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The relationship between single-player, multiplayer in the modern era

With the release of incredibly popular games like “Fortnite," it’s clearer than ever that the appeal of online multiplayer games is real.

Image By: Image courtesy of Pixel Vault

Think of the last time you sat down to play a video game with another person — I’d be willing to bet that you were playing with them online. With the development of technology in the modern era, we can now connect with people all across the world in seconds. Of course, this evolution has affected gaming as well. We now live in an age where we can play in lobbies with others across the globe at the press of a button.

With the release of incredibly popular games like “Fortnite” and “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds,” it’s clearer than ever that the appeal of online multiplayer games is real.

However, last month’s “Red Dead Redemption 2” had the second-highest-grossing launch in all of entertainment history, with the game’s online mode not releasing until this week. It seems players can still take to primarily single-player games in the modern era the same way they cling to multiplayer ones. From this example, it’s interesting to see how the general gaming masses move from title to title and genre to genre. As far as the relationship between single-player and multiplayer games, I believe they work better together than apart.

The effects of online multiplayer games are now widespread: Twitch streamers garner thousands of viewers, while professional leagues feature players who compete for cash prizes. I’m personally not a multiplayer-centric player, as I tend to gravitate more toward single-player titles. My biggest reason is that multiplayer games always grow a bit stale for me. There comes a point where I want to add a new spice to my game library, and single-player games are often the perfect solution.

I believe single-player games often have more freedom in how to diversify the experience for the player instead of trying to accommodate thousands. I only say this as a personal opinion because, while I know there are others out there who agree with me, some players would disagree. This is fine, but my point on the importance of single-player can be illustrated through the massively popular “Call of Duty: Black Ops 4,” a recently released title that lacked a traditional single-player campaign.

The reception of this decision was mixed at best. Some players could care less, but others wanted another large-scale adventure to shoot through. Either way, considering the sheer amount of players that the game released to, that latter half still consists of a large body of people. I believe this demonstrates that even when one of the most popular online multiplayer games foregoes the single-player aspect of its design, people will still lash out.

Single-player games are on the other half of the spectrum. Obviously, this type of game hasn’t changed too much with its cycle, which involves the usual population of AAA titles with sequels in the future to boot. However, the single-player subset has become an interesting beast within the last decade or so. With the development and explosion of new user-friendly programs allowing anyone to create their own games, the gaming landscape has become more varied than ever. We see this in the widespread boom of “indie” games, or games that are independently made without the financial support of a huge developer. These range from simple pixelated titles to hugely popular 3D creations that people pour years of their lives into. Single-player games seem to have it all at first glance.

Unfortunately, there are still some faults. A glaring one in particular is that single-player games are often placed with the burden of making an altogether compelling experience, an experience that can stand on its own without the support of an online system. I know many friends of mine who do prefer a simpler single-player experience, but if that experience fails, what else is there to connect with? While this is true of indie games, it certainly applies to big-name companies as well.

Take the initial release of “Street Fighter V.” Developer Capcom focused so much on the online system to appeal to its competitive fanbase that it poured next to no resources in its offline single-player content. So, when the game dropped and more casual players spent $60 with hardly any content to satisfy their playstyle, there was harsh criticism. “Street Fighter V” didn’t meet its sales goals whatsoever, and Capcom has suffered the past few years because of it. Purely single-player and multiplayer games will always have faults, but a method of lowering the chances of running into issues can be pretty simple: a balance of focus between single-player and multiplayer content.

"In order to get the attention of gaming audiences today, I believe games must have the best of both worlds."

As I mentioned previously, “Red Dead Redemption 2” had the second-highest-grossing entertainment launch. So, who holds the first place spot? None other than “Grand Theft Auto V,” the previous title from Rockstar Games. My point in discussing this fact has to do with the very structure of the game itself. “GTA V” has both a fun and engaging single-player narrative, but it also includes one of the most hectic and popular online multiplayer modes in all of gaming. It has achieved a great balance between single-player and multiplayer, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a game of this caliber holds the status that it does. In order to get the attention of gaming audiences today, I believe games must have the best of both worlds.

I believe “Red Dead 2” can become the next great example of this concept, as Rockstar has just released the game’s “Red Dead Online” multiplayer component. It seems like a repeat of “GTA V,” a title that was also initially released as a single-player game — this showcases just how quickly shifting the masses can be.

With games like 2018’s “God of War” and “Spider-Man,” I wonder if we’re returning to an age where single-player games are all the rage. But as it stands right now, with the number of multiplayer experiences not lessening anytime soon, I think we may need to take a step back — to look at the strengths that each subset of games can offer. When you mix the best of what both single-player and multiplayer can bring to the table, that is what creates some of the best games of all time.


Kyle Engels is a video games columnist for The Daily Cardinal. To read more of his work, click here

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