Sep 30 2010

Moving Away from Multiplayer

Published by at 12:00 pm under Editorials,Video Games

A kind of fatigue has set in for me in the years since video game “multiplayer” mode has gone from three of my friends and I sitting around an N64 in my living room, to now me and 15 strangers from all over the world yelling at each other through headset microphones while playing Xbox 360. I’m getting tired of this new era, and my taste in video game is moving away from prolonged multiplayer stints to more focused single-player adventures. Why?

I realized I’m never going to be that good.

Look, you play something long enough, and you are decent at it. I win games of Call of Duty, Starcraft and Halo, and I also lose some. But the fact is, in this age of the internet, you will ALWAYS find someone better than you, and the world of video gaming is now one of diminishing returns. In order for you to truly be a top tier player in anything, you have to devote massive amounts of time to it. But to be the best, you might have to put in four extra hours a day to get even a 5% boost over your competitors.

How many hours did I sacrifice to this? Why?

Who has this kind of time? Kids with parents who are happy to let a console babysit them. They can sit there and play all day long without a care in the damn world and become twice as good as say, a 23 year old writer who is busy publishing 15 posts a day across four sites. The other group is professional gamers, some of whom might be my age, but most are younger. They’re either the aforementioned unsupervised kids, grown up a little bit, or they’re Korean, and it’s just a part of the culture.

Meanwhile, the rest of us toil aimlessly, playing in moderation and getting our asses kicked by those who don’t. In order to motivate us to keep playing amidst constant defeat, games now put in achievements to get us to access the “reward” pleasure center of our brain that activates when I get 250 headshots with a gun and I can now paint it blue, or I blow up 1,000 competitors with frag grenades and can now have slightly larger knee pads on my armor.

Achievements have been deadly for people like me, who are OCD and sucked into playing games over and over again to earn menial rewards, even if we’re not having a particularly large amount of fun in the process. But then a new game will come along, I’ll forget about all the things I was trying to unlock, and start unlocking different ones in the new title. What does my 2500 kills with the UMP in Modern Warfare 2 matter now? I’m trying to get 2500 kills with the DMR in Halo Reach now bitches!

“GODDAMNIT!”

There’s a counter argument here to be made that playing multiplayer casually is like playing sports casually. I can see someone saying, “this is like saying you should never play basketball because you won’t make it to the NBA.” I suppose that’s true, but the fact is here is that going outside and playing basketball for 3 hours is probably about 100x more beneficial for you than spending the same amount of time adding 10G to your Gamerscore getting MW2 kills.

RTS games like Starcraft are in a little bit of a different league than FPS, which are entirely about reflex control with very little strategy needed. Getting good at Starcraft is like playing chess. You adapt and learn as you go, and develop more and more strategies, and execute them more and more efficiently over time to crush your opponents. I was getting pretty good (so I thought) until I started watching pros, and saw just how insane you had to be to actually be a top tier player. I can’t even move my hands that fast if I was mashing random keys on the keyboard. I played until I hit a wall of people who were just flat out better than me, and I didn’t want to devote the massive amounts extra time I would need to increase my skills to beat them. I just gave up and moved on.

Sighh, not again.

Online multiplayer can be fun if I have a bunch of people over and we’re all drinking and want to team up and kick some ass in a game. As we’re drunk, and we don’t play hours every day, we will always lose, but it’s still fun. Another scenario is friends abroad, and online gaming is really the only chance I get to hang out with my friend in law school a thousand miles away, as he’s only in town twice a year.

But it just seems really futile, like there’s nothing really to accomplish as you will never be “the best,” and realistically, even with hundreds of hours sunk into a game, you won’t even come close. This is opposed to single player mode in games where there’s a story, and a linear plotline with a beginning and an end. Looking back over the last few years, my favorite titles haven’t been Halo or Call of Duty or even Starcraft 2, a game I spent 10 years waiting for. Rather they’ve been Grand Theft Auto, Assassin’s Creed, Borderlands, Mass Effect and a number of other games with incredible storytelling and/or gameplay and fun and replayable single player campaigns. I never felt frustrated, I could just get through the game at my own pace, and feel satisfied once I’d beaten it once or twice. Yes, you can achievement hunt here as well I suppose, but it’s less intense than in multiplayer games. For example, Halo Reach now requires players to beat the single player campaign around 30 or 40 times before fulfilling all the achievements. This isn’t the case for the other games I’ve mentioned, and most of the reason you play through them more than once is to be a different character (Borderlands) or make different decisions (Mass Effect, Grand Theft Auto), not to increase your “X amount of units killed” score.

