Sometimes it’s good to be alone

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Microsoft versus Sony, Battlefield versus Call of Duty and Forza versus Gran Turismo. These are some of the rivalries that can get people talking about console wars. “Game On or Game Over” is your place to get inside the minds of Nicholas and Andy as they seek to find the true meaning of gaming and tackle some of gaming’s most controversial subjects. Both are award winning authors – although the awards haven’t been mailed or created yet — but trust them. Would they lie to you?

Nicholas: When I think back to games I never played that I wish I did, I think of when Tom Clancy Rainbow Six: Vegas was released on the Xbox 360. I remember downloading the demo and playing that first level when you breached the unbuilt casino, but at the time I didn’t really ‘feel’ it. I then think about when the sequel, Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 was released and never giving that a go too. I’ve never been a massive fan of shooters, but there are times when I’ve wanted to break the cycle of racing and give something new a shot.

It was therefore with some eagerness that I was awaiting the release of Rainbow Six: Siege for the chance to get into the franchise… until I found out that it’s entirely multiplayer-based. Now I didn’t want to dedicate this week’s article to whether games should always have a single-player component because our readers know our stance on that, but I did want to delve into a topic that a friend discussed on Twitter earlier this week.

In some reviews, the writers have been asking whether Rainbow Six: Siege should be cheaper than the standard $110 that most AAA games sell at because of the fact they’re online-only. The argument here is that the game is lacking (hypothetically) 50% of the game modes, and therefore the price should be somewhat reflective of that. So to kicks things off I wanted to ask you what you think?

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Andy: I was a big Rainbow Six fan back in the day. I loved the tactical part of, and the different feel of the game versus many of the other shooters on the market at the time. It always filled a niche that not many games could do. In regards to Rainbow Six: Siege, I played in three of the different alpha/betas and each time I was excited to play it and without fail each time I did, a couple hours into it I was left wanting more. Normally that’s a good thing, I mean the great games always leave you wanting more and can never really satisfy that desire that occurs when you spend countless hours playing. With Siege though, leaving me wanting more is a negative because sadly… there is no more game.

That’s the danger of titles like that where there are no other ways to play, once you exhaust all you can with what’s there, that’s it. It’s done and dusted. This is the exact reason why I never got into Evolve and it’s why I have avoided Star Wars: Battlefront. All three of those games just don’t have lasting value for me, and if I can’t see myself playing the game for more than a couple weeks I’m sorry but I can find something else to spend my money on. Or, I can wait until it goes on sale. The thing with waiting for it to go on sale is there will inevitably be another game that has released that I want to play so that game I was waiting on just becomes a “ah well, I never got a chance to play it.”

For me personally, if I am going to shell out the full retail price of $Six0 USD (I still can’t believe how much you guys pay for games it’s crazy) I need to have a reasonable expectation that I will get my monies worth. There’s no real way to dictate what the price of a multiplayer/online-only type of game should be. For me, the only thing I know for sure is it’s certainly not $Six0 because once I get my fill of the MP there is literally nowhere else to turn. You brought up the idea of wanting to change things up and look at something different, which is something every gamer (including myself) should do from time to time. Yet, with a game like Evolve or Siege if I am looking to change things up it’s going to be for a game that offers me a lot to do. Sadly neither of those games get me excited to try them for what they have to offer.

We are seeing more and more of these MP only/online only type of games. When a game like Siege already has a smaller niche appeal, does stripping away different ways to play; i.e. single player, co-op ultimately do more damage to the game and possible sales? Do you think it is partly due to costs and by cutting development for those modes they can save money but still charge the same price?

Nicholas: It depends on how the landscape is in the gaming community. Yes, for gamers like yourself and I, we’ll want a title that gives us that single-player element, but as with the incredible success of each annual Call of Duty and Battlefield game, there’s no denying that multiplayer is booming. It makes me want to ask the question of whether or not online-only is a bad move, or whether people like you and I are just not willing to move on with trends? Then again though, look at the success of recent single-player only titles to know that there is still a good place for them in modern gaming.

