Inevitability is Bad for Multiplayer

Image by Flickr user: DavidHT

I had a thought recently; Just a passing notion as I was trying to decide which game to spend some time in that day. I had been enjoying Infamous: Second Son quite a bit and still needed to finish it, but it didn’t really feel like an Infamous sort of day. While looking over the ol’ replay stack, I remembered that I had gotten my hands on Titanfall a couple weeks ago. I’d sunk some time into it before and had found it to be a fun game, very fun actually. Even so, the idea was dismissed almost as quickly as it came and I settled on starting up good ol’ BioShock. It wasn’t until later that this struck me as odd; normally new always trumps old, so why BioShock instead of Titanfall? An answer sprung up immediately but was dismissed, and I settled on thinking that I simply a matter of just not feeling like playing it. The thing is though, I never feel like playing it, which has led to the first notion being the most valid. That though being that Titanfall simply wasn’t worth the time. More than that: that online multiplayer itself  wasn’t worth the time.

It wasn’t always like this. I remember now countless hours spent in Halo 3. It was hard, it was unpredictable and it was varied. One of its most important aspects however, was rewarding. Ranks weren’t just a given, they had real weight attached to them. Each step up the ladder was preceded by a measure of struggle, with more and more up it the higher one climbed, which in turn made each and every step feel like a real victory imbued with a tangible sense of accomplishment. The highest ranks were appropriately rare (even after the rampant cheating began), and evoked an actual sense of prestige. This aspect of Halo 3‘s system worked, and worked well. It gave a the multiplayer a point, a goal to aspire to which required more of its players than just monstrous amounts of time. There was more to the success of the multiplayer than this, but this sense of accomplishment was definitely a load-bearing pillar of that success. Even, so it didn’t last past Halo 3.

Another game had been released around the same time as Halo 3, and introduced a new word to the realm of online multiplayer: “inevitability”.

There’s no denying that Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, made some good contributions to FPS’s and online multiplayer. After all, this is the game that brought both the genre and the concept of online multiplayer into the mainstream consciousness, not to mention it established the concept of mid-match rewards for playing well in the form of kill-streaks (still a good mechanic by the way). Even with all that, I think the idea of inevitability it introduced has become the most influential and damaging aspect of its legacy, as it has now infected every last major online shooter released ever since. (It even got Halo. 😦 )

Ranks aren’t prestigious honors that have to won with skill and tenacity, they’re just an inevitability. Just sink enough time in and you too can become a general! The way the games are set up now, it has to be that way, since ranking up is the only way to access the better equipment. On the surface it’s not a bad system, the rewards for the time spent are at least tangible. The problem is that it takes little effort to achieve and leaves you with nothing to strive for afterward except repeating the exact same process all over again. Essentially, you get stuff but without any sense of achievement, since again getting said rank and stuff was going to happen sooner or later.

The final problem that this idea of inevitability spawned came with the beyond-all-expectations success of its sequels Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops. Thanks to these, it was discovered that yearly releases were not only viable ventures but stupidly-profitable as well. Once these were released, their fans suddenly found themselves with less time than ever before to enjoy their games and the surrounding communities before it all dried up with the release of the next big game.

Which brings us back to why none of it feels like it’s not worth the time anymore. Games are first and foremost supposed to be fun, and while all the games I’ve mentioned here accomplish that for those who play. Fun isn’t the problem, it’s the reasons for playing beyond that. It takes more than fun to make a game worth investing in. Single player games achieve that with engaging stories, compelling characters, and challenging gameplay, all finished off with a sense of accomplishment that comes from finishing the game . Online multiplayer is different, it doesn’t have an end. Investment can only be rewarded by providing the player with some sense of accomplishment and a healthy community to interact with. Without either of these, then how could it possibly be worth any meaningful time or effort?

I’ve singled out online shooters as my main example here, but if this were to spill over to other genres. Wouldn’t the results be the same? The genre is still “healthy” but the games are suffering for it, only offering their players a fraction of what they could before everything became defined by inevitability.

This is of course my take on the situation, but what’s your’s? Do you see problems with current shooters? Are they the same ones I’m seeing?


  1. gimmgp says:

    The ranking systems and equipment upgrades have always seemed like a means to keep people playing rather than a proper skill assessment to me. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though. The players who play strictly to improve and become competitive experts will reap the rewards of their skills either way. Sure, it would be nice to have some sort of content locked away that can only be accessed by in-game acheivement along, but the tricky part is ensuring that such an item won’t destroy the balance of play.

    As for the constantly cycling community, this is a nasty problem that plagues several genres. Anytime a standalone sequel or console/hardware upgrade occurs, multiplayer games are going to suffer worse than other titles. Just think about the numerous MMORPGs that are completely defunct in spite of a once thriving community.


    1. Hatm0nster says:

      You make some good points. I suppose it would be difficult to keep skill locked items worthwhile and balanced at the same time. Perhaps it would depend on hyping it up as a status symbol of sorts.

      It is amazing how fast MMORPGs dry up isn’t it? It seems like any game in the genre is doomed to quickly fade into obscurity unless they’re EVE or WoW. I feel like MMO’s suffer from a different problem than FPS though. FPS seem to constantly move from game to game whereas MMO players remain so rooted in their main game that new ones aren’t able to attract them for long.

      I think the solution for both is similar though. If a game were to be released with its own identity, not trying to compete with CoD or WoW, I think it would do very well. If it were to be different enough, and had competent community support, players would be more willing to make room for it along with the industry titans. What do you think?


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