Multiplayer is now the standard. Some of you may be very happy to admit this; some of you would do so begrudgingly. Whether you like it or not, multiplayer's not only here to stay, but it's everywhere. Inherently, this isn't a problem until you realize that time is finite, lives are temporary, and gamers have only so many weekends to dedicate to video games.
Thanks to publisher and consumer demand, multiplayer modes have become obligatory to the point that gamers consider any title without an online component as inferior. It was one of the greatest complaints people had with BioShock. Its absence from Red Steel 2 upset a number of players. Do we, however, really want multiplayer in these games, or are we merely whining for these token inclusions without thinking about what we?re asking for?
Only so much space exists atop the multiplayer mountain, and games such as Call of Duty, Gears of War, and Halo fill much of it, with lesser games fighting over the scraps or fighting over nothing at all.
When you think about it, once you have one great multiplayer game, you don?t really need (or even have time for) another. If you already play Halo 3, why would you want another game that does everything Halo 3 accomplishes? In how many settings can you capture a flag before it gets old?
Multiplayer gamers usually dedicate themselves to one or two titles. Part of the multiplayer experience is getting good at a game, learning the maps, practicing with the weapons, and becoming a killing machine. You cant rightly do that if you're playing 15 multiplayer shooters at once.
Bad multiplayer is more trouble than it's worth: for gamers and publishers alike.
People are demanding more multiplayer modes without considering that they won't play them. When Sega released Streets of Rage 2 and Golden Axe for Xbox Live Arcade, the publisher felt the games needed an online component. Log into an online game of Streets of Rage 2 or Golden Axe, however, and how many are playing? Exactly. It was like this a week after they appeared on Xbox Live, too. Nobody actually wants to play Streets of Rage 2 online, but if the option were missing? People would throw a tantrum.
The current environment encourages developers to unnecessarily toss multiplayer into their games without caring about it, or even considering whether anyone will bother playing it. It's like they're checking an invisible quota box that demands multiplayer's inclusion. How many among you have played Dark Sector's multiplayer mode? Or Overlord's?
Hell, how many of you even know Overlord has a multiplayer mode?
The video-game industry has gotten to a point where people aren't even playing games built entirely around multiplayer, let alone single-player games that have shoehorned it in. Section 8 and Shadowrun are notable examples of multiplayer games nobody cared about. They weren't especially bad, but neither gained much of a community of players, because, again, once you've fragged something in Halo, you don't need to do it in another game. Many of the multiplayer games coming out are failing because we already have too many to begin with.
Room for improvement
My point isn't that developers shouldn't try and conquer Halo or Call of Duty. We'd never have any progress in this industry if developers didn't compete. Game companies, however, should think carefully about what they want their games to be, and more important, gamers should consider what they want. If a developer wants to eclipse Halo, then by all means, pour that effort into a multiplayer mode that's different. Developer Rebellion managed a rare success with Aliens vs. Predator, mostly because its multiplayer modes, buggy as they are, are distinct. (And yet, still not many people are actively playing it. I rest my case.)
BioShock 2's multiplayer mode failed to enthral gamers
Similarly, if your company's main focus is on the single-player mode, try dabbling with the idea of not including multiplayer at all instead of cramming in a token effort that doesn't work properly. Just look at BioShock 2's online mode: 2K went to the trouble of contracting Digital Extremes to create a narratively distinct multiplayer component. No one's playing it. A single-player experience shouldn't waste budget and development time on a multiplayer mode that nobody's going to play simply to satisfy the demands of a market that clearly doesn't know what it wants.
Now, will someone please play Golden Axe?