Lead Designer Slams Spec Ops’ Online Multiplayer As “Cancerous Growth”

Polygon recently went live with an in-depth post mortem of Yager’s recent narrative-centric third person shooter, Spec Ops: The Line. On-hand to provide the answers to their questions were Walt Williams and Richard Pearsey who both helped mould the game’s haunting storyline, as well as lead designer Cory Davis, whose comments will likely spark debate though hold plenty of truth.

When it launched back in late June, Spec Ops was praised for its engaging singleplayer experience that had players questioning the actions of lead protagonist, Captain Martin Walker. The multiplayer, on the other hand, was somewhat of a different story, the development of which was passed onto Darkside Game Studios. In our hands-on with the game’s competitive online component we weren’t left particularly appalled, though the plethora of evident short-cuts and overall lack of dedication gave it a tacked on feel.


Multiplayer, as Davis puts it, “was never a focus of the development.” According to the lead designer “It was literally a check box that the financial predictions said we needed, and 2K was relentless in making sure that it happened — even at the detriment of the overall project and the perception of the game.”

“No one is playing it, and I don’t even feel like it’s part of the overall package — it’s another game rammed onto the disk like a cancerous growth, threatening to destroy the best things about the experience that the team at Yager put their heart and souls into creating.”

It won’t do any favours for Yager’s relationship with 2K Games, though fellow development studios and gamers alike will be able to associate with the truth in what he is saying. Though not the case for every game on the market, there are clear examples of online multiplayer being weaved into boxed products to ensure it meets the “full package” criteria audiences have been conditioned to expect. For games such as Uncharted and Assassin’s Creed (both were originally singleplayer-only affairs) it has done wonders though, as we’ve seen first hand, this approach hasn’t had the same effect on 2K’s 2012 output.

Towards the beginning of the year we saw the release of Digital Extremes’ The Darkness II (under 2K Games). In our review we awarded the game a much-deserved 9/10 though, due to its non-existent pre-launch playerbase, we hadn’t sampled the title’s online multiplayer. Though developed under the same roof as the superb singleplayer campaign, it felt far too stretched out with little in the way variety or a rewarding sense of player progression. We haven’t returned to The Darkness II for a post mortem but if we did, our experiences with the online multiplayer would likely drag that stellar 9/10 down a more modest rating.

There is an argument to made for tacked-on multiplayer however, one that hinges around the price at which publisher pitch their products. As gamers we have been conditioned to expect multiplayer to rear its head whenever the word “shooter” crops up. As a result, publishers no doubt fear that audiences won’t shell out full price for a game which isn’t as all-encompassing as its online-enabled counterparts.



  1. To be fair to 2k, I wouldn’t have payed full price for Spec-ops. Although at the same time, Multiplayer does nothing to convince me that I need a certain game. I think it works for games like Uncharted, in which £40 seems a little steep for just a story campaign, but games like Golden Abyss have shown that the series can have no multiplayer, but still increase it’s value with other singleplayer additions and pseudo-side quests, like the treasure hunting.

  2. I guess gaming is getting into the period of development that mobile phones went through in the late 90’s. Perviously, a mobile was just a mobile. then suddenly, you could have a phone with a camera, or a phone that played mp3. Trouble was, you either had a good phone, with a crappy camera/music player or a good camer/music player with a crappy phone.

    I’m sure the industry will figure out what works and what doesn’t eventually. But I guess they still haven’t learned that as with phones, there is no easy to follow formula that will guaruntee financial success, and it’s those that inovate that tend to come out on top.

    And on that note….it’s back to Shogun 2 on steam ^_^

    • Phones=Games????

      • In terms of development issues only. Cars, Planes, TV’s all had similar issues when features were added that everyone felt would be needed in order to get sales. but eventually became the norm anyways. Hell, even washing machines and fridge freezers these days are being caught up in the technological revolution. My parents over has a digital rotisary system built in ffs :P

        Examples? When cars first strarted to get anti-lock brakes, not all had them, but just because a model did have them, didn’t mean it would sell well. Same for fly-by-wire in planes, and remote controlls on TV’s

  3. Personally, I wish some companies weren’t under the impression of ‘multiplayer = bettah’, as that’s actually not the case in a lot of situations – As the guy alluded to above, sometimes adding in a shoddy multiplayer actually damages & diminishes your view of the core product. What does this usually amount to? Dead lobbies & games that should be played either sitting & gathering dust, or being annoying (due to dead lobbies or whatever) & being traded before even finishing the singleplayer. I have a few games that could be seen as falling into this category.

