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.