To answer your question as to whether it damages the game and sales, well there’s no denying that by creating a multiplayer-centric title that you’re going to be deterring a lot of gamers who want single-player only. That said though, you’d need to look at who’s buying these shooters and what they’re after. If the majority of gamers who play Rainbow Six do it because they like the tactical element and playing with friends, then while some gamers might not buy it because it’s all online the majority of fans still will, so there’s no real loss. Alternatively, if most of the fan base liked a story element and going through the game alone, then yes, they’re in a bit of trouble potentially.

You raise an interesting point about whether it’s cutting costs and still selling at the same price. To truly know the answer you’d need to understand how many staff would have been involved in writing and developing the single-player component of this (or similar) games. If it would have taken a number of people or a larger team then absolutely, the developers would see a definite cost-benefit, but if it would have been the task of a handful of people only, then most likely not.

You mentioned similar games like Evolve and Battlefront, and these games always have the same sort of comments around them that titles like Titanfall had post-launch. People don’t deny that they aren’t fun, but after a while you’re left wanting more (as you’ve said). It’s here that people want more than just another map or another game-type that they’ve been playing over and over again. It’s here that a story or campaign would come in handy. Despite this though, these games still sell well and are still popular. Why do you think they enjoy this success when they all inevitably fall into the same trap?

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Andy: It’s funny that you bring up the Call of Duty franchise because, even as my disdain for it has grown over the past couple years they do one thing right. Yes, it is primarily a multiplayer-focused title, but they always (unless you’re on last gen consoles) give you multiple modes to play. Take Black Ops 3 as an example. You have the single player campaign, the campaign with up to 3 other people co-op, zombies, Dead Ops Arcade and then all the MP modes. So, if you don’t like one, or just need a change of pace there is always something else to do if you feel like it. With Siege, Evolve and Titanfall what you have is what you’ve got. There is no way to change things up aside from MP game modes, some of which really aren’t that different than others.

We have talked before about something that every developer wants from us. They want their game to stay in the tray, for us to play it and nothing else. They want us to talk about it, convince our friends to buy it and support it post launch. Most of the games we have talked about are games where three months or even six months post launch don’t usually have as big of community. Almost like a flash in the pan, prior to launch and right up to launch people are talking about them. The hype machine is rolling and everyone seems to be talking about them. Then post launch happens and interest fades away. So, while they may sell well initially, the important number is really those who are still playing. But conveniently that’s a number we don’t hear talked about very often.  You are then left with three groups of people. Those who really, really love the game, those who play it when they are bored or looking for something different and those who just picked it up.

It’s that last group I want to talk about though. In those MP only games there is a large emphasis placed on levelling up and unlocking the next weapon, gadget or power. So, if I’m a gamer and grab a six month old game like that I am going to get utterly destroyed more often than not. It won’t be nearly as much fun, and when I’m not having fun the game won’t stay in the tray. It’s that very reason why I am fairly certain I will never get Siege even though I like the franchise. It’s that reason I will never play Evolve. And, it’s that reason why even now – less than a month after release – that I am really hesitant to even try Battlefront. So, while I initially didn’t pick them up because of the lack of ways to play, I then don’t pick them up because there is only one way to play, I am underpowered and the lack of understanding the nuances of the game.

That leads perfectly into my next question for you. If the thing the developers and publishers want is to keep the disc in the tray, and for us to continue to support the game via DLC and micro-transactions shouldn’t they add as many ways to play as reasonably possible to capture a larger spectrum of the gaming community? It seems like some games are shrinking their perspective pool size dramatically and that can’t really help the profits can it?

