, feature, or mechanic to draw in players in a far more crowded market. Console FPS was barely a thing at that time in general, and even more unheard-of on the N64.
Pro-Ethan: If they could do that in just a few weeks, imagine what they could do with an actual proper development schedule? Especially since a game with multiplayer is more marketable, the game would have good reason to get an expanded budget.
Anti-Ethan: Think about it for a second. How many people will not buy a Shin Megami Tensei or Metal Gear Solid game without multiplayer? Does the target audience of Spec Ops: The Line consider multiplayer a make-or-break feature?
Pro-Ethan: Mass Effect was always considered a single-player story-driven experience until the third game, and even many of the people that cannot stand the story like the multiplayer. The average player loves getting to play with others, no matter the game. The random whiners on the Gamefaqs boards are not proper sources. Regardless, multiplayer provides another revenue stream and can significantly increase the game’s profitability, so that the developer can make more and better games in general.
Anti-Ethan: Multiplayer does not provide additional revenue unless it has some kind of microtransactions built-in. Why do you think EA is pushing for both multiplayer in every game AND microtransactions in every game? They go together!
Pro-Ethan: As long as the microtransactions are for cosmetic things and such that do not affect the game, then I do not see the problem.
Anti-Ethan: So then players are just buying epeen stuff to show off how cool they are, which will inevitably fail to do so because everyone will know they bought it.
Pro-Ethan: Or it could be something Team Fortress 2‘s system. Nobody has to buy the keys for the crates. Nobody has to spend a single dollar on the multiplayer anymore, same with Mass Effect 3 and many other games.
Anti-Ethan: So companies should create ridiculous luck-based gear acquisition systems and exploit peoples’ impatience for profit then?
Pro-Ethan: If people are willing to pay for something, then it is not the business’ fault for selling it. Video games are partly a business, and they have to make money to make the games. I am not particularly happy about it either, but that is the way the system works.
Anti-Ethan: I get that, but why do they have to make up some arbitrary rule like “every game has to have multiplayer?” If the idea is that players spend more time at a game if they are interacting with other players. Then games can have features that allow players to interact without having a standard multiplayer, such as the player-created contracts in Hitman: Absolution or the spotpass teams in Fire Emblem: Awakening. A shoehorned standard multiplayer leaves little to no room for developers to try out new ideas that allow players to interact.
Pro-Ethan: If developers know that multiplayer will be expected of them, they can weave it in from an earlier part of the design process so that it will not be shoehorned in. Nobody is saying it has to be standard “shoot lots of people for points” inanity, just that there needs to be some kind of function to play with other people. Part of the reason we get lazy multiplayer modes is because the designers do not accept they should make them. Spec Ops: The Line could very well have used the multiplayer mode to deconstruct the standard modern military shooter gameplay even more, but the developers did not even try and threw something together as a big middle finger to their higher-ups and the players. Artists and creators always have practical limitations that they have to work with. The proper answer is to accept them and work around them.
Anti-Ethan: I can agree with part of that. My limitation is having to work with you, and I manage fine. Okay. Here’s a problem that even you can’t deny: if every game had multiplayer, the market would quickly become ridiculously over-saturated. People tend to have consistent groups of friends they play with, moving from game-to-game as a group and playing games long after they have been released. We still play the Mass Effect 3 multiplayer a year after it was released. If the real hardcore gamers—the ones that spend “hundreds of hours” in multiplayer—buy a new game at least every month or two, then when do they have time to play all these hours of multiplayer for each and every game?
Pro-Ethan: If the market is more competitive, weaker offerings will drop out. If executives discover that multiplayer is no longer a guaranteed return on investment, they will loosen the restriction as well. The only way to know is to let it happen. You are automatically assuming the worst possible outcomes without proof.
Anti-Ethan: Anything we talk about is based off of educated assumptions. Neither of us can deductively “prove” future events like this. If you want to go that route, then we might as well just quit the argument now.
Pro-Ethan: Fine by me.
Anti-Ethan: …Oh…well then…I guess we are done.
Pro-Ethan: I guess we are.