Publishers are forcing developers to waste time on multiplayer modes just to plump up a game’s feature set believes Gearbox Software’s Randy Pitchford, who criticised the practise to Edge yesterday. He states how there’s an obsession within the industry to keep up with the blockbuster releases like Call of Duty instead of treating each game differently depending on their content.
“Let’s forget about what the actual promise of a game is and whether it’s suited to a narrative or competitive experience,” he said. “Take that off the table for a minute and just think about the concept-free feature list: campaign, co-op, how many players? How many guns? How long is the campaign? When you boil it down to that, you take the ability to make good decisions out of the picture. And the reason they do it is because they notice that the biggest blockbusters offer a little bit for every kind of consumer. You have people that want co-op and competitive, and players who want to immerse themselves in deep fiction. But the concept has to speak to that automatically; it can’t be forced. That’s the problem.”
Call of Duty, particularly Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops, may well be the driving force behind a lot of eager publishers nowadays but a forced multiplayer mode is something that’s affected game’s throughout this generation. In the early days of the Xbox 360, The Darkness was an FPS that featured a beloved single player campaign and awkward multiplayer due to this need for online action. Some critics even verbally shook their fists at BioShock because it neglected multiplayer functionality which no doubt brought about the inclusion of one to the second game.
But Pitchford does understand why publishers decide to learn on developers for multiplayer content, casting aside the artistic integrity. It’s because games are a business. Research data suggests adding more features to your game will boost sales and unfortunately review scores. I say unfortunately because to me, if you have a great single player campaign then anything in addition to that is a bonus not a necessity to get say a nine instead of an eight out of ten. A good example that Pitchford uses is the Dead Space series whose first game was purely a solo affair yet the sequel was not: ”It’s ceiling-limited; it’ll never do 20 million units. The best imaginable is a peak of four or five million units if everything works perfectly in your favour. So the bean counters go: ‘How do I get a higher ceiling?’ And they look at games that have multiplayer. They’re wrong, of course. What they should do instead is say that they’re comfortable with the ceiling, and get as close to the ceiling as possible. Put in whatever investment’s required to focus it on what the promise is all about.”
It’s interesting that Pitchford used EA’s Dead Space as it was the same title website Develop used when speaking to EA Games label president Frank Gibeau. He said the company are working towards making their game ‘better connected’ with things like co-op or multiplayer modes. Develop proposed that Dead Space had neither and worked fine with Gibeau and the PR manager clarifying how their studios won’t be forced to include these features but instead educated on how to do so. Like the possibility of Facebook or Twitter interactivity. However even those seemingly harmless additions would take up developers’ time and resources. It’s a debate which will continue for a while yet I’d imagine.