Tuesday, 14 February 2012

"Single player isn't important"

I saw someone claim a while back that single player isn't important and multiplayer is where a first-person shooter really makes or breaks itself. He also said that multiplayer is more important because more hours are spent there. Let's pretend for a minute that this guy didn't just call all single player only games unimportant.

Yes, multiplayer is important. That's very obvious when you look at sales and revenue for games that feature solid multiplayer components. Halo, Call of Duty, and Battlefield are examples of series with a single-player campaign where the multiplayer sees very heavy play. There are also successful games that are multiplayer only, or where the single player is just multiplayer with bots instead of humans — Team Fortress 2, Star Wars Battlefront, or Brink (maybe).

The thing is, our discussion was about Battlefield: Bad Company 2. He told me that my review of the single player campaign is useless because multiplayer is what's important. See the problem here?

As part of a very competitive genre on a fast release schedule, the vast majority of Bad Company 2's multiplayer proponents are going to migrate to Battlefield 3. And then it won't matter how good BC2's multiplayer is, because no one will be playing it. At some point it'll end up like Halo 2: no more online multiplayer because it's just not popular enough, and because the developers and publishers want everyone to spend money on the next shiny new thing.

Once a game's multiplayer component is dead, if it doesn't have a strong single-player mode, it will never be touched again. If an abandoned game is remembered it will be for one of two things: a strong single player campaign or standout multiplayer. Half-Life 2 had some fun multiplayer, but everyone remembers it for the single player. Team Fortress 2's player base has been growing for four years and will be remembered for a long time for its unique art direction and for turning simple class models into outlandish, individual personalities to create a truly memorable multiplayer-only experience.

What will Bad Company 2 be remembered for? Single player? I doubt it — it was awfully cliché in just about every possible way. Multiplayer innovation? BC2 had a polished and refined multiplayer experience, but did it really bring anything new to the table? Was it really that different from previous Battlefield titles, or its main competitor, Call of Duty? Not so much. This is a genre where the developers will flat-out tell the public that their single player campaign is basically just multiplayer training. So why not just drop the pretense if you're already telling me that to my face? 

In ten years I'll bet that memories of Bad Company 2 will be limited to sales numbers and vague memories of fun times — just another entry in a series. Meanwhile games like Half-Life 2 and the previously mentioned Halo 2 will still be played despite their dead multiplayer modes, because the single player is actually good.

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