January 11, 2010

Multiplayer and Co-Op is the Equivalent to Reality TV

Mike Rohde says How much fun I have playing a video game has always been the defining criteria when it comes time for me to decide if I really like the game or not. Lately though, multiplayer and co-op games are forcing me to reconsider this approach. For example, when I play games like Left4Dead or Borderlands in single player mode, I get bored, very quickly. When I play online with a bunch of strangers, I get a mixed bag of results depending on who I am playing with. When I play online with my brother, then suddenly I have a good time. Based on that, is Left4Dead and Borderlands a good game or a bad game? If I used my sole criteria of how much fun it is, the answer is no longer Yes or No, it becomes a Sometimes; it all depends on who’s online at the time.

The main problem with games that are focused on multiplayer and co-op is that there is very little creativity behind the game. In Left4Dead you get zombies. In Borderlands you get a wasteland. For those two games you basically get a premise and then it’s up to you and your buddies to fill in the rest. It’s a lot like reality TV. There’s a premise, and then it’s up to Joe Public to provide the entertainment. There’s no script. No paid actors. Corporations love this kind of programming because it’s cheap and easy to produce. They don’t have to worry about actors demanding higher wages or worry that the writers will go on strike. It’s easy-cheesy for them. And so far, the American public eats that stuff up like it’s apple pie with a frozen Snickers on top. Reality TV is all fat and calories with no substantial nutrition. The same could be said for multiplayer and co-op games.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing for the video game industry? I guess that depends on how many good friends you have that want to play the same games as you do. It’s kind of like hearing about this supposedly great party and you really want to go but all of your friends are busy so you decide to go yourself. You get to the party and everyone is sitting in chairs staring at walls. You think to yourself, “This is lame.” So you call your friends and say, “Get your ass over here, I’m dying!” Your friends say, “All right, my other plans fell through anyway.” Your friends eventually show up, you start laughing and joking and next thing you know you’re having a great time (there’s no such thing as a boring party; only boring people). You go home thinking to yourself, “What a great party.” The point is, it wasn’t the party that was great, it was sharing it with your friends that was great.
The game industry is catching on to this. They are learning they don’t have to make great games to have you think they are great. They simply have to make a game that you and your friends can play together. And there you have it: the downfall of creative, original games all in the name of catering to what reality TV started…

This generation of consoles is developing a new genre. Let's call it the Social genre. Is this a good thing for games or bad? If you have great friends then it doesn't matter cause you'll have fun no matter what. If you want to experience original, creative IP that pushes the boundaries then you might be in trouble. Can you imagine 2009 without Batman: Arkham Asylum?