One for All, All Against One: Multiplayer in the Next Generation - o_JMan240_o Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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One for All, All Against One: Multiplayer in the Next Generation

There are people who play video games for the sole purpose of ruining the experience of others. They take pleasure in eliciting a reaction or putting players in a position of helplessness. Every trip into a multiplayer space comes with an assumption of the risk that such unpleasant people will be encountered. Outside of spaces like MMOs, however, that risk isn’t an inherent part of playing most games. The next generation of new IP seems set to change that.

Titanfall is easily one of the most talked about games of the year so far. Its focus is the merging of multiplayer with a single player narrative. The Division, which was announced with an impressive demo earlier this year, takes a similar approach by dropping players into an open world where they might run into other players. Bungie touts their new game, Destiny, as a Borderlands-like world where people seamlessly drop in and out of multiplayer scenarios. Watch Dogs is a near-future, open-world thriller that features an invasion system similar to Dark Souls.

These games are a handful of the most anticipated, and they all share the same theme of persistent, integrated multiplayer. It remains to be seen how many of these games’ multiplayer features will be optional when they launch on next generation consoles, but the potential of mandatory multiplayer elements raises interesting questions.

Online players are abusive. They exploit systems without remorse and the past generation produced no successful method of curbing their desire to cause havoc. Even Grand Theft Auto V’s attempt to relegate unpleasant players to servers filled with others like themselves has backfired. Some people can shrug them off as nothing but petty trolls, but for a lot of people the few bad seeds sour an entire experience. The whole of multiplayer gaming has earned itself a reputation of open, unavoidable hostility and vulgarity. So what will integrating those people into a persistent gaming experience accomplish?

In a game like Demon’s Souls or Dark Souls, the threat of invasion is something that characterizes the game. It fits with that world because the players invading the game have a hard time being any more unforgiving or cruel than that series already is. Early impressions of Watch Dogs suggest that the mechanic from that game is very similar, including the ability for invading players to gun down the inhabitant of the world they are invading. There may be no incentive for players to kill others in the process of a Watch Dogs invasion, but there’s also no reason for someone to kill low level players as they spawn from a garage in GTA V. Incentive, and arguably punishment, is rarely enough to keep abusive players from doing bad things.

The feature also puts added stress on the design team.  What happens if a player is killed by an invader during, or just after a significant mission? How reliable will the save system be? If a player invades the game during a mission, which seems very possible based on what has been shown, and opts to kill the person they are invading, what happens? Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls are designed in a way that circumvents that consideration, but they also save constantly and make it nearly impossible to lose progress. A traditional autosave system doesn’t account for that, and would likely cause a considerable setback for the invaded player. Even if Ubisoft implements a harsh punishment for those who kill during invasions on a regular basis, there’s still the potential of someone invading a world simply to disrupt another player’s experience. The same questions could be raised for The Division.



Just as concerning for players is the chaos that will inevitably be caused by a lack of server space. At least two developers have said that they aim for the fewest servers possible at launch to avoid overspending - I believe it was Maxis and DICE but I cannot find the stories in which they were quoted about this issue. With downtime almost certain, there is a very real chance that purchasing one of these large, multiplayer focused games will leave players with a product that simply doesn’t work. Battlefield 4’s launch has been plagued with issues of server instability, in many cases causing lost stats and unlocks. For games that rely on online spaces to tell a story, erasing the progress of a disconnected player could result in fairly significant backlash.

However, the most startling aspect of online gaming is probably communication. It’s hard to go online in a game and not run into racism, homophobia, or just downright vulgar language. Hate filled words are spewed at any and all who are unfortunate enough to have voice chat enabled. Players go to great lengths to spread that vulgarity as well. They work it into their usernames, build it into their customizable emblems, and force it down the throat of those they game with via any means of communication available. Communication while gaming online is a problem. How these games choose to handle it will determine their longevity. A game world filled with phalluses and discriminatory language is likely to drive away just as many people as its premise attracts.

The potential of a future in which the majority of games have a persistent online element is exciting. Those games have the potential to change the industry and the way we approach interacting with virtual worlds. However, they are also expanding into a realm of gaming that has serious problems for which the industry has yet to find solutions. The games might present those much needed solutions, or they might inspire them. They might also choose to continue ignoring the problem, and in the process define these issues as addressable, but not solvable, for another generation of games.  

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