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.