Will ditching single/multi-player make games better?


Recently, news broke that the old generation of consoles would not be getting the single-player campaign of Black Ops 3.

On the surface, this seems like a pretty raw deal – especially since you’ll only be getting a 15% saving on the price (which illustrates rather hilariously how unimportant the campaign is to Call of Duty).

If you think about it, however, this is actually… nah nevermind it’s a really crappy deal. But it did get me thinking – would we all be better off without it? Would games, in general, be better if they only had single or multiplayer, but not both? Rainbow Six Siege seems to think so.

Finite resources

This is really the crux of this argument, so much so that frankly I’m not sure why I opted for subheadings – I’m not sure I have any more after this one.

Any game development has some kind of finite resource – time in the form of deadlines, money in the form of publishers with deep pockets or gullible Kickstarter backers with shallow sense.

Even the biggest projects, logically, have a specific amount of resources available to them. In an overly simplified way, this would mean that resources directed to either single player or multiplayer components are then unavailable to the other.

Of course, there needs to be the full complement of resources available. Black Ops 3, for example, won’t have more time spent on the multiplayer for old-gen – it’s losing a feature, but gaining nothing at all. Those resources are still being spent on the current-gen consoles.

What game are you trying to make?

Battlefield is one of the most popular FPSes in this country, and I imagine many people reading this have bought one iteration or another of the game.

Here’s my question though – why? I imagine that most people who’ve bought a Battlefield game (myself included), did so because they wanted to play a tactical, squad-based competitive shooter. Or they wanted to play with their friends.

The type of people who are buying what Battlefield is selling are generally the type of people who enjoy that game because of everything the multiplayer component has to offer. The campaign is an enjoyable distraction, but it’s also the potato salad at the braai – delicious, but not what you’re here for.

Bacon is always a nice touch. Vegans have no place at a braai.
Bacon is always a nice touch. Vegans have no place at a braai.

At the other end of the FPS spectrum are games like Half-Life or Doom 3. Both of these games aren’t selling a tight multiplayer experience – these games live and die on the basis of their single-player campaigns.

Of course, both games had multiplayer components. Perhaps even enjoyable, perhaps you’re one of the philistines that thinks the atrocity that is Half-Life: Deathmatch is actually fun, but for both games the experience is ultimately forgettable.

The reason Half-Life is spoken about in reverent tones and the internet works itself into a frenzy every time somebody mentions a certain prime number has nothing to do with flinging barrels at your friends with the gravity gun.

Faulty perceptions

I need to head this one off at the pass – I know that many of you enjoyed the single and/or multiplayer components of these games. I’ve played through a couple of Call of Duty campaigns in my life and found them entertaining if not a little absurd.

The problem is, when people imagine what these games might look like, they tend to simply cut out one part of it.

It’s a lot easier to imagine a game without something you’ve seen, than imagine it with something you haven’t seen – or even conceptualised. The fact is, we can’t really know what Battlefield or Call of Duty would look like if all their developers’ considerable resources were focused only on their multiplayer components.

What we do know

What we do know is that these games can (and do) exist. I was heartbroken when I found out that Wolfenstein: The New Order was going to be single-player only. So disappointed, in fact, that I wasn’t even sure if I was going to play it.

Wolfenstein embodied a multiplayer experience to me, and I thought that cutting that out was sacrilegious. Too much childhood nostalgia was invested into that, and I couldn’t see past it.

Today, I would tell you that The New Order would rank in my Top 5 favourite single-player titles. I have developed a serious crush on that game, and will tell anyone who will listen how amazing it is.

What would that game have been if they’d tacked on a multiplayer component that would have been halfheartedly played for a few months and then discarded? We can’t know that either, but we can probably can know that it wouldn’t have been quite as good.

Okay, probably not THIS.
Okay, probably not THIS.

The perception of “value”

The truth is, we have a lot of games where this really DOES work. These games are massively successful, the most watched games in the world, and all of them are either really cheap or really free.

The most watched games on Twitch.tv (and some of the most played games in the world) are League of Legends, DotA 2, Hearthstone and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. All of these games do one thing only, and they do it very, very well.

CS: GO will set you back about R200, while the others are ostensibly free (while often draining your wallet far more quickly anyway).

These games exist in this medium because we’ve been locked in to a specific mindset about what we “should” be getting for our 60-80 dollars.

The only games brave enough to do multiplayer only are free, and the only games brave enough to do single-player only are the likes of RPGs that can pack in 50+ hours of gameplay.

FPSes, on the other hand, feel like they always need to add something to ensure “longevity”. I love that Wolfenstein didn’t, and despite all the flak they got (from the likes of me), they put out an amazing game that was worth every cent.

Then, on the opposite end of the spectrum, you get tragedies like Titanfall. Titanfall was an amazing game; it’s one of the most interesting and exciting multiplayer FPSes I’ve played in years and I got many, many highly enjoyable hours out of it.

The single-player “campaign”, however, sucked harder than anything I’ve ever played. Nothing has ever felt quite that forced, and the game was heaped with criticism because of it. It also caused issues with players who were forced to try and play through a broken, disjointed game mode in order to unlock the things they needed to.

It was criticised, perhaps fairly, of being too expensive for what you got. After the game’s release, however, the value came flooding in. Multiple new game modes, achievement systems, levelling systems, ranked play etc. were all provided completely free. After a while, even the DLC maps weren’t paid for any more.

Seriously, look how cool this is.
Who needs The Last Guardian when you can have your super awesome robot buddy? Ungrateful bastards.

It’s some of the most impressive post-release support and added content I’ve ever seen given away for free, and I can only imagine how great a game it could have been had all of that been in from the start and the pathetic single-player mode never took up the time and resources that it did.

Some games do both, and do them well

This isn’t necessarily applicable to ALL games. Titles like Diablo, Borderlands and GTA V all come to mind as games that thrive on having both single and multi-player components that work.

This seems to be the case most often with open-world exploration titles that have high potential for co-operative play and incentive to grind, level up or keep playing. Thus the action RPGs like Diablo can provide obsessive multiplayer opportunities for the grinders as it blends pretty seamlessly into the single-player experience.

GTA V also uses a similar world, but it also helps having an entire separate development team, an enormous budget and five years in which to do it. If you’re hurrying a title out the door every year, not so much.


My conclusion is that this column is too damn long. Holy crap, 1,500 words? If you’ve made it this far, I applaud you, and thank you for your perseverance in the face of such wall-of-text adversity.

If I could wrap this all up into a succinct statement, it would simply be that ditching one of the game modes is something developers need to consider more often, and something we need to be more okay with. Sometimes, It’s just going to be for the best.

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.