Everything’s better with friends, or is it?

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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?

Andy: Just a couple weeks ago I was lamenting to myself (because no one else would listen to me) that my tastes in gaming have changed the past year or so. I just don’t enjoy true multiplayer games much anymore. Games like Call of Duty and Battlefield just don’t get me excited to play anymore. I’m not really sure what the definitive reason is behind my change in attitude about them from repetitive nature, feeling like you’re not doing anything substantial, to dealing with other gamers who seem to make it their mission to be asshats. They have just become no fun and I’ve lost most of my interest in those types of games/modes. I just don’t want to mindlessly shoot other players in the face while hearing others swear and degrade everyone around them.

Where does this lead us is probably the question you’re asking yourself. Well, you know I’m a big fan of co-op games and completing story missions. I’ve been playing The Division for the better part of two weeks now with a couple guys now, and recently we finished the story missions and prepared to go into the Dark Zone. I was a little concerned that it would be an experience that just wasn’t fun for me. In my mind the Dark Zone was filled with jerks who would do nothing but shoot other players and ruin the experience for everyone. But, it was something I was willing to do because I know I’ve dragged my friends through stuff they didn’t want to do but they did it anyway so why not.

A funny thing happened though during my time in the Dark Zone. I found that the majority of gamers are… not bad people at all. I know it feels weird to even type that. Sure there are a few instances of people being jerks, but by and large people were helping kill enemy AI, helping secure the extraction points, and then moving on to do their own thing. Here I was expecting the worst and was pleasantly surprised by the results. It got me to thinking, rare I know but bear with me here, that maybe – just maybe the majority of gamers aren’t as bad as we perceive them to be.

To start this week’s discussion I wanted to ask you: do you think gamers as a whole are better than their perceived image? Is this yet another case of a small minority of gamers taking up most of the headlines and all those “good guy” gamers just stick to being good without much fanfare?

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Nicholas: Undoubtedly. As our regular readers are no doubt aware, I’m not a big multiplayer gamer (as a matter of fact, the last online match I played was with the launch Titanfall), but in my experience multiplayer has never really that unpleasant of an experience as people make it out to be. Granted I play mostly racers online back when I did, but for the greater part, it wasn’t that bad. Every once in a while you’d get someone who would drive into you, but that was certainly the minority and as far as the random insults and other stuff you hear about online, nope, it rarely (if ever) happened.

So as with most things, I definitely think that it’s a case of the vocal minority incorrectly representing the majority, because I just don’t believe that the community can be filled with that many jerks. People play online all the time and there are some games out there that absolutely flourish off the back of that, and that simply wouldn’t be possible if almost ever gamer online was a jerk.

So to put a question back to you, why do you think that online multiplayer gets that wrap to begin with? Do you think it’s an out-dated stereotype or is it ground in some element of personal experience from a time before?

Andy: I think that’s a great question actually. The more I have thought about it, the more I have come to  the conclusion that there are a handful of games that are far and away worse than others. The Call of Duty ones seem to bring out the worst of the worst, that’s one of the reasons why I stopped playing them. After a while there is only so much that you want to listen to and to deal with. Call of Duty is one of those games that has a big player base and is part of that MLG crowd. It seems the majority of jerks and asshats are found in the FPS group. They think your kill/death ratio equates to whose mom is the worst and who should die of cancer. I don’t even want to say that it’s mostly underage kids either because I’ve heard “adults” say the same things.

From my personal experience though less super-mainstream games have a better, more respectable player base. Need for Speed: The Run had one of the best player bases that I can recall in recent memory. During MP events people would call out oncoming cars, shortcuts, ask for clean races and apologize if they bumped someone in a turn. It was just a really cool experience. The Division is fast approaching that though for me. Just last night I was playing a mission on hard with a group of three players found via matchmaking. At the end we killed the boss and we all picked up our yellow drops and one of the other guys got an assault rifle and he said something about the stats. One of the other guys said “Damn that’s better than anything I have you’re lucky.” The first guy said “Oh here, don’t worry about it.” And dropped it for the other guy. Sure it’s a seemingly minor thing, but speaks volumes about the actual gamer crowd out there.

I think the bad rap happens because the bad stuff is what gets talked about, gets views, generates clicks and what have you. We can’t be naïve enough to say an article titled, “Gamer gives other gamer yellow drop weapon in The Division” would generate the same clicks as “Gamers behaving badly” type of article. So, I don’t necessarily think it’s outdated, but more so the “good” stuff is just harder to report and discuss.

