Single player and multiplayer

I have always preferred the single player modes in games like Half Life and Warcraft III to the multiplayer modes. The latter strike me as excessively hectic, with everybody racing to destroy their enemies, generating a lot of chaos in the process. Single player games allow you to take your time and execute things perfectly, in a much more controlled way.

It has occurred to me that the two options might appeal to rather different sorts of people. Multiplayer fans may be the sort who are thrilled by immediate engagement and happy to come out on top, even when the process for doing so is risky and disorderly. If they lose 90% of their army but end up victorious, they are happy. Single player may appeal to the sort of obsessive individual who wants to find a way to beat the enemy without losing a single unit, or suffering a major setback. It is well suited to the risk averse.

In life, it does seem that the kind of skills required in multiplayer are generally of more use than those required in single player. While there are areas of life where developing a plan methodically and them implementing it is possible and a good strategy, there seem to be many more where a capacity for improvisation and a willingness to not reflect on losses and failures are more valuable. Is there any way, I wonder, to make a natural single player fan into a more engaged multiplayer user?

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

9 thoughts on “Single player and multiplayer”

  1. I think turn-based games would be better suited in general to the risk-averse single player. It’s being rushed by real-time mechanics which largely impedes your enjoyment of the game, as the pace of most online multiplayer can be described as “hectic.” The issue with turn-based multiplayer is that it can take several hours to play one session.

    That said, I share your concerns with standard multiplayer experiences but I also don’t play much turn-based stuff. I really enjoy cooperative multiplayer games, like Left 4 Dead or the MOBA genre (specifically League of Legends). These are more forgiving in format (death is not the end) and allow for more experienced players to assist newer ones and provide feedback. The rapport built in working together is much more satisfying than the silent competitive wall of a 1v1.

  2. Obviously, it isn’t good to be reckless. That said, being overly risk averse also seems harmful.

    I wonder if there is any way video games could teach people to take more risks, and do so intelligently. In some ways, they seem an ideal platform for learning about risk taking, since nothing real is at stake on the basis of whether you win or lose.

  3. aaawwww…come on Milan.

    this is SUCH a black and white argument. I would make the opposite argument entirely.

    People who truly care about completing levels with “precision, skill—lets say lack of recklessness” are the legions of multi-player gamers who take their games very seriously.

    Who would take a more reckless approach between say Call of Duty 4 and Grand Theft Auto/Red Dead Redemption?

    Clearly, the online players. They don’t want to let their teammates down. I’m not saying this is always the case, but the highest percentage of GAMERS WHO REALLY CARE play online. Why?

    a) They appreciate a challenge. The limits of AI are not an issue there.
    b) More than just a competitive spirit, it is immersive knowing you are part of an online community.
    c) Why is there way more REPLAY VALUE in online play? Because of the variety.

    So my argument, as a gamer my entire life, is that single players modes are essentially tutorials (especially in a modern context). Get good at the game, beat it, and then play it online and be ranked on your proficiency.

    Very few successful games don’t follow this formula. But because you have made this argument so black and white, it is not applicable or comparable to any situation “in life.”

    The only games that do not really follow this formula are RPGs (traditional ones and not massively online) And even the Final Fantasy’s of the world are going online.

    To conclude, I think you do not enjoy online play as much because, players who play other players are better than people who play AI. So when they get really good playing each other, a single player gamer comes online and is overwhelmed.

    As for online games, I recommend Call of Duty 4. But in all honesty, if you can find a few friends to play Age of Empires II with, that is the creme de la creme. AOE II was our go-to game in the UBC dorms of Totem Park.

  4. My housemates and many friends are keen WoWers – they have their reasons for staying in to play (and its certainly cheaper when averaged over a year than many other forms of entertainment).
    Apart from the sheer hours involved to get developed and get ‘through’ a game, the thing that put me off is the number of occasions where a mission requires a sizeable and balanced group that you have to schedule. Apart from the people-wrangling efforts required (plus frustrations of weakest-link issues), the end result is you’re frequently pinned to playing the game on a schedule and not just when you feel like it.

  5. Why is there way more REPLAY VALUE in online play? Because of the variety.

    I think there is a lot of scope to disagree with this.

    Compare the single- and multi-player modes in games like Warcraft III and Half Life. In the former, you play a number of different types of scenarios. Sometimes, you need to solve puzzles. Sometimes, you need to build up a bunch of weaponry and attack an opponent. Sometimes, you need to defend against the clock. Multiplayer is drearily similar, game to game. In Warcraft/Starcraft type games, you race to build the particular set of units that are a good counter to those of your opponent. In FPS games, you just run to the most powerful available weapon and then point it at the heads of other players, over and over.

    Multiplayer favours memorization and quick reflexes. Single player requires more creativity, though I admit that there aren’t many games where going through the single player campaign more than once is much fun.

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