The Death Of Deathmatch? How Console Multiplayer Is Changing

The Death of Deathmatch? How Console Multiplayer is Changing

Playing together is deeply embedded in video game culture. Long before Xbox Live, before the days of Unreal Tournament and Quake, arcades were filled with friends jostling to get further, score higher and win bigger.

Even those playing solo did so with the high score of a stranger hanging over their head, daring them to try harder and get better — all while the internet was just a glimmer in the eye of Sir Tim Berners-Lee. When the internet did eventually arrive, online multiplayer flourished on PCs while home consoles largely remained the preserve of single player and split-screen. Online console gaming finally caught on in a big way in the early Noughties, with Halo 2 becoming its wildly-popular poster boy.

The Death of Deathmatch? How Console Multiplayer is Changing

Halo 2 defined early online multiplayer on consoles.

By the time the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 arrived, home consoles were ready to finally take one of PC gaming's former biggest selling points and run away with it. Gears of War, Perfect Dark Zero, MotorStorm and many others made their mark, but in late 2007 Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Halo 3 set up that console cycle to be the one in which online multiplayer would dominate.

Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture The Flag, Race — these classic multiplayer modes dominated in the majority of titles. Single player games still flourished in games like Bioshock, Mass Effect and Assassin's Creed, but sooner or later pretty much every major franchise caved in to multiplayer demand. As the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 near their first birthdays, online multiplayer as we know it remains largely the same. But a new trend has steadily been gathering steam.

As evidenced by From Software's Souls series and Gearbox's Borderlands, the realms of single player and multiplayer are gradually becoming entwined. There's no bigger current example on consoles than Bungie's space opera Destiny. Multiplayer is the game's driving force, with both structured and seamless multiplayer blurring what were once clearly defined lines.

The Death of Deathmatch? How Console Multiplayer is Changing

Destiny has been built from the ground up with multiplayer in mind.

"With Destiny we thought, instead of building a single player experience that's one and done before moving over to competitive multiplayer, why don't we build a world that people can share all these different activities in," says Eric Osbourne, Bungie's Community Manager. "[A world] in which you could create a character that would benefit from your persistence and investment in both modes."

Destiny isn't the only example. Tom Clancy's The Division shares similar massively multiplayer traits; Dead Island 2 is seeking to remove some of the divisive structure of past games. Then there are other kinds of multiplayer: Evolve's asymmetrical 4 v 1 gameplay, Assassin's Creed Unity's central story-led co-op missions and the Souls-esque invasion modes of Watch Dogs and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.

"It's moving away from the past when people like me, for a while, thought of multiplayer as too stressful, with kids everywhere who were too hardcore," Yager Development's Design Director Jörg Friedrich told me. "Then these new games have appeared that suddenly changed the perspective of what is single player and what is multiplayer."

The Death of Deathmatch? How Console Multiplayer is Changing

Following Destiny, Ubisoft's The Division will be the next big example of seamless multiplayer.

"For example, games like Demon's Souls or Journey (which I think is the greatest example) had that asynchronous style, where you could be playing and suddenly there would be someone else with you. That's cool because it doesn't feel forced. I don't make the conscious decision to enter a multiplayer mode, multiplayer just happens and other players are embedded in the world in a way that they're not an annoyance but something to embrace, something organic."

Traditional MMOs like World of Warcraft and Guild Wars have never found success on consoles (although Final Fantasy XIV is a probable exception), but what we can see in games like Destiny and The Division is the measured application of many of the ideas that made MMOs so successful. On a small scale the use of other human players can aid in building believable worlds players can invest in.

Executive Producer of The Division Fredrik Rundqvist believes this will soon become the norm. "It's a clear trend and I believe that the benefits are so strong for the gamers, that eventually it will be hard for games with non-multiplayer aspects to deliver on consumer expectations."

Both Osbourne and Friedrich mentioned Journey in my interviews with them, and there's really no better example of the potential seamless multiplayer has for what once may have been single player experiences. Multiplayer in Journey was at once both inessential and utterly crucial. You could play through alone, but when you happened across another player in thatgamecompany's classic it felt unique, natural and at times beautiful.

The Death of Deathmatch? How Console Multiplayer is Changing

Journey's multiplayer may not seem like much on paper, but in action it can provide many of the game's best moments.

Journey gave us organic co-operative play, where players happened across one another and weren't asked to pull a trigger or draw a sword. Multiplayer didn't change too much about the game, but traversing, flying and dancing through that landscape was immeasurably better with a stranger at your side.

It's been clear for some time that multiplayer is seeping into every facet of gaming, and it could well be the defining trend of this generation. Maybe, as it develops, one benefit will be that people start working together more than they shoot each other. It's unlikely that the current thirst for Call of Duty-style competitive multiplayer will subside any time soon, but players may be asked to help fight for, and alongside, each other more and more.

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This post originally appeared on Kotaku UK, bringing you original reporting, game culture and humour with a U from the British isles.


    What's killing classic deathmatch is the overbearing toxic behaviour of asshole gamers.

      Welcome to 1996, I'll be your guide.

        Nah. The online behaviour from the 90s doesn't compare to how people act 20 years later.

        Last edited 16/09/14 11:32 am

    I would like to see this kind of coop multiplayer implemented into the next elder scrolls or fallout game.