You’ve mentioned several times in the past about not being a MP style gamer. I want to talk about that a little with you. What would it take for you to get back into playing games online with others? Is there a reason you flat out avoid it? I know how much of a racing fan you are, so it surprises me a little that you wouldn’t at least dabble in MP in a lot of the racing titles.

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Nicholas: I’d like to say that it’s because my internet connection is fairly unstable and that lag and constant drop-outs make it difficult to play, but the fact is, I’ve just always been that type of gamer who enjoys playing alone. I grew up on Nintendo, with Super Mario, Donkey Kong and Pokémon. All those titles were single-player experiences and it’s those memories that I recall and love the most. I remember when I first purchased an Xbox LIVE Gold subscription for the Xbox 360 many moons ago and had some races with a good friend on Project Gotham Racing 3. It was fun, we enjoyed the racing and chatting well into the late hours of the night, but as great as that was, I’m still the kind of gamer that will want to jump into career or campaign and continue working my way through it.

I suppose another reason why I’m never pulled to multiplayer is because it always seems so restrictive. What I mean by that is, if I’m playing a racer, it needs to be the tracks that the leader decides and if it’s an open world racer, then it’s always events and not just free-roaming around. Of course, people will read that and say, “but Nicholas, there are so many games which offer online free-roam now” and I immediately think of Need For Speed and GTA V, but I always want to go at my own pace and I’m not too interested in having to interact with others (as much of a loner that it makes me sound). I might want to drive around the map one moment, then do donuts in a car park the next. Yes you still have that freedom to do it online, but there’s always that idea that I’m going to be interrupted by another player, and that’s what I’m not keen on.

Another reason behind why I’m more an SP than a MP player is because  of the story element of single player titles. I think of games like Titanfall and Evolve which tried to have some sort of narrative but from all accounts it felt flat and disengaging. When I think of other SP games that have MP elements added on, there’s never any story, so apart from PvP there’s nothing that’s worthwhile for me to jump online. Playing on just the same maps over and over again never really appears to me when I consider a game like Call of Duty or even Assassin’s Creed as an example.

You too have mentioned in the past that you prefer playing single-player to MP, but you’re certainly at least a little active online, and you’ve mentioned that you love co-op in the past. What do you think of my reasons above, and further to that, what are your reasons that you’ve traditionally liked playing SP over MP? Similarly, what pulls you to MP when you do play?

Andy: My love for co-op is the same reasons you like SP actually. I too enjoy playing a campaign and progressing through the story and exploring. Good co-op games offer all of that, but with the added benefit of a friend or two coming along for the ride. When I think of great co-op games they are games where the story and game dynamics don’t change at all when playing with another person. There are a couple that come to mind right away; Dead Space 3 which actually added some things if there was a co-op partner. Sniper Elite 3 was a perfect match between the two as were games like Halo 5, Dead Rising 3 and the Gears of War titles.

Oddly enough, and I know this is not the answer those MP developers are wanting to hear, but the reason I get drawn back into playing MP is simple. I get bored and feel like I have nothing else to play at the moment so I fire up something like Battlefield 4 and run around a handful of maps shooting the same people in the face over and over again. When you really think about MP type gameplay it’s kind of perplexing just what reasons there are for repeatedly doing the same thing over and over again. Granted some modes are better than others. In Battlefield I would much rather play a mode like Conquest or Rush than I would Team Death Match. At least those modes there is a semblance of trying to accomplish something. The traditional TDM modes just don’t appeal to me anymore. The same thing can be applied to why I don’t play NHL much online anymore too. You know exactly what the experience will be, and after a handful of times it becomes moot to keep banging our head against the same wall.

Maybe it’s me though. Maybe my taste in games or at least what I expect from games has changed the past few years. While I still play a lot of games the amount of time I have to do so is less. So, when I do play I want to maximize my game time and actually enjoy what I play versus playing something just because. The mindless nature of most MP focused games just doesn’t do it for me anymore.

In regards to what I talked about above in playing a good co-op story game because it’s the same experience just with a friend or two. Is that something that would interest you more than a straight up MP experience? What would a game have to offer you to nudge you towards at least giving it a try with someone else online?

