Actually, EA’s Multiplayer-only Policy Could Be a Good Thing

So when EA says it won’t be making single-player games, and we’re living in a world of tacked-on multiplayer experiences, you have to realize that this is because one day, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare came out and changed everything. Suddenly multiplayer wasn’t good for just a nice little boost to your game: it could create an empire. A giant tower of money. And every publisher decided that the best way to get their own tower of money was to keep putting in multiplayer modes until one of them took off. It’s like pumping quarters into a slot machine, hoping to hit a jackpot.

We’re living in the midst of this great experiment, in which the powers that be in gaming are trying to figure out how to replicate the huge money-makers. What they haven’t realized, and I think soon will, is that WoW and CoD cannot be replicated in any meaningful way. They’re flukes. They can’t be duplicated by formula. And throwing multiplayer at the wall until you get rich is not doing anyone any favors.

This is a slow, hard lesson to learn, but publishers will learn it. But the thing is, we want a publisher like EA to mandate multiplayer. It sets it apart. EA can be the always-connected Zynga of console and PC gaming. And that’ll mean that developers who have those kinds of projects will go to EA, and those that don’t want to make multiplayer will go elsewhere. And that’s where things start to get better.

We Need Niches and Markets

Right now, every publisher and many developers are looking for success, and they’re aping each other. Right now, much of mainstream gaming feels the same — brown, shootery, militaristic and filled with chest-high walls. Other genres have their similarities too, not just in shooters, but on the whole, no publisher really stands out (although they’re already starting to). What we need in gaming isn’t homogenization, but specialization. And I think that EA’s multiplayer mandate is a step in that direction.

As a developer, knowing you don’t want to make a multiplayer game means you’ll be taking your game to someone else to publish it, other than EA. And while most of the publishers operate similarly to one another now, this won’t always be the case. Someone will step forward to make money on a market where single-player experiences exist. Someone will become a single-player publisher. It’ll establish its niche and work in it, just like EA will work in its social/online/multiplayer niche.

We see this happening already; the market can make things happen. A great example is the adventure game genre. In the mainstream, adventure games are mostly dead, and have been for a while. But is the genre buried? Of course not. Double Fine raised millions on Kickstarter by selling the vague notion that it would be doing an adventure title kind of like adventure titles its creators have done in the past. A Broken Sword title just got funded. In the indie market, there are adventure games cropping up everywhere. Telltale’s The Walking Dead actually has Game of the Year buzz surrounding it.

And sure, EA is often in the business of acquiring developers. It likes to buy up studios that are hot and add them to the conglomeration. But at the same time, a multiplayer mandate from EA is a sense of identity. It makes less and less sense for EA to buy up the next BioWare, a company built on single-player experiences, when it could be looking for developers that are more in line with its mission statement. And EA can’t buy everyone — developers will continue to spring up, or remain independent, or join other labels.

Single player isn’t going anywhere just because EA mandates multiplayer. We live in a world where games get made out of passion, even in supposedly dead genres or with dated graphics, all the time, now more than ever before. So, honestly — forget EA. Let it make the games it thinks are going to sell. Let it chase Call of Duty forever, hoping to get its own tower of money one day. The further away publishers move from making the games I want to play, the more I won’t be buying those publishers’ games.

I’ll be looking for the games made by developers who build the experiences I want, published by the companies who are more than willing to take my money. They’re out there, because gaming isn’t declining, it’s evolving. The great experiment is going to yield a variety of results, not just one. So support the people making what you want to play, instead of what you don’t — you’ll be helping gaming grow.

Follow Hornshaw and Game Front on Twitter: @philhornshaw and @gamefrontcom.

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8 Comments on Actually, EA’s Multiplayer-only Policy Could Be a Good Thing

R-man

On September 7, 2012 at 1:14 pm

You know what, Mr. Hornshaw? I actually really like this article. At the end of the first page, I was angry, and I wasn’t sure where (or if) you were gonna make a comeback in the article to make me feel not so angry, and actually give me hope like your title made me believe I’d have… but I read on, and I think you do have a point… I hope it does work that way, I truly do. I just wish BioWare could’ve avoided the multiplayer specialist, EA.
I’m not sure I enjoy living in the experimental age of gaming, but I look forward to seeing what the effect is. And I will just enjoy the few games that come out that are really truly worth my time and money.

Adam

On September 7, 2012 at 1:22 pm

EA is so full of crap. What a narrow minded company. Like a game needs multi to be good, they can eff off for all I care.

LTenhet

On September 7, 2012 at 1:35 pm

Not every game needs multiplayer, if you create a good, compelling experience then people will play your games a long time, and even come back to them many times later on. And you can still get money from DLC. Of course, its funny how a few years ago people were saying “No multiplayer no buy!” DO YOU SEE WHAT YOU’VE DONE PEOPLE?! DO YOU!?

R.J.

On September 7, 2012 at 1:37 pm

Perhaps this will be a good thing, if a developer knows that if wants to stay away from a company with this policy they are going to be less willing to sign on, and perhaps EA will stay away from SP focused studios, but it’s sad to hear this knowing the developers that are already under EA’s boot. So, while they might not be acquiring single player oriented developers, it also means there is less and less hope that the ones they do own, like Bioware, can stage a comeback. And if EA decided it really, really wants a certain developer, flashing enough money will get most of them to jump on with EA. But, one undisputed good thing in this is that I now know that anything with EA’s label will have some sort of MP shoehorned into it and I’ll know that I should be wary of the quality due to a lack of focus when it comes to a project’s resources.

Though I do hope that one day EA realizes it will never have a COD on its hands. If you constantly chase the leader, what sets you apart? What makes the customer notice you?

arcade47

On September 7, 2012 at 2:02 pm

well a game having multiplayer acts as an incentive for buyers to purchase the legal version of the game so that they could enjoy it later after completeing the campaign part with their friends

Kevin

On September 7, 2012 at 3:54 pm

While I agree, I also disagree on one point. COD and World of Warcraft aren’t “flukes.”

In the case of WoW, Blizzard was the golden boy for years before WoW came out, and they cultivated their rabid fan base with some pretty smart marketing, in addition to really seeing where the MMO market was succeeding, where it was failing, and how to capitalize on that.

It is tough to replicate what they did because it is tough to have that level of dedication and that kind of staff. Hell, the current Blizzard hasn’t had that kind of crew running the ship for years. (Just think of how much of the original crew of WoW’s launch is still there.)

Same with Call of Duty. There was a time when PC gaming was the only place for multiplayer. Activision saw an opening and exploited it, and added some innovations to the multiplayer market. And, most importantly, they knew their audience and pandered to them ruthlessely.

Everyone may hate their current iterations of products, but there was a time when these were sharp companies. EA, as is their thing, seldom originates or wants to invest the time into what these companies did with their properties. They just hope that if they play follow the leader enough, they’ll get a trickle down effect. I’d say the real lesson is to actually get a better understanding of the current market, not “if we change it enough, we can appeal to this market.”

Gamer41

On September 7, 2012 at 5:52 pm

One word EA……Skyrim.

Wesker1984

On September 9, 2012 at 10:33 pm

”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.”

Sooo true! Even if the Mass Effect 3 we got is a good game the final product got butchered just for the sake of a useless multiplayer mode! What we needed is no Catalyst, Harbinger being the one TRUE big bad guy, no colored endings, a final boss, having the chance to have blue babies(or 3-fingered little quarians for me) and having an ending with our survived Shepard being taking the place of the new human councilor. Soldier, N7, Spectre, lawless, Hero, councilor, LIVING LEGEND!