It’s something Randy Pitchford, boss of Gearbox Studios (Borderlands, Brothers in Arms), has on his mind.
“…the reason [publishers demand multiplayer components]is because they notice that the biggest blockbusters offer a little bit for every kind of consumer. You have people that want co-op and competitive, and players who want to immerse themselves in deep fiction. But the concept has to speak to that automatically; it can’t be forced. That’s the problem.”
The perfect example of this? Dead Space 2, which despite being an incredibly solitary singleplayer experience for some reason felt the need to add some multiplayer to the mix.
“[Dead Space]is ceiling-limited; it’ll never do 20 million units. The best imaginable is a peak of four or five million units if everything works perfectly in your favour. So the bean counters go: ‘How do I get a higher ceiling?’ And they look at games that have multiplayer.
“They’re wrong, of course. What they should do instead is say that they’re comfortable with the ceiling, and get as close to the ceiling as possible. Put in whatever investment’s required to focus it on what the promise is all about.”
It’s something that’s mystify us for a long time. Nearly every shooter, for example, ships with multiplayer that took both time and money to develop. Yet 90% of these games are almost instantly ignored in favour of multiplayer stalwarts like Call of Duty and Halo, rendering that a wasted investment.
Using Pitchford’s “ceiling” analogy, wouldn’t those games have been better served focusing and polishing their singleplayer campaigns? Homefront could have done with some of that. Or, conversely, ditching singleplayer completely and only going multiplayer? They may never beat Call of Duty’s sales, but they’ll do better than they would have half-assing one of the two components. Get closer to their own, realistic “ceiling”.