Image from Flickr User: BagoGames
Why is it so difficult for a multiplayer game to hold the attention of the gaming populace? Many of us who’ve been gaming for a few years can list plenty of single-player games that left an impact one way or another, but despite the apparent popularity of multiplayer games (shooters in particular) not many ever seem to make that same list. It can’t be that mulitplayer games aren’t as fun as their single-player counterparts, otherwise we wouldn’t be seeing the ever-growing push towards multiplayer and social components in games that’s been taking place over the last several years. No, the reason must lie in one of the fundamental differences between single and multiplayer games; that difference being one of goals. One wants to provide a memorable experience, while the other wants to provide a lasting experience. They sound similar, but it’s a trick; they couldn’t any more different.
Single-player game has a singular goal: to provide you with an experience that you’ll remember. They’re journeys we undertake that are filled with story reveals, memorable characters, or gameplay that captivates the mind, keeping hold even long-after we’ve stopped playing. They’re finite and intentionally so. They don’t care that you’ll stop playing after reaching the end, that’s one of the goals of the design: to end and give the journey that much more impact. We’re always left wanting more, which keeps us enthusiastic about them even years later.
Multiplayer games on the other hand want to keep us playing. It’s not difficult for a well-made multiplayer game to keep its players engaged, just look at Call of Duty . And while we may wind up logging more time into these types of games than any single-player offering, the nature of their construction often inhibits their ability to leave a lasting impression. Really it comes down to the fact that each match is short and self-contained. It’s a great structure for getting players into the action and providing opportunity for improvement and intensity inspired by victories and defeats, but not so much for leaving a lasting impression. Breaking the experience down into self-contained matches makes it difficult to take the experience as whole, reducing it all down to unrelated flash-in-the-pan moments which in turn get watered-down from sheer volume. We’ve all pulled-off a great many things we thought were incredible in multiplayer, we’ve all also had absolutely horrendous and rage-inducing matches that at the time we were certain would live forever in infamy. After so many games and matches though, all that gets left is the impressions of each, nothing more. It’s all a symptom of the multiplayer design. It achieves its goal of keeping players playing, but at the cost of losing any sort of specific impact.
It’s likely that this won’t always be the case though. Now that we’re seeing cooperative play gaining popularity and stories being woven into otherwise detached multiplayer, perhaps multiplayer games will eventually leave the same sort of impact that only single-player experiences can provide. (A man can dream right?)
Have you seen this contrast between single and multiplayer experiences over the course of your own tenure as a gamer? Is there anything you would change about multiplayer games to make them more memorable?