Does Mass Effect 3 Really Need Multiplayer?
The decision to add multiplayer to a popular singleplayer title is also driven by competition. Say you walk into a store with $60 bucks in your hand. You’re deciding between two games, both of which look really cool — so equally cool, in fact, that you’re having trouble deciding. You flip the boxes over and look at the descriptions — Game X is a pure singleplayer game; Game Y has a robust singleplayer campaign, but also the additional promise of hours of multiplayer competition. All other things being equal, the decision suddenly becomes easy.
Every game publisher dreams of publishing Game Y, and dreads publishing Game X. In recent years, this had led to a frenzy of copy-cat design, as games attempt to cancel out their competitors by offering an identical suite of features, plus that one extra enticement that’s the key to raking in another sixty bucks.
Competition is far from the only financial concern. Even more importantly, it’s worth remembering that game publishers are essentially conservative. As games become more and more sophisticated, they become more and more expensive to make. Because the corporations that fund game production are taking a huge financial risk, it’s in their interest to take as many steps as possible to guarantee a return on their investment.
Backing a game with unfamiliar mechanics, original source material, and visionary design is a gamble. In practice, the best way to make your money back is simple: give gamers what you already know they like. Better to fund projects that resemble other past successes, products that consumers will immediately recognize and understand. Even if these cookie-cutter titles don’t make a profit, it’s easy to retroactively explain the decision to a group of angry investors: “People loved God of War! How were we supposed to know they wouldn’t love Dante’s Inferno also!” For another example of this phenomenon, check out every action movie Hollywood has churned out in the last ten years.
So what does this have to do with multiplayer? While you’re busy poring over Michael Bay’s explosive back catalog, take a look at the most popular, blue-chip, best-selling video game franchises of the last decade or so. World of Warcraft. Call of Duty. Halo. Gears of War. Even Wii Sports. What do they have in common? An emphasis on multiplayer gameplay. Singleplayer games are saddled with multiplayer modes for one simple reason: multiplayer games, in general, make an unbelievably huge amount of money. Publishing, though it might be cynical to say, is the business of giving people what they want, and the numbers don’t lie: gamers want multiplayer. Until they stop paying for it, game publishers are going to continue to give it to them, regardless of how many die-hard Mass Effect fans they alienate in the process.