The ability to play your favorite video games with other people has been a principal facet of gaming since the beginning. Whether it was arcade cabinets implementing two button or light gun layouts, or the first video game console created - the Magnavox Odyssey - offering dual paddle controllers, games have always been better with a friend at your side. Nowadays, with local split-screen multiplayer becoming a dying breed, most AAA titles rely solely on online multiplayer - the ability for gamers to play with other gamers from around the world -- as the only means of player to player interaction.
Some games offer a single player campaign and an online multiplayer mode, but a growing trend this past decade has been the rise of "Online Multiplayer Only" titles, in which they offer a vast outing of online modes for the player and nothing more. Examples include Warhawk, MAG, and Socom: Confrontation on the PS3. What do all three of these games have in common?
That's because when people eventually move on to other, more relevant titles fresh off the market, the online multiplayer servers will eventually have to be shut down from a lack activity. Therefore, that $60 online only game you shelled out for will be worth absolutely nothing. You can go on Amazon.com right now and buy a brand new copy of MAG for $5 (which is still too much considering the fact that you can't even play it.)
Blizzard newcomer Overwatch could eventually suffer the same fate if people grow tired of the game over the next few years, even with the high amount of praise its receiving. While some game journalists have stated "they would rather have one great mode instead of two mediocre modes- whether it's a great single or a great online multiplayer mode - it doesn't feel like that big of a stretch to try and make a game that can be played years down the road and not only temporarily. So, what are some ways that a developer can make a title still heavily focused on an "online multiplayer" experience, while also ensuring there's something past the servers' eventual demise?
This would appear to be the fairly obvious choice, but not too many games offer local multiplayer anymore. When you're no longer able to play with people from halfway across the world, some form of local multiplayer mode should definitely be included in modern big budget titles as a way to keep players engaged well into the future. I can outright guarantee people would still be playing games like Socom: Confrontation if there was any means to actually enjoy it. The perfect work around to permanent server shutdown would in arguably be local multiplayer options.
Now before you go sharpening your pitchforks, think about what makes Call of Duty such a success nowadays: the bang you get for your buck. Many feel new entries are just copy and paste - and there might be some legitimacy to those claims - but games like World at War and Black Ops III threw three different modes at you in just one game, as opposed to titles like Overwatch only giving you one. Single player, multiplayer, and zombie mode. As much as people enjoy hating on the series, these modes really could be sold as three different games for three times the asking price, but instead they're all packed together under the roof of Call of Duty.
Not only does zombie mode offer local multiplayer options for you to enjoy once the online servers disappear, but you still have that brief campaign to enjoy as well. Take Titanfall into account. People may have complained that the single player wasn't as fun as the multiplayer, but wouldn't you rather have a game that was worth something as opposed to nothing down the line? Even if the campaigns are brief, you can still go back to these games in 10 or 15 years and remember why you loved them so much. In 10 or 15 years, what will become of online only games like Overwatch?
Perhaps this article will get some flak for this but hear me out: games like Starhawk and Titanfall may have had the right idea in mind when creating their lackluster campaigns. Essentially, some games create a single player that more or less serves as practice for the online multiplayer, showing the ins and outs and what to expect. People today have complained about them, but in the future, they may be held in a higher esteem.
The fact that they're setting you up for the online multiplayer may seem lame today, but once you can no longer play online, you have the campaign to go back to and enjoy what you can no longer have in an online space. These campaigns implemented everything that made the multiplayer so much fun, as it serves as a great secondary option. Better yet is if these campaigns feature the local multiplayer/co-op options mentioned before. That way, even with the online community dead, there's still a way for the online mode to be played offline with friends and fans of the game.
In the end, players just want to enjoy their games. Today, everyone is loving the new Overwatch or Battleborn, but will we love them as much over a decade down the line? The reason a game such as Super Mario Bros. has remained relevant after all these years is that anyone can pick it up and playing almost instantly. The reason a great game such as MAG will be forgotten in time is the literal fact that nobody can play it anymore.
Maybe it's not the developer's concern to make a game timeless, maybe Blizzard's Overwatch will have the same impact as the long running World of Warcraft and the online servers will run till the end of time. But it's not like this is the first time something like this has happened. Remember your favorite light gun games growing up like Time Crisis? You can't play them anymore unless you have a CRT screen television that recognizes the light gun technology. Your flat-screen certainly doesn't have such an old school technology, and once all the old televisions are thrown away, you're boned.
Maybe it's not the end of the world today, but it certainly could be down the line. The online multiplayer only games you love so much will eventually die out, and maybe you'll have moved on to a totally different "online only" game to waste time with. One day though, you just might want to pop in your favorite game from your past, and realize there's no way to enjoy it thanks to the lack of anything outside the online modes.
Rainbow Six: Siege, Counter Strike: Global Offensive, and even Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 are all likely to suffer a similar fate as titles such as MAG, which is a shame when you consider their sizable following. Maybe it's being too nit-picky on how the modern market works, but it would still be nice to see some kind of initiative start from developers to keep their games as accessible in five years as they can possibly be. What are your thoughts on multiplayer only titles? Do you think "online only" games are a bad idea too, or do you think it's an idea that's here to stay? Be sure to share your thoughts on where you think the online market is headed next.