    I wonder what long term impacts these changes have on the game. Can I still play them completely solo? If in 5 years time I want to play and no one else is playing, will I still be able to?

    A cynical part of me thinks there may be an aspect of this which revolves around, 'you need to get the game now and play now because there are MP and Co-op parts to the SP.' So it is part of driving and pushing sales in the short term. Get everyone done in the short term and then onto the next game.

    I also think there is an inherent laziness involved. By increasing the amount of MP, CO-OP stuff it's using the players to create more variety than the devs. In a SP you have to keep people a lot more involved and by requiring other players in itself alters the experience and the pressure is less.

    Some games you play co-op and the missions are so much weaker and less involved than they would have been if they were in the SP. They just upped the amount of enemies and you're now doing it with friends.

      yep pickup titanfall in the bargain bin for $5 in a few years, and you will have bought a $5 paperweight.

      Any game that is multiplayer only has a short shelf life

        By that time you'll be expected to be playing Titan4ll

        Yeah, well consoles already don't do backwards compatibility so people buy new games.

        Now they are probably working against people being able to play older games on a console later in the consoles life.

    The only MP that interests me is co-op. I'm happy for games to continue to have drop in co-op for story missions and asynchronous MP. I very rarely (if ever) play deathmatch MP anymore, it just doesn't interest me to respawn constantly.
    Maybe as I've become older my twitch reflexes have gotten slower or maybe it's just that the pace of MP in things like COD got way too fast - last thing they need to introduce is even more ways to be killed by strikes etc.

      I just prefer taking a game at my own pace and don't want to have to worry about annoying my teammates or dying if I decide to go make some food for a while.

      Yeah, I’m pretty much the same. I’m loving the coop on Destiny at the moment, playing with 2 randoms even with no chat (I hate it) works quite well. I jumped into the Crucible for 5 minutes and remembered why I hate death match! I was never alive long enough to even learn the map I was on!

      I also love racing games, but any serious racer online is so dull because of the spread of abilities. I usually get on thinking I’ll win easily with this car/track combo only to be reminded I’m actually pretty crap in the scheme of things and spend the whole race driving around on my own, which I can do offline! :)

      I agree with Blake. The older I get, the less opportunity I have to sit in front of my TV/PC totally uninterrupted. Whether it's food, or phonecalls, or significant other or whatever, not being able to mosey along at your own pace can be annoying.

      On the flipside, deathmatch is perfect for me. Nice succinct short multiplayer games, and have the option of playing solo, so no issue with letting the team down.

      I'm glad that so far I can play Destiny solo. I imagine when coop becomes a requirement, I will move on =\

    And if most of your friends don't game online (don't have ADSL or Cable), or work different hours to you, gaming is becoming even lonelier. People only talk to their friends on party chat, so even the dudebro's are gone from games, it's just silence. I'm finding I'm gravitating back toward single player. As @screamface above said, good single player requires a lot more engagement, and following from that, if your mates aren't in multiplayer with headsets, it's boring as shit.

    I used to love Battlefield, because in a good session, within a match or two I'd manage to be in a group with headsets and hitting up teamwork on the objectives. I haven't come across a single person with their headset on gamechat in BF4, but every Xbox One came with a headset in the box, and until recently Kinect. Everyone is in private parties.

    Last edited 16/09/14 11:01 am

    good riddance to death match I've always hated running around and just killing people I feel like I need more than that I need objectives, missions, tasks, a storyline and an experience.

    The death of deathmatch started with this idiotic thing called matchmaking which removed dedicated servers. You had to wait for people to actually play in order to play, rather than just find a server with people with the right ping and go for it.

    Simple game modes like DM, TDM and CTF are great things in a time challenged world. Big action packed theatres of events and stat progression and unlocks and such are nice, but when you have 20 mins available, it is great to select server, join, hit it hard for 20 minutes and then bail. The game goes on, you aren't behind on anything, people don't have unlocks or other progression that you don't have. You bring your skill and your skill improves a the end. This is discussed in the context of classic Quake and such back in the golden days when you had to work hard to get good.

    Last edited 16/09/14 12:46 pm

    A lot of hate on deathmatch. Totally undeserved imo.

    Some of us only have short bursts of time to play multiplayer games. I don't mind having a team reliant on me for 10 minutes, but longer than that (Halo coop missions / Dota2 maps / WoW dungeons) are typically too much investment for little payoff.

    As I mentioned in the other comment, if I get to level 20 in Destiny and find myself struggling to compete with players who have been grinding coop for 6 months solid and have all the best gear, then I will go straight to B4/CoD/TF or whatever.
    There is a very strong base for games like this. Destiny is a cool idea and all, but I wouldn't jump the gun and say its going to change deathmatch as we know it.

    I expect the time-rich among us to prefer it - much like any mmo.

    I wholeheartedly agree with you, but I think the true death of great deathmatch wasn't matchmaking but preset loadouts. Give all players the same loadout and they are forced to learn the environment and where the pickup and weapons are, and they come up with strategies to make the best use of those items and locations before their opponents do. Let them customise their loadout and they develop comfort zone for those items and run straight to their favourite spot and sit there, camping and ambushing. And just because you played a game for a long time doesn't mean you should have an item-based advantage over someone who just started and hasn't amassed the arsenal and upgrades that you have; your skill and knowledge of the environment should be your only real advantage.

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