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Nicholas: Certainly in comparison to a multiplayer game, co-op seems more appealing, but even then, it’s that whole thing I mentioned before about just wanting to take the game at my own pace and playing alone that I like the most. I totally understand that you can experience the story with a friend in co-op and I don’t deny, I’ve had some fun in games like Saints Row 2 when playing with others in the past, but it’s that combination of factors that keeps me from ever venturing into the online modes most games offer these days.

I’d like to throw a bit of a curve ball to you though given that we’ve been discussing MP and SP, and now just thrown co-op into the mix. The way we play games over the years has certainly changed and evolved over the past 20 years. Games initially started as a single-player affair, but then we’ve had split-screen competitive play for just as long too – whether it be home consoles or arcade cabinets. The internet then ushered in online play, and we started seeing competitive play not just with the friends in the same room, but now in entirely different continents. As online became more prevalent, split-screen began to die out, but co-operative play then saw its revival.

As of late co-op seemed to combine with online competitive play, and with that we now have massive MMO titles like Evolve, Tom Clancy Rainbow Six Siege and The Division. My question to you is, what’s next? Will it be a re-imagining of those elements above, a return of a lost feature perhaps or do you envision something radically different turning the game on its head?

Andy: I think for the most part it will stay the same. Maybe a little more refined but the formula will stay the same. One thing that I think has to change is games cannot be just multiplayer modes. Games like Evolve, Rainbow Six Siege and Star Wars Battlefront have proven that there needs to be more substance than just traditional MP modes. All three of those are decent games but many gamers have talked about the fact that they just don’t seem to be worth a full retail price, then add the inevitable season passes and it’s even worse. Gamers are willing to support a lot of different games but they also want to feel like they are getting their money’s worth. Perceived value is exactly why I didn’t get any of those games. I just didn’t feel like I’d get $60 worth of enjoyment.

In regards to doing things at your own pace, that’s the beauty of finding a good couple friends to play with. I am a notorious scavenger. I love looking in all those out of the way places, exploring and hunting for collectibles. Thankfully, I game with some guys that understand that and are completely OK with it. So, for me it’s the same experience as I would have playing the game SP, but with the added benefit of having someone to get me up if I die, help me in a gun fight or spot something I missed.

When you think about it gaming really flourished in a group setting. Most notably arcades, where gamers actually had to interact with each other. Then when home consoles really took off we were happy sitting at home with a friend playing split screen or by ourselves. Like you mentioned with the advent of online gaming we are trending more towards playing with other people. If you follow that trend one could reasonably assume that if VR catches on that will most likely be SP type games to start, then maybe pick up some MP stuff later on. It would make sense and follow the cycle that’s been in place before.

As we close out this week’s discussion I wanted to get your thoughts on something. It makes sense that developers are looking for ways to engage more and more gamers. By expanding that engagement they not only get more gamers to play, but they also keep them playing longer. I know I have played a game that had co-op options and encouraged friends to get it by saying “Hey, I’ll play it with you.” Keeping gamers engaged and interacting with the game is what developers strive for. If we think along those terms do you think that’s a big reason why we seem to be seeing more and more games offer a co-op option? Speaking as someone who doesn’t play online much, does a game that heavily features, and benefits, from, co-op turn you away from it at all?

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Nicholas: I guess it’s because co-op essentially offers gamers the best of both worlds. You get the single-player campaign along with the ability to play with friends online. Theoretically, a co-op game should attract all gamers and keep them playing for more than just a few matches online. When I think of where gaming is heading next, I think you’re right, it’s not going to change too much, but it will get better and more refined. Titles like Titanfall and Evolve are testing grounds for me, where developers are getting the gameplay and formula right, and then they’ll work on how they can improve the story-telling. Imagine if Star Wars Battlefront had the gameplay it does, with an engaging story mode that tied everything together, it would tick all the boxes I think.

To answer your final question though, and on-top of what I’ve just said above, yes, it does. Despite the fact that co-op with good friends offers everything I’d get out of a single-player only title, I still just enjoy playing offline and solo. I was speaking to a friend this last weekend and he mentioned that The Division is still playable alone, but it’s more difficult when it comes to some of those MMO-style raids. That’s my gripe when it comes to the fact that so many games are becoming online-incorporated, it alienates those gamers who prefer to play offline (or prevents them from doing so entirely).

I enjoy the fact that titles are getting grander and more sophisticated, all I ask though, is that they don’t forget us anti-social gamers!

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.