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Are Video Game Publishers Pushing A Social Agenda?

If you hadn't noticed, multiplayer has become a supremely popular option this generation and for some titles, it's not even an option; it's a necessity. Next to the obvious increase in technology, this remains the single biggest change between video games of the "golden age" and modern-day gaming.

But I have this conspiracy theory in my head now: it's easy to call it a natural progression; something that was bound to happen, simply because it's typically more entertaining to play against other humans than is against AI-controlled opponents. Many say the future is all about virtual reality, for example. Plus, given the aforementioned advances in technology, multiplayer in games has become more than possible...it has become an amazing leap, and one that offers experiences we could've only dreamed about back in the '80s. However, many veteran gamers - like yours truly - still view this hobby as a solitary activity; i.e., something you do when you're alone; a hobby that gratifies you and isn't reliant upon any outside factors. Let's face it, folks: gamers were indeed geeks back in the day, and when you're a geek, you don't go to parties and hit the clubs. You stay home and find ways to amuse yourself. Hence, video games.

But the stereotype has been eroding away ever since, and multiplayer is the biggest reason for that appreciated disintegration of an annoying stigma (even if it was accurate back then). These days, it's just as common to find Rock Band at a party as it is alcohol - okay, maybe not quite, but closer than you think - and I have no problem with that. But has anyone stopped to consider the possibility that publishers and maybe even manufacturers have been planning this revolution for a long time? Think about it. They want to appeal to the largest audience possible, and although they can't kill certain stereotypes and can't make video games that "everyone" will be interested in, they can still alter the product and the approach. Therefore, they tear down the walls between gamers and "everyone else," and provide us with crossover products that help to bridge the gap. In this way, the industry explodes into new territory and, last time I checked, this is exactly what has happened.

I just keep getting this sneaking suspicion that a bunch of designers got together in a secret meeting back in like 1990 and all made a solemn vow. It may not have just "happened," it could've been a carefully orchestrated agenda by the industry bigwigs that allowed their paychecks to increase tenfold over a certain span of time. And remember, most all devs and even publishers back in the day were gamers themselves...they were probably sick to death of all those stereotypes!  You always hear about how developers are being pushed into adding multiplayer, and how a few devs even complain about it. One can easily say, "oh, they were asked to put it in because consumers wanted it." Fair enough. But what if they were asked to put it in before the vast majority of consumers had even heard of it? We could go 'round and 'round here, but I'm just sayin'...

5/17/2009 Ben Dutka

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Comments (22 posts)

fatelementality
Sunday, May 17, 2009 @ 10:56:40 PM
Reply

The only way I'm singing karaoke is drunk. The only way I'm dancing like an idiot is with a girl. Sorry Guitar Hero and Rock Band, but I haven't played a plastic instrument since I was 4 and don't intend to start again. Just my take on things. Guess I'm too damn old. The only time I can listen to music is in my car going 80 down the interstate. Ahem.....I mean 65.

Last edited by fatelementality on 5/17/2009 10:57:42 PM

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tes37
Sunday, May 17, 2009 @ 11:09:51 PM
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I prefer single player myself. I have a satelitte connection nat3, which is terrible for online gaming, so Icouldn't play against someone if I wanted to.

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www
Monday, May 18, 2009 @ 6:59:17 AM

well you woulda loved multiplayer if you had broadband.

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WorldEndsWithMe
Sunday, May 17, 2009 @ 11:14:00 PM
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Well, I don't think the illuminati got together and hatched this plan, I just think it was natural and forward-thinking on the part of a few pioneers, and subsequently their followers. See, we went from two player games to four player games to online deathmatches to online multiplayer and now we are going back to co-op and casual party games. I think the social aspect is another way to get money from us, look at all the damn rock bands and G heros. If you prod people into competition then they have to buy it too and get good to win at the party.

But, I'm with you, I prefer a solitary experience. Though online FPS is a guilty pleasure of mine :)

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Robochic
Monday, May 18, 2009 @ 12:15:09 AM
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I honestly like to play either single player or offline multiplayer, i don't mind online but sometimes i just like to play with my friends.

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blitz30952
Monday, May 18, 2009 @ 4:43:34 AM

Yeah, there's nothing better then talking smack when your face to face in front of your opponents/mates... :D

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vicious54
Monday, May 18, 2009 @ 11:08:47 AM

Wish more developers let us play through campaign with a friend offline.

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Highlander
Monday, May 18, 2009 @ 12:18:47 AM
Reply

Yes, I think there is a bit of social engineering going on here. But I think the root cause of this fascination with multi-player is that the quest to make games more realistic and challenging ran headlong into the brick wall of reality. Even with all the complexity of the RTS AI and the Civ IV game engine and games like Galactic Empires or other similar AI laden games what is the problem that they all suffer from? People learn to play the AI. They learn to manipulate the AI and exploit it. So in any game there is a limit - or so the theory will no doubt go - to how complex and unpredictable the AI can be, resulting in a game that loses it's challenge. People on the other hand are far more complex and unpredictable making the game experience ever renewing, never repeating - or so the theory goes.

