Multiplayer must be carefully considered to avoid making bad shooters

Blair Hanley Frank

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Gaming markets are oversaturated with a glut of military shooters packing lousy multiplayer modes. Every time, the story is the same: new shooter, new multiplayer, mediocre reviews. But it keeps happening over and over again.

The fiscal incentives for multiplayer are obvious: Developers can charge for new weapons and map packs, and a multiplayer mode gives players an incentive to hold onto a game after they completed the single-player campaign, which reduces the number of copies entering the used games market, increasing profits.

The reason this seems to happen most often in the shooter genre is that shooters lend themselves well to a multiplayer environment. It’s not hard for players to take the step from shooting through wave after wave of enemies to repeatedly picking off their constantly respawning friends.

Multiplayer makes money (as the theory goes) and it fits well with the shooter aesthetic. That should lead to successful products.

After all, Activision makes millions off of the “Call of Duty” franchise. “Halo” has been a huge cash cow for Microsoft. Everyone else wants a piece of that pie, and the industry’s best answer seems to be to try to imitate the two of them and hopefully capture a sliver of their success.

“Halo: Combat Evolved” and “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” were huge smashes for a reason: They both took leaps forward in the shooter genre that had never been perfected or mainstreamed before. “Halo” reworked the entire way shooters handle encounters with enemies, and “Modern Warfare” essentially created the photorealistic modern military FPS as we know it.

Because they were so innovative, both games drew players to the franchise and built a healthy ecosystem for their respective multiplayer modes to flourish. That audience has stuck with those franchises, and everyone else has been trying to get a piece of it ever since.

We’ve seen how excellent shooters can be at storytelling, and in the case of games like Valve’s “Half-Life” series and Square Enix’s “Deus Ex: Human Revolution,” their successes with a single-player-only model have driven both commercial and critical success.

But even with those games serving as counterexamples, conversations about shooters and other games have changed: Putting a multiplayer mode into a game (especially a shooter) is no longer an affirmative choice. Developers interested in pitching a shooter that is only a single-player experience have to answer why they are choosing not to include a multiplayer mode.

That sort of attitude is counterproductive to actually crafting a quality experience in an industry where budgets are often tight and getting something out on schedule is frequently more important than getting it done well.

Profits are important, but a game full of half-baked ideas with a multiplayer mode that feels tacked on won’t be nearly as successful as a game that manages to provide a rich experience to its players in whatever way it can best accomplish that.

Developers and publishers would do well to pay attention to games like “Team Fortress 2” and “Blacklight: Retribution.” These multiplayer-only, free-to-play titles are managing to bring in tons of money for their developers by a fun multiplayer experience without compromising on a lukewarm single-player campaign.

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