During the numerous press conferences of E3 this year, as both new and old games were shown and discussed, I took note of a curious trend that seemed a bit more prevalent this year than the last few. It seemed many games were taking a multiplayer focus at their core, and while this is by no means a bad thing, and I know these games definitely have their place, it had me wondering if this was always the correct decision for these experiences.
Many of the games present at Ubisoft’s conference seemed specifically catered towards multiplayer, with new games like For Honor and Ghost Recon: Wildlands centered around it. With For Honor, a multiplayer team based fighting game, there is currently no announced single player options, and while solo play is an option with Wildlands, “co-op is essential”. This is in addition to The Division and Rainbow Six Siege, which were already known previously to be primarily focused on multiplayer. It might be telling that the three announced Tom Clancy games focus on playing with multiple people. While these games are built around it, I’m left wondering as a primarily single player gamer, will these games still hold merit for me? The Division especially, while at first seemingly to be the perfect environment for a The Last of Us-esque story and atmosphere, has me worried that those who choose to play alone will miss out on some of the experience. A snowy, post apocalyptic New York stuck in perpetual Black Friday seemed the ideal location for an isolating, moody single player campaign, but with each new showing seems to more resemble Destiny than The Last of Us.
Familiar series like Call of Duty and Halo were already well supported with multiplayer portions, but this year focused more on these concepts than ever, as they were further integrated into the campaign modes. The Halo 5: Guardians presentation featured primarily on the multiplayer and four player co-op campaign, yet 343 Industries has opted to remove local split screen play in favour of a higher frame rate. Conversely, Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 now does support local split screen campaign, with its usual cinematic geared trailers this year replaced with a display of that co-op, and one that I felt lacked a bit of bite than previous years’ demonstrations. Are developers willing to decrease the single and local multiplayer experience if it means more online features? Hopefully this new focus does not come at the cost of a downplayed single player mode.
Lastly, Nintendo seemed to be the most influenced by this online and multiplayer centric trend, with their direct centered almost entirely around games taking advantage of these proponents. Smaller multiplayer games were introduced into the Zelda and Metroid series with The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes and Metroid Prime: Federation Force respectively. While these games are said to be playable solo, is it really worth it to play through a game built for multiplayer by yourself? Furthermore is Animal Crossing, which has had online functionality before, features a new party game with Animal Crossing Amiibo Festival, in which each player will need to have their own Amiibo in order to play. Many have found these announcements disappointing, instead hoping for mainline single player entries into these series to be shown instead.
While there’s no doubt multiplayer and online heavy games have their place and purpose in the industry, the cynic in me wonders about the root cause of this trend. With MOBAs and e-sports games steadily increasing in popularity, could developers and publishers be looking into ways of capitalizing on this demographic? Perhaps the need to sell DLC for online play has driven this initiative, as it’s much easier to market smaller multiplayer content than larger single player expansions. In an effort to combat game trade-ins, perhaps companies feel that games will have more replayability and keep players further invested in games if there is a larger ongoing multiplayer. Even more pessimistic, does Nintendo see games like Amiibo Festival as a new way to introduce their already wildly popular Amiibos?
Perhaps this theorizing is looking too far into an unimportant matter, or blowing it out of proportion. Online play is easier and more accessible than ever, so it really is no surprise we’d be seeing more of it. But after complaints of the lackluster story delivered by Destiny last year, I can’t help but worry if more games will stumble in this area.
Hopefully some of these upcoming games can successfuly straddle the line between single and multiplayer without taking away from each other, and provide meaningful and engaging gameplay on both sides.
With E3 2015 at a close, we’ll still be giving our concluding thoughts on this year’s conferences and announcements. For more opinions on the gaming world, stay updated @ButtonMasherTO.