Borderlands is a great example of co-op mulitplayer making a single player campaign better. Not enough games do that anymore.

The problem is, single player games CAN feel like they’re not worth the money. $60 for 12 hours of gameplay in Assassin’s Creed can seem a bit steep, whereas the same price for hundreds of hours of an online FPS might feel more worthwhile. But when you break it down, and equate that to movie ticket prices ($10 for two hours of entertainment), and you’re probably getting your money’s worth.

I can have fun in multiplayer modes to be sure, but compared to a constantly flowing single player campaign, it just seems so damn repetitive. Two weeks into Halo Reach and I feel like I’ve seen everything I’m going to see, outside of the occasional cool stick or double headshot. And as I get older and time is a limited resource, I just don’t have the hours on hand to get “good” at video games anymore. Do you?





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24 responses so far

  • Bert

    I totally agree! This is one of the reasons I’ve never invested in and Xbox or PS3, because I feel like I’m not getting the value out of it without playing multiplayer. And like you said, for casual gamers, multiplayer kind of sucks when everyone is way better than you. But I remember back in my heyday on the 64, the BEST games for me were the multiplayer – Goldeneye, Wrestlemania 2000, Mario Kart, etc. simply because you could get four of your buddies (or your brothers) together to have a few drinks and rag on each other. I don’t have nearly as much fun trash-talking people I can’t see, and it was a safe bet that most of your buddies would be at around the same skill level as you were.

    “I can see someone saying, “this is like saying you should never play basketball because you won’t make it the NBA.” ” – I could see someone saying that too, but it’s more like playing basketball AGAINST someone from the NBA and trying to have fun. Let’s be honest, with that big a gap, the game will fucking suck for you both. Maybe they need to have multiplayer tiers based on how many hours you log on Xbox Live every month?

  • Claw

    Seeing as how I’m running on 20 and only got onto Live about two years ago, being the best isn’t my primary concern. I guess that goes with the philosophy knowing one of my friends will ALWAYS be better at me at video games, seeing as how he has the hand-eye coordination of a ninja.

    Anyways, I figure the most important thing about playing either online or single player is having fun, which is primarily the point of games in the first place. I’ve had scenarios where me and my friends were getting wrecked online and we’d always say “Fuck it, let’s just have fun” and end up turning the tides in the match simply cause we decided it was a game after all.

    All in all, as long as you’re enjoying yourself you’re golden haha. Whether win or lose, long as you’re having fun matters the most yes? (even IF that prepubescent child is screaming his little lungs out on how he pwn’d you and your ancestors… see, that’s why there’s a mute button ;])

  • Woundedbyravens

    I’d rather work on my drawing skillz, but yeah sure I guess I could cut some sleep and get to platinum in starcraft 2 within the month.

    The appeal that games have to me is that compared to honing other skills is that you can become relatively good at MW2 in a week and have top score game after game and 2 weeks into Starcraft 2 you’ll get your first streak of five and I’ll forever suck at Bad Company 2 but the reward is faster. I’ll have to spend a year, 2, 5 before I become a noticeably better artist.

    Sure, reaching an elite level takes the same dedication but becoming decent doesn’t. And it isn’t as exhausting, playing games isn’t as exhausting as writing a song or painting something. I can only draw a couple of hours at a time but I can play videogames for a whole day. Might not sleep well after that though, theme music going round and round. I’ll hit the bed already asleep if I spent the whole day drawing though.

  • MR

    Its all about money. They will never change tactics because online multiplayer forces your friend to buy an xbox and his own game.

  • Guy Incognito

    I too have been waiting for StarCraft. I pre-ordered, picked up my game and played through the campaign on Normal, then on Hard, then on Brutal. The first time was for the story and the next two for the challenge. I still haven’t even opened the multiplayer menu. I don’t really have any interest in it. I can’t wait for the expansions.

  • Erin

    The ridiculous thing for me is that my husband and I love playing co-op games together and that’s not even an option any more, unless we go the nostalgic route and pick up an old system game (which we frequently do). I mean, even if we wanted to play online together, we’d need a second XBox and a second TV, which isn’t going to happen.

    I especially miss the era of Balder’s Gate 2 and Champions of Norath, where we could run through dungeons together with the comfort of sitting on our sofa. I mean, sure, I like beating him up in combat games or being faster than him in racing games, but collaborative game play between two in-the-same-room people isn’t an area that’s getting any development anymore. I mean, sure, he can gather up my sun in Plants v. Zombies on the XBox 360, but that’s hardly a thrilling adventure for him.

