Actually, EA’s Multiplayer-only Policy Could Be a Good Thing
Okay, bear with me here. I know you just read that headline and you’ve probably already commented that I’m on the Electronic Arts payroll. But let me explain — EA’s policy of greenlighting only games with multiplayer is a good thing, because it will hopefully encourage developers to go elsewhere.
Earlier this week, President of EA Labels Frank Gibeau said he wouldn’t be greenlighting any solely single-player games anymore. That’s right: all of EA’s games, even the ones built to be single-player ones, will have some kind of online social or multiplayer component.
“We are very proud of the way EA evolved with consumers,” he said. “I have not green lit one game to be developed as a singleplayer experience. Today, all of our games include online applications and digital services that make them live 24/7/365.
“One of our biggest growth opportunities is Play4Free titles that allow customers to play at no cost and make purchases via microtransactions. We see this as a huge opportunity, and one that’s powered by our hybrid cloud model.”
Of course, this has a lot of people annoyed. Already, EA has a pretty rough reputation of buying studios and “ruining” them. A lot of people are upset about the way Mass Effect 3 turned out blame EA for that situation, pointing at things such as the additional multiplayer component as eating up development time that should have been spent on story. Dead Space 3′s cooperative campaign has been a source of contention, and Dead Space 2 had a tacked-on-feeling multiplayer that, apparently, no one liked or played (although I liked and played it.)
So Gibeau’s comments, that EA will only push games that have some kind of online plan (he further clarified that this does not mean every franchise should include a deathmatch multiplayer mode) kinda…sucks. For those of us who like our experiences deep and singular, and feel that unwarranted multiplayer often dilutes an otherwise good game by sapping its resources for something no one wants, this sounds like a slap. We won’t be getting the kinds of games we hoped for from EA. EA is ruining gaming.
Except…no it isn’t. This is good.
The Great Video Game Experiment
Let’s look back at the recent history of video games. The Internet has been a real force in the mainstream video game industry for, what, around 15 years. For about 10 of those years, we’ve had online console multiplayer, which means that we’ve had multiplayer for the masses — everyone who’s a gamer is now living in a world in which multiplayer is a big part of the gaming experience. This was not the case during the heyday of single-player games, with titles like Final Fantasy VII or Metal Gear Solid. The world is different.
What’s more, every game made today — every single one, from every single publisher — is an experiment. Because despite a decade of online gaming, everyone is still confused as to how to make any goddamn money with it, at least reliably.
So: in a world where online multiplayer is a thing, most games cancel each other out. No single game has a big enough community to out-compete any other single game, on the whole. There’s this whole big Internet out there, offering to make games viable for years instead of just a few months, and publishers see money in it. You can look to examples like Diablo 3 for clues; that game’s real money auction house is an attempt for Blizzard to make money long-term off the game. If Diablo 3 takes off like Diablo 2 did, Blizzard wants to make sure it won’t be seeing 12 years of success and no money to show for it. Blizzard wants you playing with your friends for years, spending money while you do it. Economically, it’s much better for Blizzard.
And then there are the outliers. World of Warcraft. Call of Duty. Games that have made incredible amounts of money from online multiplayer. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 sold $775 million worth of copies globally in its first five days. World of Warcraft still has 10.2 million people paying $15 a month to play it. There’s a reason every MMO feels like WoW and every shooter feels like Call of Duty — Activision has lightning in two bottles. And everyone else is hoping to be the next one to catch it.