Multiplayer Madness

19 August 2010

So I was recently linked to a youtube video, a tragic one for those of us who are quite attached to our consoles: Asian Girlfriend Destroys PS3.  After watching the video, I realised two things: firstly, the guy probably deserved what he got; secondly, there is a whole slew of similar videos in the related tab:  Hot Chick Smashes Boyfriends XBox 360 Console, Psycho Girlfriend Smashes XBox and they got me thinking about videos like Girlfriend Deletes WOW Characters.

Really there is no need to watch any of these videos, anyone can get the gist of them from their names. And it pointed out to me one of the intrinsic issues that I have with multiplayer games, and one of the main reasons why I don’t play them: there’s no pause button. In a single-player game, the whole thing is being run by you. If something important comes up, a friend pops around, or the kettle is boiled then it’s no issue to stop the game and do whatever it is that needs to be done: make a cup of tea, converse with your friend, do that vacuuming you said you’d do 3 days ago. This could mean pausing the game, or I can even switch my console off and know that I can always resume the story at the last checkpoint. Multiplayer games don’t have that luxury.

One of the things it’s easy to forget when my career is based around video games is that consumers have this thing called Real Life as well. And frankly, that’s more important to them than my game is – whether they treat it that way or not. I recently had a long discussion about the ethics of games like World of Warcraft that seem to deliberately offer incentives for remaining in the game (unless you’re in Korea, where they boot you out every so often to eat food). My argument at the time was that developers try to make their game as fun as possible, which can inadvertedly lead to mechanics not dissimilar to those of poker/slot machines and create an addictive experience. What I forgot at the time was the staying power intrinsic in being online with other people. See, most people are FOMO’s.

FOMO is the Fear Of Missing Out, and it happens to essentially anyone who’s leaving a situation where everyone else is going to stay. In a singleplayer game this feeling doesn’t often come up, because I can always go back and do that thing, or play through the game again differently. In multiplayer there’s a constant FOMO – I could miss out on experience points, sweet drops, that stupid thing Leroy did, killing that annoying guy (boom, headshot) etc. And now that there’s plans to punish rage-quitters there’s actually negative reinforcement around the idea of leaving. But how can you tell the difference between a rage-quitter and a guy who wants a cup of tea with his girlfriend?

This is I suppose a post of solidarity with the other bloggers out there who are criticising game length as a measurement of quality: Mutliplayer games are repetitive and essentially as long as the player’s attention span is. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re good, just that people don’t want to leave them. Give me a 6-hr long epic single-player over a multiplayer mode any day of the week.

Other blogs on Game Length:

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18 August 2010

Just a note to point out (as most people have probably noticed) that I’ve finally made the oft-talked-about switch to WordPress hosted on my own site. A new blog post will be up tomorrow.

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