The good, the bad and the seamless multiplayer future
The future of gaming is upon us. It may not include always-online or used game restrictions quite yet, but we're certainly at a crossroads between the current gen and what is to come with the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Indeed, consumers are anxiously anticipating, and at times demanding, new features that'll be a part of this evolution of our industry.
One particular transition we're facing is that of seamless multiplayer. Titles such as Titanfall, Need For Speed: Rivals and The Crew are embracing this idea of integrating a full-fledged campaign experience into an online, competitive arena. This idea offers both countless pros and cons, and today we're going to take a look at three of each.
Pro: Seamless multiplayer plays into the hands of our multiplayer-minded generation without sacrificing the traditional campaign
It's hard to deny that multiplayer has become the behemoth of this past generation, and it's only going to continue to grow as the new consoles release this fall. Fewer and fewer gamers are completing campaigns, instead turning to multiplayer for their entertainment. A Kotaku report back in 2011 highlighted this stunning figure when industry veteran Keith Fuller told them, "Ninety percent of players who start your [talking directly to developers] game will never see the end of it unless they watch a clip on YouTube."
That's a scary thought, isn't it? But, do those in the industry just ignore this staggering statistic and move on, producing big-budget games that may or may not tank and result in yet another studio closure?
No, of course not; you do a game on gamers' terms, and that's exactly what seamless multiplayer aims to do. This new feature will allow developers to blend their worlds, characters and story into a single component that's not going to be overlooked -- if done correctly, of course. This not only allows developers to take risks in storytelling because they can fall back on the competitive aspect of multiplayer and gameplay, it also provides studios with an outlet to utilize their entire team without fear of having to cut the area of staff whose component was ignored in favor of multiplayer.
Con: Traditional gamers will fear that they're not getting their money's worth without separation of campaign and multiplayer
So far, much of this editorial has been spent with the "new generation" of gamers in mind, but I don't want to continue without acknowledging those that are practically intertwined with their single-player adventures. You see, I too am one who generally enjoys a storytelling experience over a multiplayer feature, so when you attempt to blend both outlets into one, you're likely going to catch flak from those who are accustomed to separation. This is because you're attempting to change the mindset of people to one that says just one combined feature is worth your hard-earned cash.
The fear for gamers is that when you strip a 6-10 hour campaign and place it within the confines of multiplayer, you won't feel the same sense of the "rails" that take you from the opening credits to the last character quote. More so, some fear that the same sense of accomplishment won't be there when you "complete" the story; some even ask, "Will you complete the story?" These questions obviously stem from the uncertainty of this feature, and can easily be put to rest when one next-gen title gets it right, but for now there are many who see "seamless" as a way to cut production costs while keeping the consumer costs where they are, and these critics will probably continue well into the Xbox One and PlayStation 4's life cycles.
Pro: Games that are known for multiplayer can continue to excel in that facet without abandoning story, while allowing developers to get story 'right'
Some games aren't single-player games. When I say this, I'm sure a dozen titles come to mind. Sure, they come with campaigns packed in, but you know it's an afterthought. For me, this is the Battlefield series. Battlefield 3, for instance, included a campaign, but it was a laughable Call of Duty clone at best, despite how pretty it looked. That game was and is all about its frantic, destruction-based multiplayer, and I can't help but wonder how much the multiplayer suffered simply because they had to produce a single-player experience.
Seamless multiplayer can assure that a game that's already known for its multiplayer can get the full attention it deserves, while providing an outlet for developers to design a story that fits in with a component that's already dubbed a success. It's pretty clear that Battlefield 4 will include both a campaign and a multiplayer feature, but imagine if DICE simply took what's worked, and will continue to work, and used it as the foundation for something that's inherently broken. They could instead stop trying to produce a single-player campaign that cannot stand on its own and embrace this idea that says it doesn't have to stand on its own to succeed.
Con: Will story really be integrated?
When Titanfall was introduced less than a month ago at E3 -- when this seamless multiplayer feature really became a "thing" -- I couldn't help but wonder how well the story will really be integrated into multiplayer. A better question would be, "Will story receive as much attention as the multiplayer aspect?" When we saw Titanfall gameplay, it was apparent that there was pre-game debriefing with your "squad," and there were constant pop-ups in game from your commanders telling you your objectives, but is that it? To me, that's not the same as a 6-10 hour single-player adventure.
And it's not just going to be Titanfall that we ask this question about. If developers are really going to implement story into multiplayer, they need to do it fully. They can't just sell consumers short by offering story characteristics instead of an actual story. This will be a challenge for every developer that takes this route, and there are certainly going to be those that fail to blend story and multiplayer, well, seamlessly.
Pro: Seamless multiplayer is a fresh of breath air, is next-gen minded, and will add 'fresh legs' to tired genres
I read a wonderful Game Informer feature several months ago in which the author argued that the first-person shooter genre -- specifically military shooters -- was becoming stale. I then waited a month and read the mail section regarding that very feature. Nearly everyone who wrote in related with the author on the subject; they're looking for something different. Well, seamless multiplayer is different, and I believe it can resurrect genres that are becoming stale by adding an edge that isn't just targeting our competitive nature.
This is also a next-generation feature. I can't tell you how many comment threads I've read through griping that the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 aren't offering enough "next-generation" features. Well, first I'd say give it time, and then I'd point them to seamless multiplayer. This is something that can't be done -- or at least perfected -- on our current machines, and it's a design opportunity that can influence developers in many other areas. I wouldn't be surprised if several years into this next generation we hear from developers that seamless multiplayer impacted their newest designs from top to bottom.
Con: Seamless multiplayer may never catch on, and could only be a niche feature
If seamless multiplayer proves to be a worthy design choice, will it catch on? That's really the big question, isn't it? Even if it's the future of gaming, some developers and gamers may continue to be hesitant. Look at "always online" and the Xbox One debacle. Microsoft wanted to make the jump to the future now, while providing some cool features that used always-online functionality (like library sharing), but gamers and, yes, even developers, were not willing to make that leap.
In the first few months out of the gate, it'll be interesting to see how players respond to seamless multiplayer. Is it fun? Does it resurrect genres? Is it easy to develop? These questions will be crucial for the longevity of this feature, but I fear that our form of media isn't quite ready for it, and that it may indeed become something niche, despite how good it may be.
As we enter into unexplored territory with new gadgets and new games, we also have the chance to see how new features will interact with the new generation of hardware. Seamless multiplayer offers something new -- something that can be absolutely groundbreaking for a generation of gamers who adore multiplayer. But it also poses countless doubts. Will it catch on? Will it be what it advertises?
One thing is for certain, though: It's going to be an interesting component to watch when the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 release this fall.