I don't hate multiplayer games. The problem is there's only so much time in a day—or a lifetime. No matter how many cool multiplayer games were on display at #E32017 this year, it's not possible to play them all. Conferences from all of the major publishers and developers were a cavalcade of "multiplayer" and "shared world" and, in the worst case scenarios, "esport".
That's rough, even if multiplayer games are your jam.
Solo Gone Group
Developers and franchises who once produced single-player masterpieces have taken a hard turn into multiplayer. BioWare, one of the few studios who were still making big budget RPGs, have gone multiplayer with #Anthem.
Beyond Good and Evil returns from its shallow grave, and while the debut cinematic was beautiful, it comes packaged with that dastardly phrase "shared world". What was once a cult classic single-player experience joins the ranks of multiplayer games.
Back when #AssassinsCreed rocked the boat with Black Flag, people were begging for a standalone pirate game. Black Flag's naval combat was stellar, but the Assassin's Creed trappings held it back from being a pure, pirate-y experience. By ditching the Assassin's Creed branding, they could lean hard into the pirate experience: sailing, seeking treasure, exploration, getting scurvy, all that good stuff.
Ubisoft responded to those desires by creating #SkullAndBones, a game that appears to be nothing but multiplayer sea battles, excising everything else we'd hoped for. We wanted high seas adventures and they gave us a naval esport. Rare's #SeaOfThieves might fulfill those fantasies, but that's multiplayer, too.
"Shared World" Is Meaningless
When talking multiplayer games, the phrase "shared world" was the buzzword of the year at this year's E3. It seemed every other game was described as a "shared world" and it simultaneously means everything and nothing. MMOs on the scale of World of Warcraft are a shared world. #WatchDogs2 was touted as a "shared world" and the only multiplayer component is another player will occasionally invade your game session to mess up your day.
By describing their game as a shared world, developers aren't describing their game at all. Anthem is a shared world, but to what degree? Will we randomly encounter other players? Will we see other players in quest hubs? Will we only see other players when we invite them in, or can they pop in at their leisure?
How many of these "shared worlds" are cooperative and how many of them are competitive?
These questions apply to nearly every "shared world" game we saw at E3 this year. We know they're multiplayer, but how they're multiplayer has been obfuscated by the latest buzzword. It's difficult to be excited about a game when we don't know what it is.
A Matter Of Time
Single-player games, particularly narrative-driven games, usually have a conclusion. They start and, eventually, they end. When it's over, you can pick up another game and play that one.
Often, these "shared world" games are what publishers consider a "live service." They don't end. They're a treadmill. They're usually fun, and fun is why we play games, but, as I said at the start, there are only so many hours in a day. There's an inherent limit to the time we can spend gaming, and thus a limit to how many "live service" games we can enjoy.
Take #MMOs, for example. Almost the moment World of Warcraft launched, it became a monster. Nearly every other major MMO at the time got squashed and, for years after, new MMOs that tried to enter the market floundered. Many of those other MMOs were excellent games, but most potential players were already playing WoW. Due to the nature of MMOs, players who were interested in MMOs only had the time and energy for one at a time. They weren't inclined to ditch one for another.
Who will have the time to play both Destiny 2 and Anthem? Will it be the same number of people who were able to play both #Halo and #MassEffect? Maybe! Maybe not. We'll find out sooner or later.
Not to mention, for every single one of these multiplayer games, I need to convince all of my friends to buy it and hope they enjoy it, too. And honestly? Sometimes you just want to enjoy a game by yourself, on your own time.
Single-Player Isn't Dead
While the number of single-player titles getting major airtime seems to be declining, there are still a number of single-player titles worth getting excited about. Kratos gets to be a weird dad in the new God of War, Assassin's Creed is back with Origins, the new Spider-Man looks incredible, Horizon Zero Dawn is swinging by post-apocalyptic Wyoming, and so on.
The single-player experience hasn't died, it's just been drowned out by the clamoring for "shared worlds." And heck, many of these "shared worlds" might turn out to be perfectly fine single-player games with a minor or completely optional multiplayer component. We don't know yet. That's the problem with buzzwords.