    Of course on occasion its worked, with Uncharted (although I can’t say I have ever been too enamoured by their multiplayer offerings tbh), Assassins Creed (see previous bracketed text), Max Payne (which actually turned out pretty damn well imo) & Bioshock (the biggest surprise of al I think), but usually it’s just a token offering, only there to extend the life of the product &/or sell an online pass. It’s becoming more & more common too, which saddens me.

    I would like to state for the record now, that there is NOTHING wrong with delivering a solid singleplayer experience & leaving it at that. Anyone that thinks a game HAS to have a multiplayer mode to be commercially successful is an idiot.

    • Naughty Dog ploughed time and effort into the multiplayer and it’s definitely reaped the rewards. However, tacked on multiplayer has really caught them out this time. They’re absolutely right to be pissed off as it just takes one rotten apple to eventually turn the rest of the barrel.

      Twice, Jim mentions “conditioning” and it’s the industry’s fault. Let a game flourish into whatever way it fancies but with it’s own best intentions at heart. Don’t succumb to publisher pressure. Hell, we play an enormous amount of single player games still and have no trouble with that. FPS titles need not be any different.

      • Agreed – Case in point; Sleeping Dogs. Strictly a single player affair & yet top of sales charts at the moment (it’s also ridiculously addictive!).

        Additionally, Darksiders is no 2. in the charts & is also a singleplayer game (albeit with nasty ‘online pass’ syndrome, similar to Arkham City’s catwoman debacle).

        In fact, looking at the top 20 on the article from yesterday, about half of the games in the top 20 are singleplayer, or at least singleplayer with some form of co-op (some local, some online).

        Pricing, release schedules & whatnot can of course all affect what appears in the charts, but i think its a pretty big indication that the singleplayer only product is still viable.

  4. It definitely comes down to pricing, or to be more specific, how much substance does a game in a particular genre need to warrant the £40 price tag? If Spec Ops was solely a multiplayer experience, would 2K let it go on sale at budget (£25) price?

    It’s a bloody massive debate when you take a step back and looking at iOS pricing/Minis/digital downloads etc.

  5. Nobody wants to sell at the budget price- if your RRP is significantly lower than the next shooter on the shelf, people are automatically going to assume the other game is better.

    But if they want to sell a game at full price, it better actually keep people occupied for a while.

    By that I mean it had better not be a linear shooter lasting 5 hours with no multiplayer.

    I haven’t played Spec Ops, so I don’t know if it applies to the single-player in this case, but to everyone above who’s shouting how shooters don’t need multiplayer, yes they do. Imagine Call of Duty or Battlefield without a multiplayer mode, nobody would bother with them.

    From somebody who almost never plays multiplayer in the first place.

    • Agreed on CoD & BF, but similarly, people don’t really buy those games for the singleplayer, they buy them pretty much solely for the multiplayer (& possibly spec ops or zombies).

      My personal point was that these titles do these things well – In fact, better (in most cases) than the singleplayer effort that is included. They have had years for trials & testing, tweaking & balancing, so as far as mp is concerned, it is pretty much the main product & the campaign is almost like a token gesture these days.

      I for one still have not even started BF3’s campaign, yet i have clocked many hours on the MP. After all, that is exactly what i bought it for.

      If however, a game is geared for singleplayer (as Spec Ops clearly was) & has a strong story (as apparently it does) & that experience is then sullied by them ‘needing’ to add some kind of mp effort just to seem viable, that is a pretty sad state of affairs.

      I mentioned a few games above that have been successful in adding a mp element to their games – Would i still buy them full price if they didn’t have a mp element? Definitely.

      If a game is good enough, it’ll sell.

    • I don’t know, matey. If that box has 8/10 daubed over it (and the other title has the same but is £40) then the cheaper one is really starting to look like the better option.

  6. @Forrest you’re not missing much with the bf3 campaign, it was bad and unneeded. Personally they should have left out the campaign and focused solely on mp. They could have even fleshed out the co-op missions a bit more.

    • If they had no campaign included they would be losing a hefty chunk of their market. Don’t forget that many people don’t have full access to the internet i.e poor speeds which creates lag or do’t have it completely. Would you suggest that those people just simply go without?

Comments are now closed for this post.