The Inquisitive Blogger 27/31: Is One Player the Loneliest Number? - Tim Gruver Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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The Inquisitive Blogger 27/31: Is One Player the Loneliest Number?

The gaming community is one that's becoming a bigger and bigger one lately. Social games and multiplayer are becoming more of a staple for each of our top series, but is such fun with friends at a cost of killing the single player experience? 

In an interview with IGNCrytek CEO Cevat Yerli expressed some candid opinions on singleplayer gaming's future--namely, that it should be done away with:

“I think the notion of a single-player experience has to go away. However, I’m not saying that there will be no single-player experiences … it could be it’s called Connected Single-Player or Online Single-Player instead.

“Online and social can reignite single-player in a new type of context and provide benefits that will make you want to be a part of a connected story-mode rather than a disconnected story-mode. Sure, if the technology forces you to play a traditional single-player game online, that doesn’t make sense but if it’s offering actual benefits to be online then you want to be part of it.”

Developers, from Activision to EA to Ubisoft, are frequently leading the charge in this direction and it's no secret that more games are being built around multi-player than the lone player. There are a number of issues surrounding the popular move to “Online Single-Player,” including the need for persistent Internet connections and the elimination of choosing a solo experience, but it can generally begin with the dominant direction such moves would entail.

Yerli’s use of the word "social" is one that frustrates me. It recalls upon that of popular Facebook-style games--psychological devices used to trick us into playing longer, paying more, and attempting to prop up the industry ourselves. When I’m playing a game and a pop-up flashes onscreen, informing me that someone on my friends list has dropped in or out, I don’t experience the genuine comfort of knowing I'm among friends, it just invokes the interruption of my immersion of being in the moment by myself. I of course welcome the technology to play with buddies half a world away, but I want to be invited to the party and not thrown into it involuntarily.

Worse are the features that can’t simply be ignored. There’s a distinction between "offering actual benefits" to being online and forcing players to take advantage of those benefits if they wish to play alone. I gladly advocate optional features that revolve around interaction, but when the game is balanced around the assumption that you’ll make use of them--such as Diablo 3′s Auction House--that’s unacceptable. The industry hasn't yet showed the restraint and equity necessary to walk the fine line between offering options to players and exploiting them.

How do developers ensure that all those features see use? By requiring a persistent Internet connection which, for single-player, will never be seen as anything other than authoritarian DRM [a.k.a Sim City] by fans. Publishers can attempt to rationalize it and convince us otherwise, but for most of us, the sting of Diablo 3′s Error 37 launch fiasco or Sim City's apocalypse has left scars. Developers try and sell us on the idea of always-online not being so bad as it is logical because virtually no one is ever without an Internet connection in this day and age--though a fair number of soldiers, field researchers, and commuters via public transportation who would disagree.

But even if we accept this segment of a game’s potential player base as an non-noteworthy minority (an sad practice in building a fan base, I might add) and assume that we have Internet access 100% of the time we wish to play, we're still at the mercy of the game’s servers. Between scheduled maintenance and unexpected downtime, we need to plan our game time to accommodate the servers and wonder whether, in 5 yrs., those servers will still exist and we’ll be able to play the game at all.

The worst part is the implication that there’s something wrong with the singleplayer experience. Is it so difficult to believe that gamers--the stereotypically antisocial beings we are--would not occasionally want to enjoy a game by ourselves? Why must multiplayer be thrust upon us as though in an attempt to correct our behavior and make us more social? Or just make more money? Is it too much to ask to be allowed to appreciate a deeply personal gaming experience without the virtual stranger goading us to progress at his lightning pace? Sometimes, we want to stop and smell the roses. Bioshock Infinite was a rare 2013 game not to include multi-player of any kind and was undeniably better of for it. Letting us enjoy the story of Booker and Elizabeth's inter-twined pasts rather than running around with different colored Bookers blowing each other's brain out in voice-chat was refreshing. It might also be pointed out that God of War and Tomb Raider alike were criticized for poor multiplayer this year and the Last of Us's stab at the feature simply fell off of players' radars in comparison to your solo journey. In the end, when we’re looking to unwind, the last thing we need is the added pressure of a rivals scrutinizing our every move.

The notion of a singleplayer experience will not go away, nor should it. As with most sides of a debate, there's room for balance. There's a deep-seated need for human competition in our games and there's an equally powerful urge to enjoy the peace and quiet of alone time. The player backed choice of either is perhaps best represented by games like Watch_Dogs's promising multiplayer, seamlessly grafting in a multiplayer into with the single-player without necessarily crowding out Aiden Pierce's activities. Regardless of what incentives developers offer gamers want to expand their singleplayer experience, the freedom to unplug and enjoy our games with and without whomever we choose to should be our choice, not the industry's.

There's only 4 episodes left. Can ya feel the end rearing its ugly head? I do, and the pressure's on to produce more quality for you readers. As always, feel free to share your blogging suggestions, comments, and ratings with me and have a nice day everyone. Audios and see ya next time!

Up Next on the Inquisitive Blogger: How Do Wii Play as One?

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