Jack of all Trades

So, Destiny is out and I’m hearing a lot of buzz saying that it has elements from Halo, Borderlands, World of Warcraft and many other different game genres all rolled into one, and that it is not necessarily succeeding at emulating all of them. As someone who wasn’t a fan of the Halo series, I am not particularly interested in Destiny, but all this talk of all-in-one games has got me thinking…

Is it really so bad to have a shooter without any RPG, co-op or MMO elements? And why not introduce NEW features and ideas in NEW games, instead changing a game’s core experience in a sequel? Why are games becoming so homogeneous and what is so wrong with the idea of niche gaming?

What’s The Problem

Command & Conquer (c) EA

There are a few examples of the kind of thing I am talking about. First, the Assassin’s Creed series. The developers keep adding new things to the games, presumably hoping to add volume and variety. This means lots of side activities, homestead maintenance and imaginary sofa construction/distribution. The Developers (Publishers?) seem to think that variety is important, but not, I would argue, when these features aren’t that well-implemented, aren’t challenging or distract from the core experience.

Another example is Mass Effect 3. Mass Effect had, up to that point, been a single-player, story-driven experience, but then suddenly (in the last episode of what was always designed to be a trilogy) they suddenly introduced co-operative multiplayer. Arguably this made SOME sense in the context of the story, but it seemed like an odd addition to make to the series at this point.

And finally, Command and Conquer 4. This was supposed to be the final chapter in the Kane saga, but for some reason they fundamentally changed the way that C&C worked by introducing entirely new gameplay mechanics.

But Why?

Mass Effect 3 (c) Bioware/EA

The thing I don’t understand is why these games were made the way they were. Why not make C&C 4 using familiar game mechanics to finish off Kane’s storyline, THEN make a NEW spin-off game (set in a new continuity, perhaps?) that introduces the new mechanics and style of gameplay? It might still have been badly received, but it almost certainly wouldn’t have put the same black mark on the franchise.

Why did they not just make Mass Effect 3 to finish off the single-player, story-focussed trilogy, THEN release a SEPARATE multi-player game (or DLC) later? I am left wondering whether there would have been more, better-quality single-player content if the developers hadn’t spent all that time developing the co-op content.

Obviously you want to prevent a series from becoming stale and repetitive, but there is an alarming trend for adding or changing things that don’t make sense.

Even Valve, who I usually respect, have said that they are not making single-player, story-focussed games in favour of co-op and multiplayer. But there are still plenty of players – myself included – who have little interest in multiplayer and would rather enjoy a well-crafted, story-driven game. The fact that so many predominantly single-player indie games are so successful is a clear sign that there is still a market for them. But because multi-player games (stuffed full of micro-transactions and other dodgy marketing practices) are where all the money is, the single-player market is being left out.

The Solution?

Assassin’s Creed (c) Ubisoft

It’s simple; make different games for different people. The best single-player games are ENTIRELY single player and don’t have multiplayer features shoehorned into them. Equally, the best multiplayer games are ENTIRELY multiplayer and don’t really have any offline storyline or narrative.

Instead of making one game for £60, where the single-player and multiplayer modes have to compromise to accommodate each other, make a single player game for £30 and them make a separate online multiplayer game (perhaps set in the same universe) that is free-to-play and contains micro-transactions. There is no reason why the two games can’t refer to or interact with each other in some ways. But instead of making one game that has SOME appeal to solo players and SOME appeal to multiplayer gamers, make two games – each of which has LOTS of appeal to their respective target audience.

You get the best of both worlds, both in terms of pleasing your gamers and the income from each type of game. You would also get an initial investment that you could use to get the multiplayer up and running, then a continuing revenue source for the lifetime of the multiplayer game’s lifespan (which could be used to fund sequels). They can even share assets and technology, which means that the development costs are shared between both games.

The Unreal series has the perfect set up for this (yet they managed to screw it up with Unreal Tournament 3). You have the Unreal games, which are the single-player, story-driven experiences, and you have the Unreal Tournament games, which centre around the tournament and are multiplayer-focussed. Side by side, these games are different experiences in the same universe, designed for different types of player. The mistake with UT3 was in trying to tell a story rather than making it about the tournament.

Final Thoughts

I’m not saying that none of this stuff should be put into games just because I don’t happen to like it. Nor am I saying that the games industry shouldn’t experiment or evolve; sometimes genre mash-ups and new features work and are well received, but other times they don’t.

Publishers and developers should just be more aware of the range of personal tastes and preferences that gamers have and, rather than trying to make mass-appeal games, should create and tailor a range of experiences to suit those different niches. Ultimately, trying to make one game that appeals to everyone often results in a bloated, bland game that doesn’t strongly appeal to anyone