Nicholas: I wonder what the breakdown is in terms of sales between that initial launch window, then regular purchases thereafter and then when there are sales/holiday periods. You mention that by limited the game modes available that the developers are potentially reducing their potential purchasing pool, which is a valid comment to make, but I once again wonder if as long as they hit those expected sales targets on launch whether the rest is negligible in comparison. The other question I have is whether the success of DLC and micro-transactions lies not in how long the game remains in the disc tray, but whether it can bring the disc back into the tray. What I mean is, are they trying to keep the game being played all that time between the launch of the game and the DLC, or is it meant to draw them back in once they’ve left?

I think a good question we need to ask this week is whether it’s a matter of quantity over quality when it comes to games like this. Above we’ve spoken about the lack of game modes in titles like Evolve and Titanfall, but should it be a question of how many modes need to be included or more so, with the ones that are, are they polished and fun to play? Is it a case of Siege not having many game modes, but each one it does feature is fantastic? When it comes to single player modes, is it worthwhile including if the length is short of the story isn’t as engaging? Is the situation of including a mode just for the sake of variety a risk that could spoil the offering?

Similarly, the other question I have is how many hours do you expect to get out of a game like these? For me, if I can get 20 hours out of a single-player campaign then it’s more than enough. For a multiplayer game, is that sufficient for you, or should these allow you to keep playing into the 50-100+ hour mark across a number of weeks/months?

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Andy: Yes, adding a mode just to add it doesn’t make much sense. Much like having every mode offered being largely the same. That’s one of my biggest complaints with a lot of the MP games that are out there right now. Every mode seems the same. Battlefield 4 does a good job of making a couple modes feel different, but a good deal of that is just based on map size and adding vehicles. You do raise an interesting way of looking at things and that’s sales goals. Just in terms of sales goals most of those games probably do meet their targets. I also think you have hit on one of the reasons for DLC to be released the way it is. Partly to keep those playing interested, but partly to bring those who have stopped playing back to the game. It makes sense really, and if you can entice a few new players by hyping up the DLC then better yet.

Your last question is tricky though. I’ll answer that with a great big… it depends. Just basing it on the number of hours is not giving some games justice. Sure there are some great titles that can take a long, long time to complete – Fallout, Witcher, Mass Effect and most RPGs for that matter. Yet there are some equally great games that don’t take nearly that long (Valiant Hearts comes to mind right away for me). It’s only a handful of hours long, but it’s a fantastic game. A good game is a good game, I don’t think there needs to be a time limit before it can be good or “worth it”. I think both of us have played games that feel like they were unnecessarily drawn out with needless crap just to make it longer.  I would rather have a game be fantastic from start to finish, that be fantastic for bits and pieces and filler in between. As long as I am having fun, that’s what I care about. With these MP-only games the fun can disappear pretty quickly and then you’re left with nothing else to do in it.

As I was typing the first part of this response I was thinking about something that we gamers really don’t think a lot about. We were talking about meeting sales goals as one of the biggest metrics that the “suits” use to judge the success of a game, and I think it’s a fair point to make. Yet, what about sales for DLC? What I mean is, let’s say that a game sells 500,000 units across all available platforms. For some games that’s fantastic, for others that’s disappointing. Yet, for the sake of this example let’s say that meets the projections and the “suits” are happy. Now, two and a half months later the first DLC is released for the game. Due to the game being online only many of the players have gravitated to other games while a core group of diehard fans are still playing. The DLC sells 100,000 units. Does a 1/5 attract rate for the DLC represent a success or a disappointment? What about the second DLC that sells 75,000 units with a steady drop-off after that? If the goal is to sell as many units as possible, should it not be the same across the life of the game? If I don’t find enough value in the base game, I sure as hell am not going to fork out money for DLC.

A great example is Titanfall. I enjoyed the game for a bit, but after a couple of weeks I was just apathetic about it. It felt like I had done everything it had to offer so I jumped ship. The only reason I picked it up again was because it was included as part of EA Access on Xbox One, along with the Season Pass. Even then it felt largely the same. Is that jumping ship nature of gamers a danger that these MP-only games should really be worried about? Meeting initial sales goals is all fine and dandy, but when it comes time for the inevitable sequel and as eager to jump in that’s when the sales start to suffer, along with the DLC sales. Would you agree with that? Or am I over thinking this too much?

