Can Multiplayer Hurt Games in the End?

Can Multiplayer Hurt Games in the End?

In December, Bungie released its initial batch of player stats for Halo: Reach. Conclusion: People sure like killing each other over Xbox Live Arcade. 33 billion times over, in fact.

Since Halo: Reach hit North American store shelves in September, the FPS has seen 1.3 billion games played, which adds up to 24,000 years of play time(!). GamesIndustry.biz breaks down the numbers further, but what it comes down to is that Halo fans–and fans of FPS multiplayer in general–likely spend an enormous chunk of their free time in online death matches.

Makes sense. Online multiplayer can stretch a game’s lifespan to infinity, or at least until the company behind the game puts the servers to bed. No two matches are ever the same. Strategies can take months to formulate, and what works on one map won’t necessarily work on another. In other words, the multiplayer experience offers up something unique every time the player indulges. Except for the curses, mind. Those never change.

It’s worth asking, then, if game developers aren’t hurting themselves by putting so many resources behind the multiplayer options that often define a game more thoroughly than its singer-player campaign. In the long term, is it beneficial to attract a fan to one game for as long as possible? By doing so, doesn’t the developer risk blunting the player’s interest in new games?

True, if someone is wrapped up in a good game, they might put off new purchases. They might even buy a new game, play it for an hour, then retreat back to the old and familiar, thus killing their interest in fresh games for even longer. But even these seeming obsessions are rarely permanent. Sooner or later, people move on, particularly if their friends drop their daily multiplayer exercises in favor of a new game. Especially dedicated players might hang around to play with strangers, but more often then not, comradery is a big part of multiplayer’s appeal. If “The Gang” has disbanded after three solid months of playtime, playing alone feels especially empty and lonely.

It’s also monotonous to play the same game every day, all the time. World of Warcraft has a very dedicated subscriber base, but the existence of that subscriber base has done nothing to kill the PC and console market. Everybody needs a break from the daily grind, so to speak. FPS fans are generally interested in a wide range of genres, like everyone else. The best multiplayer match in Call of Duty can’t kill that craving for a new adventure game, a new RPG, a new retro side-scroller, or a new Madden.

And even if Bungie or Activision took measures to ensure that its fanbase won’t find too many reasons to cling hard to its key franchises, consider the consequences: If a hotly-anticipated FPS title like Halo: Reach was to offer sub-par online play, it would be a major black mark against the game, and the franchise in general. A poorly-made game will always discourage more fans away from new releases more than a game that’s attractive because it’s well put-together.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

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