  • Ed

    Dude, you really suck at Multiplayer don’t you, don’t worry though, you’re totally right about single player slipping away, but the only games that can hold themselves up on Multiplayer are Halo, Call of Duty and Battlefield, maybe GTA but that has such a solid story it doesn’t need it. I’m so sick of companies focusing on the Multiplayer aspect of games, especially when a lot of people that play games don’t have friends to play them with (like me), the only games my friends go on are either Halo or computer RPGs and the like.

    I’m pissed off you didn’t mention Fallout or Oblivion in the single player good selection, they’re the best example in the world of single player focus. And they can last for years, it takes like 60 hours to complete then, now that’s worth your fucking money.

    The way they keep you playing games is bringing out unnecessary and incredible over-priced add-ons that could easily have been in the game but they sell them separately for an extra few hundred million quid.

  • http://www.unrealitymag.com Paul Tassi

    You’re right about Oblivion, I just haven’t played it in a while, but I did sink 100+ hours into that when all was said and done.

    I liked Fallout at first, but it didn’t have the same lasting appeal as Oblivion to me. I think just got sick of VATS and the fact that it was impossible to die with a gatling laser toting supermutant as constant backup.

  • Pakman

    I pretty much agree with everything you said. Especially with regards to playing at one’s own pace and actually enjoying the experience.

    Now that I think about it, competive online Multiplayer I don’t find nearly as fun as non competitive solo. So I think I might just give reach a rest.

    Thank you for your insight, Paul.

  • tonyctitan

    I’m old Paul but I can hold my own with the youngins. Hit me up I’ll be your sucky xboxlive friend!

  • zero

    Never been a fan of the multiplayer. Sadly, more and more games are going that route. It’s cheaper for developers to just design free for all maps than to craft well thought out levels.

    I do enjoy co-op mode quite a bit, but only with friends.

  • Jonathan

    I’m a huge Halo fan, so I have to correct you for a gross overstatement. You can complete all the campaign achievements in Halo: Reach in one single-player playthrough on Legendary. Also, I think it bears mentioning that Halo: Reach has an absolutely excellent campaign mode, and that one can upgrade their character without ever playing a multiplayer match.

    That being said, I love online multiplayer, and I love story-driven, well-focused single player games. Dead Space is one of my all-time favorite games, as are Halo: Reach and Mass Effect 2. My only requirement in a game is that it be good. I play tons of multiplayer (I’m nearly 9th prestige in MW2 and I’ve spent many hours on Reach multiplayer already), and I am a full-time college student with a steady job, girlfriend, and other commitments. When it comes to life and gaming, I say everything in moderation. You don’t have to be a preteen with a console or a professional gamer or a Korean to enjoy hours of online gaming.

  • oyzx

    you forgot though, that starcraft has the map editor, which opens up a shitstorm of new types of gameplay, especially with the editor on starcraft ii

  • Tron

    Where do you see you have to play Reach 30 or 40 times to unlock the achievements?

    Play it ONCE on legendary. bang, you’ll get ALL the ‘completing game’ achievements.

    and then go back on normal or heroic to do the mission specific achievements (destory 2 vehicles on oni, etc.).

    You can get all the single player Reach achievements in one playthrough if you’re dedicated/good enough, or just do specific levels once you’ve beaten the game and can select any mission you want.

    I’ve enjoyed many of the games you mentioned as well (namely borderlands) but not for single player but for the co-op. I love multiplayer games but more so with my friends teamed up playing co-op. (reach is about 10x better with a few friends in campaign than soloing it).

  • Tron

    @ Erin.

    check out sacred 2 for xbox 360. very baldurs gate hack/slash dungeon crawl feel to it.

    and it can be played on the same console by 2 players.

  • gulleycurse

    Completely Agree….I’m 30 have 2 jobs and 3 kids, I get mabe 2-3 hours of games a week if I am lucky. I had my PS3 for 2 years before I ever put it online and in 5-6 hours of Battlefield I realized what a huge commitment it would take to get everything unlocked and what not. My son and I LOVE the co-op missions on MW2 but not many games seem to have that option. I wish local co-op were more popular. We all tolerated split on quad screens in Goldeneye, Mario Kart, etc…And we all did that on shitty 27 inch t.v’s. Now we all have these giant beautiful screens that are great for split screen gaming and we don’t get to use them that way..
    I would love a game on PS3 like The Warriors or ps2…..My favorite co-op ever…..GREAT TOPIC!!!!!

