Sunday Thoughts: Online Only

So the PSN is coming back up across the globe today. I’m sure many of you are rejoicing. You’ve probably hung out the bunting and are already arranging some kind of party. I expect it’ll put the Royal Wedding’s celebrations to shame. So with joy in the air and the bubbly, presumably, being busted out lets have a little bit of silliness and flip the PSN downtime issue on its head. What if games were online only? What if for some bizzare reason the single player mode of games was just removed? Perhaps this is somewhere the industry will end up anyway if certain trends continue.

I mean look at the overwhelming success of World of Warcraft. Sure, it may be completely untouchable right now, but the lesson’s been learned by many companies now. If you get online right you can charge and have a continuing revenue stream. Given that games are normally a one off purchase, a continuing revenue stream must seem like the holy grail to a lot of those in the industry. At the very least online means a greater opportunity for DLC, even if you can’t charge a subscription to actually play.

[drop]So what if we switched over? Would things change that much? I mean it’s almost certain that certain types of experience would vanish, games like BioShock and Dead Space just wouldn’t work in a multiplayer environment. I don’t think those kind of games that are supposed to bring about the feeling of isolation would even work particularly well in traditional co-op, Resident Evil only intergrated the mode when the style of the series shifted to more of action and less survival horror. Dead Space 2 may have integrated multiplayer, but it seems fairly different to the single player mode and doesn’t have any of the story.

However, look at the approach that Brink’s taking to this issue. Shooters are certainly a candidate for an online only experience, and still allowing the story to stay in place. All you need is to use the same technique that Brink does, with players on both sides instead of an AI. I mean does anyone really want an AI as an opponent?

Millions of words have been written about the failings of AI in games, maybe it’s a nut that can’t be cracked. It’s certainly true that that AI in games is getting better, but will it ever feel like facing off against a human player? Surely that’s the purpose, to play against an opponent that seems as real as possible. You don’t necessarily want an AI that’s perfect, that always makes the correct decision; to me a good AI should make the same oversights and mistakes that a human player does. If that’s the goal then maybe online only games are the solution, if you can make drop in, drop out work perfectly, always having someone to replace any player that leaves the match.

Perhaps you want to keep an AI opponent though. I mean part of a lot of games is fighting off wave after wave of enemy, it’s how they make you feel like the hero of the piece. That’s doesn’t really work with an online only experience you might think, but look at games like World of Warcraft and the upcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic. They get around this by using instances, essentially sections of the game that can be run uniquely for each group of players moving through them. That certainly seems like it has potential for moving chunks of story heavy games into an online environment. Not that that really sounds all that great.

So what’s the point of this? Well it’s fun to speculate really. Maybe this is a way the industry will go, games like Brink are starting to show the potential for this sort of concept. Personally it’s not something I’d like to see happen, mostly because I think experiences like Dead Space or even Heavy Rain need to exist. They add variety to the industry and hopefully help it to mature. It’d be a sad day if they disappeared.

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19 Comments

  1. Looking forward to some good MSA online fun.

  2. I’m approaching 40, and I’ve been gaming since I was 8. The day gaming moves to online-only is the day I give it up.

    Not because I’m stuck in the past, but because as recent events have shown us, online only is too much of a gamble. Servers can be hacked, internet connections can be lost… and then where would we be?

    Besides which, online gaming is too limited in most genres. No matter how good a game’s story, once you hit online, most just degenerate into running around, mindlessly shooting at other people; there’s no story involved, and in my opinion, not much motivation to play. Give me a decent single-player game over online any day.

    • Couldn’t have expressed it better myself. Get out of my mind!

      • Totally agree what would happen if something like this happened to tht OnLive game system. You wouldnt be able to play any games.

    • You are my new hero.

    • I like you. A lot.

      Don’t be worried. :)

    • I am 46 and started gaming in my early teens playing the original arcade Space Invaders and I totally agree with your assesment. If its on-line only, I would probably still play, but only if the onlne games available at the time allowed for a single player story experience.

  3. Great read, offline campaigns are essential and hopefully always will be.

  4. Couldn’t imagine anything worse.

    I’m a suck for single player games. I don’t want to be connected all the time, I want to escape.

  5. As the years go by, SP campaigns are decreasing in frequency and popularity, and MP games are growing and becoming more popular. If the trend continues, how long until SP games are so unpopular that devs cease to make them? Companies are after profit (obviously) and if something (SP) isn’t making profit any more, then it will cease to exist. I think it will happen at some point, just hopefully not too soon!

    • There will always be a market for single player. If I want to sit down and play a little while I wait for something/someone I can, if the game is multiplayer it kind of sucks if I have to leave the middle of something. I prefer not to be that guy.

  6. I don’t think it will ever happen and can you imagine if all games were already online-only – who wouldn’t have sold their PS3 these last few weeks! ;)

  7. I don’t want to play against other players in a campaign because then the story and gameplay is much less scripted, in the bad sort of way. I mean in a game like killzone the soldiers dig in and (at least in killzone2) it felt like there were always consequenses to your actions in terms of the way the AI behaved. If it was another player the experience would be much different.

    Also these new stretchy comment boxes are awesome!

  8. I used to love single player games and couldn’t stand multiplayer but as I get older my view seems to be changing. Maybe I’m just “growing out of gaming” as it were but unless what I am playing is alongside a couple of mates I end up getting really bored.

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