Online capabilities for games have just become the norm for us in recent years. It’s a strange time for a game not to have it in some shape or form whether it’s online multiplayer, co-op or leader boards, and why not? We’re living in an age where most of us are tweeting random stuff we’ve seen whilst on the bus going into work, complaining about hangovers of the year on Facebook and interacting with hundreds if not thousands of people without even realising it. The question I’m asking everyone who reads this is has these online features that we’ve gotten so accustomed to affected the way we play games compared to 10-15 years ago?
The first point I wish to raise is that it’s clear some publishers are concentrating on the online features of the games that they’re releasing and yes, I am meaning the Call of Duty’s and Battlefields. It’s clear Activision and EA are getting most of their money from people wanting to go online with these games and shoot the hell out of people across the globe. I’m not denying that this isn’t somewhat enjoyable in its own right but as a person that enjoys a good single player experience, I’m definitely not slamming down £40 on release day for an adequate, less than ten hour campaign experience that I will have no interest in going back into to play through once I’ve finished. With this in mind, are we perhaps paying too much money for games that we’re not exploiting to their full potential? I remember when I was much younger and was relying on the parents on feeding my growing gaming addiction and I would forever hear the phrase “don’t play this for a day and throw it to the side” and I rarely did. If I got a new game, I would be playing it until the disc was saying “No, I’ve had enough!” Trying to complete every mission, find every collectible and still even after doing that, going back through it and doing it all over again was something that I done on a regular occasion. Looking at the way people play games nowadays, I hear a lot of people either ‘racing’ through the single player campaign just to play the multiplayer aspect of the game or skipping the single player all together and diving into the multiplayer which, if you’ve paid the £40 price tag for that and you know you’ll be spending a lot of time on that – fair play to you sir or ma’am but are you not missing out on some of the experience the game is meant to provide to you as a gamer by skipping over the single player campaign?
Continuing on with the online multiplayer, you have the community that follows these big game franchises to cope with. Now, as we all well know, it’s a dangerous and hostile place sometimes. For girls, they can sometimes feel intimidated to even speak in case of gaining the wrong kind of attention. Sometimes, you can feel unsupported by your ‘team’ members. Tell me if I’m wrong but you go online to have fun and a bit of friendly competitive banter no? In my past experiences, I have found somewhat little joy in being harassed by people younger than me or the constant hearing of ‘your mum’ jokes being thrown about the lobby to the point I’m muting everyone which, in my eyes, I’m basically limiting the multiplayer experience by shutting myself off from everyone. I feel that unless you’re part of a clan or a group of friends that you know you can rely on, there is little enjoyment in playing these kinds of online games which require team work thus defeating the purpose of going online to play in the first place. Least ten years ago – you could play with friends that you know that even if a little bit of smack talk was dished out, it was all in good fun and not meant to cause any upset or hard feelings between one another.
As well as the online multiplayer, a lot of games offer co-op and leader boards. Rewind back ten years and I remember having to go round to a friend’s house, Playstation 2 crammed in a school bag with the various wires and at least two controllers just to even get this experience from a game. I enjoyed it though. Spending an afternoon on a game with said friend having a bit of a friendly competition on who could beat who on the race or trying to beat that level you’ve been having nightmares over for the past week was a good experience not only on a gaming level but a social one as well – you could make nights out it! Albeit with the online functions nowadays, you don’t have to carry an Xbox 360 or Playstation 3 outside and you can enjoy the social and gaming experiences within the comfort of your own living room or bedroom, but I do feel like some of the social experience can be lost. There’s no tension in the room whenever your friends about to beat the score that you’ve worked all night on getting whilst throwing back some beers and munching on the takeaway food that you’ve just gotten delivered. Call me old fashioned but I will always find having group gaming nights at a house better than playing online with friends.
Recent games that have tried to introduce the friendly competition between friends would be NFS: Hot Pursuit and SSX to name but a few. Trying to beat each other’s scores and having them pop up in game as a constant reminder can be handy if you are actually setting out to beat their scores, but what if you’re not? I remember playing through Fable 3 – one of the last games where I was considering comparing things with friends – and whenever I killed a monster or got gold, I had a pop up to say who had killed/received more than me and where I was ranked within my friends list. It was an annoying feature that I felt was unnecessary and I couldn’t exactly give two craps about if Friend1097 had defeated 10 more monsters than me! Another feature of the leader boards that I’ve never quite understood – why compare me to the rest of the world? With thousands if not millions of people playing games, it’s very rare you’re going to find yourself breaking out of the hundreds if not thousands when it comes to leader boards. After recently starting to play Little Big Planet 2, I found the leader board comparison at the end of each level a bit of a pest. Is it meant to make me feel better when I come in at place 170,938 within the world? No, it doesn’t affect me one bit. I feel neither accomplishment nor disappointment that I’ve attained this level of an achievement. I’ve completed the level – I’m happy enough with this, please just let me progress on!
You’re probably thinking now “Whoa, that’s a lot of negativity for one article!” Don’t get me wrong, I think that the online capabilities have allowed us as gamers and as a gaming community to evolve and allowed us the opportunity to experience the joy of playing with friends that we’ve met via social networking sites and online gaming forums. As part of the Zero1Gaming team, I frequently enjoy the odd stream with fellow team members playing Worms Reloaded and have also played the odd game with members of other online communities. Also, where else would we have been given the chance to dive into a game with around fifteen other gamers from around the globe to go into an 8 VS 8 TDM just to see who wins without the use of a massive LAN party being set up?
In conclusion, I feel that online features in games have somewhat dampened the joy and experience we can get from games, especially for those who, like myself, enjoy the single player aspect of the games more than the multiplayer side. Paying a load of money on a game where there’s more replay value in the multiplayer than there is in the single player is something that’s becoming a burden for me as a gamer and I still stand today that the online functions that our gaming hardware is offering us is to blame for this. Question is, where will it take us in another ten years time?