I don’t know about you but I very much enjoy the offline experience in games. Developers have proven that shoehorning in an online mode, usually multiplayer, doesn’t make a better game (anyone tried The Darkness online?). But EA Games label president, Frank Gibeau, thinks single-player games are dead and that all future titles from the studio will pretty much have to feature some form of connectivity: “I volunteer you to speak to EA’s studio heads,” he said in an interview with Develop. “They’ll tell you the same thing. They’re very comfortable moving the discussion towards how we make connected gameplay – be it co-operative or multiplayer or online services – as opposed to fire-and-forget, packaged goods only, single-player, 25-hours-and you’re out. I think that model is finished. Online is where the innovation and action is at.” Really? Some of the best games this year have been solitary experiences and the ones that do include online aren’t always best implemented. Games like Heavy Rain and Mass Effect 2 were fantastic as stand-alone products with their respective online features merely playing a supporting role. And even then they were DLC. To say that an online space is the only area for innovation is a little shortsighted when a lot of developers’ idea of a connectivity will either abuse your Twitter and Facebook accounts or add a multiplayer component that has its servers closed down shortly after release. PlayDead’s Limbo was innovative in how it approached storytelling GoldenEye 007 for the Wii shows how you don’t need a game to be connected to the internet in order to have a great time playing with friends.
To be fair, Gibeau isn’t forcing the inclusion of online to every type of game – Develop cited Dead Space as part of a genre where being alone adds to the immersion – but does want to see how developers can broaden their ideas with online services; “I don’t go up to every game team and ask – what is your deathmatch mode?” He chuckled. The PR manager added “It’s more about educating the developers. Not on the creative side, but on the way people play games. Social media has really changed the way consumers look at entertainment. Everything’s more interconnected and 24-7 these days.” EA don’t want to insist but “inspire” game creators and Gibeau believes his role is to “edit and tweak [their creative vision] so it’s a bigger commercial opportunity.” But ‘inspiring’ teams to add some kind of online feature to their games seems a waste of resources if it’s not key to the experience. One area where it could work is an extended version of Mass Effect 2‘s Cerberus Network, an nonintrusive screen that tells you of new DLC etc. Expanding on that idea could be hints and tips from other gamers, promotional information that helps gameplay, user videos etc. Again, such a thing would be pretty cool but not integral and I’d rather the developer concentrate on making a better game than making sure it’s always online.
It’s still way too soon for the industry to put all their eggs into an online basket. We’d need to see real evidence that doing so would be entirely beneficial for all concerned, not just the publisher before a move like that would make sense. That and a promise to keep servers alive regardless of user numbers plus continuing support for these 24-7 connected realms.