Nicholas: I think that’s something that we’ll see the true effect of when a sequel to these online-only games start to come about. Right now we’re only seeing the initial launch success, and without knowing how DLC sells or what the participation rate is online, it’s hard to gauge. If these developers release a sequel and they sell as well, if not better, than the original then we can safely conclude that the recipe works and gamers are willing to stick by it. Alternatively, if the sequel fails to meet the expectations of the original, then it’s safe to say that gamers have learnt their lesson and are wanting something more. That all said though, the fact games like Siege and Battlefront are successful to begin with even when gamers know they are online-only maybe says that this method of game development is here to stay – at least for the time being.

All this really comes down to what are the developers of these titles going to offer next. When a game has a campaign then there’s variety in the story, in the locations and in the gameplay. With a multiplayer-only title, the variety in those locations and gameplay needs to be sufficient enough to warrant a sequel and warrant that second purchase from the fans. I know we talk about Call of Duty being largely unchanged year on year, but the fact is, from Modern Warfare to Black Ops 3 the gameplay styles are evolving and are offering gamers something new. I just think the need to innovate and iron out those bugs is going to be held to a much higher standard with these multiplayer games because there’s no other element to fall back on.

As we near the end of this week’s article I wanted to really summarise everything we’ve discussed above. When we’ve spoken about where gaming is heading next I would have thought that a greater online emphasis was inevitable, but I never thought we’d be ditching single-player entirely. Right now we’re only seeing this really with shooters, but there’s trickles of it in racing too (think Need For Speed). Do you see this as the way gaming is heading as a whole, or is this just a trend that will pass and will see things return to ‘normal’ when enough people lose interest and seek a campaign again? Alternatively, are shooter campaigns so weak that they’re the reason they’ve become redundant to begin with?

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Andy: There is nothing more that I hate writing these articles, then when I have to admit you have a great point. I mean, it pains me to my very core. With that said; “I just think the need to innovate and iron out those bugs is going to be held to a much higher standard with these multiplayer games because there’s no other element to fall back on.” That’s something I never really thought of before but you’re absolutely right. If a game puts all of its proverbial eggs into one basket there is no middle ground. It either works or it doesn’t. If it works, there’s no big deal. However, if something doesn’t work then it can be catastrophic for the game. Taking that thought one step further, what about when servers go down or there are other technical issues. An On-line only/MP game there are no other option to bide your time.

Gamers are a fickle group and most are looking for immediate gratification. If a game burns us once most of us are willing to give it another shot, but two or three times of downed servers or unable to play it is usually enough for me to give up on it and move to the next game. Halo: The Master Chief Collection is a perfect example. I tried playing its co-op campaign when it first came out and the servers were terrible. I tried again several months later after hearing the issues were fixed. I encountered largely the same issues I had before and after a couple night of trying I gave up and traded it in. I can’t be that bothered to continually try and get a game to work when there are so many other games to play.

I never thought I’d see the day that a single player campaign would be removed from games. I know personally when games don’t have that element I will be hard pressed to pay full price for them. They have been a staple of those games forever I don’t see the need to change it now. I think it’s easier to do it with shooters and the like, even though Need for Speed is always online there is still a single player story. We have seen an increase in MOBAs like Smite, Dota, League of Legends and others, but those are made for that type of style and expectations. Gamers like innovation, they like to see the envelope pushed and see new things. I’m not sure the push to see SP campaigns removed from games is one that all of them will support. I know I’m not going to go out of my way to support them. I have more than enough to play right now, so I’ll support those games that offering what I’m looking for. Until then I can always search the bargain bin for multiplayer games. I just hope people are still playing them when I pick them up.

Tune in next time for the next instalment of Game On or Game Over. If you have any ideas for our next article, feel free to contact Andy or Nicholas on Twitter.