  • tonyctitan

    @ Tron.

    I thought I was the only one that liked Sacred2. It’s great co-op fun and reminds me of diablo in many ways.

  • Icecream

    i moved out at the start of the year, and haven’t had reliable broadband (=Xbox Live) for the last six months. I haven’t missed it. My favourite xbox moments have been split-screen co-op (borderlands, rainbow six, gears 2, left for dead 2, firefight in ODST), and it’s so disappointing to me that splitscreen (actual multiplayer) is beeing left out of games (most noticably Brink).

  • http://www.unrealitymag.com Paul Tassi

    @Jonathan and Tron

    I’m talking about commendations, not like, Gamerscore achievements. You can’t get like 10,000 infantry kills or whatever you need for Gold or Onyx on one Legendary playthrough unless you die like a million times.

  • Jonathan

    @Paul

    Gotcha. Should’ve said that the first time and saved me the first half of that ultra-long comment.

    Anyways, I guess the point of the second half of that comment was purely to say that it’s okay if you want to express your opinions. Just don’t make it sound like everyone who disagrees is an immature preteen who has no life.

  • Aj

    I totally agree with what your saying in this article. In fact I’m really glad someone said it. As 27 and no longer permanently stoned in college I find less and less joy from multiplayer.
    Sure back then I was like near rank 50 in Halo 2 and played the game religiously. But when college end and I got Halo 3 to keep playing with a college buddy. I found that we were getting bored after about 4 games of matchmaking or so. After my 3 hour stints in college I found this experience to be lacking to say the least.

    My point is to say that games can’t continue to be sold on the multiplayer aspects anymore. My average time beating campaigns in most modern FPS is like 6-8 hours tops. That would probably be just right if I was an ADD middle schooler, but as an adult I had hoped for something more than 3-4 afternoons. I’m supposed to be content with that because of the game’s achievement, unlock-ables, ranking, status medals, etc found in the multi. Meanwhile left with a brief and poorly written story like in Halo reach (albeit pretty to look at).

    Thats why games from Bioware are really important to the industry in my opinion. A lasting and rewarding story wrapped around a solid action adventure game (whatever that means). So I’ll rent the Halo Reaches and MW2s, but I’m spending my money on games that leave more than just memories of my favorites frags. That and Harvest moon games… they are like crack i swear :)

  • doudesg

    I’ve kept away from the online multiplayer frenzy. Multiplayer with a bunch of friends, on a single tv if possible or trough LAN or teamspeak, still remain the best to me.

    The reason is simple, with no time to properly train getting one’s ass kicked all the time is boring. Who could start to play online counterstrike today? You are a ghost all the time.

    I believe these multiplayer modes very often lack some kind of handicap system, like in golf, where you either play only with people of your own level or your higher leveled opponents get a malus.

  • NasalCactus

    This is everything I’ve been feeling since I joined the insanity that is multiplayer. From back in the day of Halo 2 and thinking “Holy shit I can game with someone in New York AND California at the same time and totally destroy them with the energy sword”. Now with things like the MLG and video game addiction more prevalent than kids hanging out in their dorms pre or post skipping classes, I’ve felt pretty left behind in the rat race that is “Challenges”, “Achievements” and “Gamerscore”. My particular gripe comes with Halo:Reach where specific in game events require huge amounts of time (and in the case of “If They Came to Hear Me Beg”) don’t work correctly the first time so you have to go through the same sequence countless times. I also enjoyed Assassin’s Creed because the Achievements could be gained easily in the linear story, along with Bioshock. I almost like Bioshock’s more because they were choices (ODST tried this but it’s so ridiculous to try and save all the engineers that it’s not worth it) affected how the game ended. The problem that I have with this whole ordeal is the ego that seems to come along with people not having a life and becoming top tier whereas I’m out trying to make a career in something other than breeding blackheads. I think there’s a strong and very conscious effort by companies like Bungie to try and thwart our frustrations of absolute pwnage by creating much better ranking systems for Reach but until there is a complete divide between the ultra-competitive and the leisurely I’m still going to get pissed when someone hoards the rocket launcher and camps a corner with active camo because that’s what YouTube told them to do to be good.

  • theSOULkid

    Great post dude, and dont worry, your not the only one who feels this way. 250 headshots aint gonna get you a decent job, and a good life.

    they will get you FALL camo though XD

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