Multiplayer Games: Yesterday and Tomorrow

Kevin Lee, On-site Slacker

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I want to talk about multiplayer games. 

While some of my favorite life experiences have come from immersive story-based titles, there are few things in life better than just sitting down on a couch with a couple of buds and whipping out the Wii. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of playing video games. Most of my memories start around when I was 5 and there were probably a lot of great things I could have remembered like family vacations, holidays, and just all-around useful information. Instead of remembering those, my stupid brain decided to ingrain the one time me and my cousin were playing Sonic Adventure 2 and his little sister spilled coke all over my Wii. Let’s not forget that one time that Santa got me the Game-boy Advance game I wanted for Christmas. Five-year-old me lost his mind that day. 

I mostly grew up with Nintendo consoles and the variety and creativity of local multiplayer games was incredible. You could go from a game like Super Smash Bros where you’re beating the stuffing out of your friends as Pikachu and Luigi to a game like Mario Party where you’re beating your friends but this time, in real life.  

When I got a PlayStation 3, I discovered that there was more awesome stuff outside of Nintendo when online multiplayer was becoming more common and widespread. Multiplayer games were fantastic. I could continue to reminisce about my gaming experiences for a really long time as local and online multiplayer games have given me so many great memories over the years and while I’m constantly searching for new games to share with friends online, I feel like it’s becoming more and more difficult to find something that lasts. There are the occasional indie gems that pop up like Duck Game, Speed Runners, and Tricky Towers but games like these tend to only be fun for short bursts and then everyone gets burnt out.  

This blog post wasn’t meant to be a jab towards online multiplayer games or anything, but instead it’s just a way for me to express my thoughts on the way games are moving most likely for the foreseeable future. I think at its core, modern multiplayer gaming is about competitiveness and it’s ability to be replayed. Think of some of the most popular modern multiplayer games over the past few years and you come up with titles like: Fortnite, League of Legends, PUBG, and Counter Strike. These are games where people can pit their skill against other players and the game play format is engaging and addictive. Strategic individual matches across various genres like fighting games, first-person shooters, and MOBAs have proven to be incredibly replayable and in turn, generate more profit. Why develop a fun and silly party game and sell it for a one-time price of $60 when you can constantly update a free or cheap game that many people, myself included, will spend much more money on? 

This format of game design is so accessible and profitable through cosmetic micro-transactions and DLC. It feels like there just aren’t as many interesting co-op or party style multiplayer games anymore whether it be local or online. I don’t think games like CS:GO or Fortnite aren’t fun. If they weren’t I wouldn’t play them. You can have a great time if you just screw around but the difference between these games and the multiplayer games of old is that in more recent games you’re mostly just chasing the wind. When you lose in a Battle Royale, you have to restart a whole new game if you die. If you die in a MOBA, you make your enemy stronger and you get punished. I end up focusing as hard as I can just to try and win the game instead of being able to joke around and do stupid stuff and have fun with my friends the whole time.  

Competitive games have to be designed like this in order to make players feel accomplished because while playing Mario Party is fun, I don’t think people really feel impressed that you won in the video game equivalent of Candy land. Local multiplayer games like Kirby Air-Ride and Mario Party have elements of randomness and a very low skill floor, allowing even inexperienced players to join in and have fun.  

However, there is hope for me yet. There are a few games that achieve a really good balance between modern and old multiplayer games. The prime example being Super Smash Brothers Ultimate. While the game is mainly marketed as a party style fighting game for everyone, and it has a thriving competitive community, so what’s my overall point? 

I don’t think I can name one person that doesn’t want to experience couch co-op or multiplayer like they used to. But since most people’s friends today are online, that dream is dead. But this is just me refusing to adapt to the changing video game platform. I’d like to believe that there are tons of people who would agree with me, but the game is changing, literally. As much as I’d like to see people play with each other in casual couch party games, I just don’t see it happening due to the mercurial gaming scene.