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I like my games how I like my women: Cheap. The current generation of games costs sixty dollars a pop if you buy on launch day, and publishers have all sorts of pre-buy bonuses to justify jumping on early, yet I still rarely buy games when they first come out. It’s much too easy to predict the pricing cycle, and just wait two months for the first online sales to roll around, or wait a year until the “Game of the year edition” is in the bargain bin at Best Buy. The bonuses for buying early don’t outweigh the 40 dollars I can save if I’m patience and frugal.
That sixty dollar price tag, plus an additional ten or twenty in DLC, is justified by game developers who cite the man-hours that go into designing, coding and playtesting the game. Consumers, of course, want everything they buy to be cheaper, but there are ways that these price breaks can occur without cutting into profits.
Not making a multiplayer mode is one way to slim down development costs. Not every games needs multiplayer, but it gets shoehorned into many regardless of whether or not players actually want it. The reason for this is the hope that the publisher can profit by selling downloadable map packs.
Shooters aren’t all about mindless action, and many of them have strong stories set in rich worlds. This sort of game doesn’t need multiplayer, but a superfluous online mode is often added. Bioshock 2 was a great single-player experience, which would have sold just fine without the lackluster multiplayer, and the Single-Player DLC “Minerva’s Den” was a better investment than any of the multiplayer map packs. Do you know anyone who refused to buy the first Bioshock because it lacked a tacked-on deathmatch mode? If you do, please hit them with a wrench.
Likewise, Dead Space was an enjoyable zombie-stomping romp through a creepy future and the developers didn’t waste any effort trying to stuff it with a co-op mode, or capture the flag. The upcoming Dead Space 2 is set to have a multiplayer mode which appears to be significantly different from the single-player game. What made Dead Space great was its story of a man trapped alone, unable to trust anyone but himself. Having buddies to cover your back nullifies the experience.
On the other hand, many games are built entirely around multiplayer, with the single-player campaign as nothing more than a plotless tutorial. There’s nothing wrong with this, so long as development dollars aren’t shoveled into creating a campaign that few people will enjoy, but still have to pay for. In these cases, it’s the single-player portion of the game that can be cut out entirely. Battlefield 1943 showed how an online shooter can get away with a minimal tutorial, then throw players right into multiplayer action. It was a great game which sold well at a lower price point, and no money was wasted by cramming mediocre single-player levels into it.
This sort of inefficient development was taken to farcical extremes by EA with Medal of Honor; its single-player campaign, and multiplayer were each developed by different companies using different game engines. Neither ended up being exceptional. It isn’t so outlandish that such a product could have been sold in two separate boxes, each at half price, and would then appeal to over twice as many gamers. The same applies to XBox’s Halo ODST which was essentially three different games packed together in one case then sold for sixty dollars. Although it was commercially successful, it might have been more so had each of its components been sold sold separately at a lower cost.
What drives this wasteful development of unneeded features is the Blockbuster business model, in which publishers hope that one huge hit will make up for all of their failed attempts to make a huge hit. It’s a lot like investing your lottery winnings in more lottery tickets. As the cost of development increases, even as the bargain bins fill up with discounted copies of last year’s hits, Publishers will need to consider focusing each new shooter on just one style of play: Single, or Multi.