Is the push for online engagement hurting the single-player experience?
Remember when games weren't all about the online experience? Now, every game developer and publisher seems so focused on multiplayer connectivity and online play. I don't know whether I'd consider this a “disturbing” trend, but it's a trend nonetheless. Games that have no business having multiplayer modes end up with them anyway – Tomb Raider, Dead Space 2, The Last of Us and Uncharted 2 come to mind.
This generation of consoles has started this obsession with the online experience. And with the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One all about connecting players in a seamless world, I wonder if the focus on the multiplayer experience to so grand that the single-player or offline experience will be hindered. Not every game needs to have a Call of Duty-esque online experience, yet we're constantly seeing single-player games launch with multiplayer modes. I can only assume that they feel adding a multiplayer team deathmatch mode will increase replayability, regardless of whether it fits with the game or is actually worth playing. The games I listed earlier didn't suffer at all and were still great games, but there was no point to the multiplayer. Actually, in our review of The Last of Us, multiplayer wasn't even mentioned and didn't factor into the score. Do you know why? Because it didn't matter.
Recently, we've seen EA's Peter Moore critiquing the Wii U and its “lack of online engagement,” specifically with their sports titles. Moore told Games Industry, “The lack of online engagement that we see on the Wii U [is troubling]. It's so integral to what we do. They're so small it's hardly worth running the servers. It seems like a box that's out of sync with the future of EA – which is one that gives a real social feel to our games. The Wii U feels like an offline experience right now.”
The potential is there, with or without a solid online component
I don't think that the Wii U's problem is that it feels like an offline console. So what if it does? EA is so concerned with social integration and the ability to make posts to Facebook that they've forgotten that a lot of people like to play games by themselves. There are just as many Madden and FIFA players that like to play a career by themselves offline as there are players that want to do everything online. EA now looks to have found the right balance in offline and online play with NCAA Football 14 and Madden NFL 25, but this came after what felt like years of no innovation and gimmick features. If EA is only concerned with more social interaction online, then they should only make Facebook games. Yes, gamers like to play together, but I don't want that to come at the expense of my experience when I choose to play alone. Maybe learn something from your mistakes with SimCity...
Now, don't get me wrong, Nintendo has mishandled the Wii U every possible way they could. For example, games that were supposed to be in the launch window are instead releasing a year after the console. In short, the Wii U just isn't selling as much as a new console should, and numerous factors go into that – but one that shouldn't be overlooked is the lack of quality games. EA can't say that they were “there with four games for them [at launch]” when their offering was FIFA 13, Madden NFL 13, Mass Effect 3: Special Edition and Need for Speed: Most Wanted U – four games that were released months earlier for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. These games were straight ports that early adopters of the Wii U would have no reason to really buy if they already played them. Instead of trying to push games to be social and have more online engagement on the Wii U, why wouldn't they make games that play to the console's strengths?
Just do this EA, but with Nintendo characters! AMIRITE?!
It might seem like I'm hating on EA. I'm not. I couldn't be more excited for Madden NFL 25, NCAA Football 14 and NBA Live 14. I understand they're in the business of making money, but I'm disappointed in their decision to use online engagement as a reason they're not making games for the Wii U. That's not a fair metric when most of the games on the Wii U right now are designed for one player or local multiplayer.
The focus is obviously on a more connected online gaming community, with games like The Division, The Crew, Driveclub, Need for Speed: Rivals, Watch Dogs and Destiny all hoping to blur the lines between single-player and multiplayer. It's a future of gaming I'm both excited for and wary of. Where the Wii U fits in with that I'm not exactly sure, but it's obvious EA doesn't see the Wii U as compatible with their plans. Insisting on online play is a crutch, though. If a game is strong as a single-player game – like BioShock Infinite – then it doesn't need any multiplayer. Stop trying to force it into every game where it doesn't belong, and then wonder why there's a lack of people playing online.