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The incredible disappearing multiplayer: MP features are disappearing, and no one seems to care

The incredible disappearing multiplayer: MP features are disappearing, and no one seems to care

The gaming industry can sometimes seem to be in a slump; studios are closing left and right, high-profile games in previously successful series don’t sell as much as expected, and the budgets of games don’t seem to be going down. Something has to give, and it looks like that something is multiplayer.

EEDAR took a look at every Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 game released in the United States, and the numbers speak for themselves. Fewer games are including any form of multiplayer.

“You can see that in 2006, one year into the release of the Xbox 360 and the launch year of the PlayStation 3, 67% of the games had online multiplayer, 58% had offline multiplayer and 28% had no multiplayer,” Geoffrey Zatkin, the Chief Operating Officer of EEDAR, told the Report. “By 2012, you can see that only 42% have online multiplayer, a drop of 25%, 44% have offline multiplayer, a drop of 14%, and 41% have no multiplayer, a rise of 16%. So, over time, fewer and fewer high definition console games are including multiplayer as part of their core offering.”

What’s going on?

“Multiplayer, when executed well, can be the heart of the game and is often what keeps people playing for extended periods of time. Best-in-class multiplayer, such Call of Duty, Halo, Madden, FIFA, League of Legends, World of Warcraft, etc. is awesome,” Zatkin explained. “A lot of the success of these games, both individual titles and franchises, is a result of their superior multiplayer execution.” The problem is that multiplayer is expensive, and it’s not guaranteed to increase the sales of a game. Not only that, but many games simply aren't improved by the addition of multiplayer.

Up to half the cost of a game can be attributed to multiplayer, and in some cases the work is outsourced to different teams or even different studios. This can lead to multiplayer that doesn’t feel like the rest of the game, and in the case of games like Spec Ops: The Line, doesn’t add anything of note to the final product. It’s about picking when multiplayer is appropriate, and will add to either review scores, sales or, ideally, both.

“Multiplayer is a game feature, and not every feature belongs in every game.  Including multiplayer for the sake of having multiplayer doesn’t make sense.  Multiplayer should be included because it makes the game better,” Zatkin noted. “I don’t know that BioShock 1 or the upcoming BioShock: Infinite would be a better game for the inclusion of multiplayer.  Or Batman Arkham Asylum & City, Dragon Age I & II, God of War 3, Skyrim, Heavy Rain or Fallout 3.  Or Braid.  Or Limbo.  There are a lot of great games whose core experience didn’t include multiplayer.”

Here’s the interesting bit: Fewer games are including multiplayer, and no one seems to have noticed the trend. This is actually good news, as it indicates that publishers are cutting the feature when it doesn’t make sense, and gamers aren’t feeling ripped off by a lack of multiplayer in games that don’t need it.

“I don’t think that players are noticing,” Zatkin said. “I believe that people want good games.  I don’t think any single feature makes every game more fun; putting in a 'little bit of everything' often means that your game doesn’t shine in any single area. A game that gives you a great experience is what you want; if the great experience involves multiplayer, fantastic.  If it doesn’t – well, that can be fantastic as well.”

This is a positive move for the industry. Fewer games are adding an expensive feature that doesn't fit in with every title, it helps decrease budgets, and gamers don't seem bothered. It just takes a deep look at the numbers to see the trend.