Well, I have an alternate theory, it's CHEAPER and EASIER to have players play against each other than it is to write kick-ass AI. Writing game AI is really quite a hard task, graphics engines are simply technology. Physics has laws and rules, but Artificial Intelligence is an extremely complex field that really doesn't have the structures of physics or known boundaries of a graphics engine. I think it's easier for developers to build relatively simple game AI and a short story, and then develop a robust online component, than it is for them to develop a long/complex - high quality - story and AI to match. It's a cost cutting measure. Games have become more and more expensive to develop. So cutting costs is a good idea, and if you can sell what you're doing as a plus, then go for it. Multi-player has been sold as a must have feature that makes games infinitely re-playable. This has allowed developers to cut back on story and game AI development. We see this in many FPS and similar titles.

But, is multi-player really infinitely re-playable? No, it bloody well isn't. For a start every game has it's exploits and with a million spotty youths playing it doesn't take long for the compulsive 8 hours a day players to find them and exploit them without mercy. Next up is the verbal diarrhea that explodes from the voice chat during games. It takes less than 30 seconds of being repeated called any one of about a hundred curse words by the snotty nosed youth who's beating me senseless by using some cheap exploit before my entire game experience is soured beyond repair. However since there are millions of these socially impaired little oiks online, the sales of certain genre of game are damn near guaranteed by the inclusion of multi-player. Developers wrongly believe that this means that somehow shoehorning multi-player into every game genre and title will be the key to instant riches, thus ruining more games and genre.

To me multi-player gaming is the equivalent of walking around a busy city street in the middle of summer and trying to have a personal conversation over a Push to talk phone while everyone else around me tries to do the same, and all the while we are trying to be heard over the background noise of pneumatic hammers breaking up the sidewalk. I am so over the concept. There are ways to do it, but it should ******NEVER****** (I can't emphasize this enough) be the core feature of a game. The 90/10 rule should apply, with 90% of game development going into the game and 10% going into the online/multi-player aspect of it.

The social engineering going on is an attempt by game developers to steer gamers away from expensive to make games that require story, and thought. It's cheaper to make a continuous slew of action games that require no thought and the ability to use a hair trigger. So by pushing gamers into this multi-player 'utopia' game developers and publishers are able to lower our expectations to then point where they can make cheap games and we will all blindly buy them as if they were the greatest thing since we discovered sex.

</rant>

Gee, do you think I don't like multi-player online gaming much? I don't - unless it's done right.

Last edited by Highlander on 5/18/2009 12:20:47 AM

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tes37
Monday, May 18, 2009 @ 12:26:10 AM

My wallet slams closed, if there's no engaging and well thought out single player element to a game.

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Byakko2009
Monday, May 18, 2009 @ 12:54:21 AM

Wow, so very true about AI. However, as a fighting game enthusiast, I have dreamed of online play since even PS1 (when it's technically not feasible at that stage). That said though, it is happening as you say; developers are pushing online gaming as opposed to richer single-player experiences. Like when SFA3 was on PS1 it got critical acclaim for its single-player mode "World Tour". But I think despite it being a Greatest Hits they would rather it achieve that status by selling people the Street Fighter name, and not putting more work into what would simply be an arcade port. Now personally, I love multiplayer, but I would rather have great AI sometimes. I can see the hurdle there however, because like you said it's easier to update graphics and such.

Speaking of AI, I can't play a single fighting game offline for fun. Sure they have their extras thrown in like costumes, but the AI is so weak, it's sad. I can find a simple tactic to use over and over and they never adjust. And online play certainly doesn't mean infinite replay value, at least not to everybody. I do get hella annoyed with the random "you suxors blah blah" and the random use of some racial slur. When things get heated like that, that's when I'd need to enjoy the game offline, but there's usually nothing there. Some games need this Online option though, namely the fighting genre where Arcade gaming is scarce and almost dead.

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Highlander
Monday, May 18, 2009 @ 1:23:25 AM

@byakko

The worst thing about fighting game AI - I'm looking at you Soul Calibur 4 - is not the fact that you can beat it, it's the fact that rather than strength the AI, the developers allow the AI to cheat, blatantly. Towards the top of the Tower of Souls in SC4, you can only beat the game into submission with furious button mashing and luck, there is very little in the way of tactics needed, just be fast and fortunate.

Weak AI is one thing, cheating AI is quite another. I'd rather beat a game and feel it was too weak than not beat a game and feel it was because the game cheats. Any fighting game needs to apply the same rules to the AI fighters as it does to the humans, and that includes typically human reaction times and not being able to read minds. However the game knows your control inputs and reacts in an instant. A human would have to see your move, make a decision and then physically react, the minimum time for that sequence is two tenths of a second, not two nano seconds.

But yes, you got it exactly developers are sacrificing richer single player game play for online features.

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Byakko2009
Monday, May 18, 2009 @ 1:52:37 AM

Yeah, they solely go by your button presses and react to that press, it is frustrating. It's hard for me to say how annoying the AI is cause' I still found weak points like floor 40 I resorted to throwing, it worked but like you said it requied luck as well. Either way the holes are there, but it's frustrating to get Just Impacted on every move. As far as fighting games goes I think the best single player modes were Quest from Tobal No. 1, and SFA3's world tour. The key there is balance I think. Those modes were not too easy but not overwhelmingly ridiculous with difficulty. Tekken had the force mode, but there was little in the way of rewards for finishing. I think most people hated SC4's Tower Mode, I know I did. There needs to be some balance there, but as long as the online option is present for developers it will be there best cop-out.

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BikerSaint
Monday, May 18, 2009 @ 2:13:15 AM

Hear, Hear!
Hail to Highlander!

And let me be the 1st to nominate you for our next President!

I know you'd certainly do a better job at it than all the govern-mental doucebags we've had so far

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OriginalSin
Monday, May 18, 2009 @ 1:03:39 AM
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I can understand why multiplayer is so important to gamers these days, and also why certain people might prefer it. But for me it is not the most important element of gaming. The main story or single player element is the most important, and should be treated as that. Without a proper single player campaign there will be no game for me.

Multiplayer must just be used to add something extra to the game and add longevity to a title and shouldn't be it's main focus.

Don't get me wrong I'm not condemning the whole thing as certain games that does just that, like Warhawk for instance does it extremely well. Unfortunately I don't own that game and probably never will. Not because I don't want to but because internet in my country is still extremely expensive and slow so it just isn't a viable option.

Also what will Uncharted,MGS,KZ2,COD Resistance and the like be without the single player campaign?

I like playing games alone at night. It's my way to unwind and relax, even if I am playing something hectic it is still my way of chilling out. It's just how I prefer to play games. On the other hand more and more people are getting into online side of things and prefer to play co-op or versus modes. Good for them but it's just not for me....

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Jalex
Monday, May 18, 2009 @ 2:40:19 AM
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I think online multiplayer has become something of a safety net for publishers.
Personally, I've never played a multiplayer mode on a game that was just completely unenjoyable (then again, I seem to be a minority as part of the 'I play video games for fun, not to nitpick' group), only the many that were decent and the few that were stellar. In that way, I'm sure publishers rely on multiplayer modes to net them a certain amount of revenue. But even though they have consistency going for them, most multiplayer offerings don't really feel like labors of love, like the majority of single-player only games do (even when they miss the mark).

And if I'm wrong about all that, well...maybe Kojima can make a game built around that 'designers gathering at a secret meeting in 1990' theory of yours, Ben ;)

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www
Monday, May 18, 2009 @ 7:03:13 AM
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To me i feel it might just have happened, maybe it wasn't planned. Maybe the first ever online multiplayer was good hence other publishers felt the need to follow that route and now it's something big and almost mandatory.

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Tim Speed24
Monday, May 18, 2009 @ 9:02:07 AM
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To me, online gaming just isn't as enjoyable as the single player experience. You just play the same level over and over agian with no progression of story or meaningful unlocks, example new cutscenes.

I don't find it fun to die every 2 seconds in the FPS games and racing real people online is sooo unpredictible....driving backwards, wrecking people instead of racing, etc.

Single player provides story progression and awesome cutscenes to look forward to, most of the time. That's why games like Uncharted and RE5 will always be the ones I gravitate to.

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Phoelix
Monday, May 18, 2009 @ 10:09:59 AM
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I've found that Playstation developers have been ignoring this trend for local multiplayer. Resistance 2, Killzone 2, Metal Gear--all have online but not offline local (or coop for that matter). R2 DOES have offline competitive and coop, but it's only for 2 players. I do commend them for making online comp/coop available for a split screen, but just 2 players!

Considering how there is little to no social interaction with people online, Sony games don't seem to follow this trend of increased socialization. That's my take.

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Mr Bitey
Monday, May 18, 2009 @ 10:43:05 AM
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While I do like playing games online, it's sad to see single player games getting scaled back as a result. I'm probably in the minority, but I prefer a long, deep, satisfying single player experience over multi-player any day. The FPS genre is probably the worst offender of all, it's common practice to make a > 10 hour single player game, and all is forgiven because the game features multi-player.

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Tim Speed24
Monday, May 18, 2009 @ 11:10:12 AM

My thoughts exactley.

Give me a long single player campaign that draws me into the story. That's the best game, IMO.

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BikerSaint
Monday, May 18, 2009 @ 5:08:13 PM
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"Single" player here too, although I do play around with a couple of hotties now & then(and I'm all for their double handheld's too)

Last edited by BikerSaint on 5/18/2009 5:09:06 PM

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Scarecrow
Monday, May 18, 2009 @ 10:43:31 PM
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I'll say this, I miss games which had no multiplayer.

Multiplayer is good if the game itself was designed with that in mind.

Just don't like when they slap it to a game...

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