Today’s Gaming Chatter

PUBG-Battle-Royale

Has anyone reading this ever gotten the feeling they’re becoming disconnected from the main conversations about video games online? I mean that in terms of the kinds of video games being talked about and how they’re being talked about on all kinds of gaming websites. Maybe it’s just that everyone writing about games is headed in one general direction that doesn’t exactly represent how everyone is playing games, maybe it’s just that I’m currently enjoying games in an unusual way.

The most talked-about games right now include hits like OverwatchPlayerunknown’s Battlegrounds, MOBAs, Rocket League, or Rainbow Six Siege, none of which I play. I’m not saying that to be smug, I’m just pointing out that most of the time what I’m playing is something no one is currently talking about. I see two main things happening when I look at the games everyone is tweeting or writing feature articles about: a move towards multiplayer games, and a move towards human interest stories. Both are completely understandable… just not something I’m extremely interested in.

First, I think I’ve said before that I’ve been generally done with multiplayer games for a while. It’s the main reason I don’t touch Overwatch and haven’t played PUBG at all. I’m one of those people who immediately loses interest in a new game if I see it’s multiplayer-only. If you’re noticing that this is where a big chunk of the writing on games websites has been going, it’s no coincidence. When they ask for pitches and material from freelancers, editors these days are specifically asking for writing about PUBG, esports, and online games in general.

I guess it’s more accurate to say I don’t play player-versus-player games anymore (I occasionally play fighting games, I might get into why one day). Online co-op is something I can still occasionally do — it’s one reason I wish shooters would focus more on survival modes (I might actually install Titanfall 2 with Frontier Defense now in the game). The only online shooter I play anymore with anything resembling regularity is horde mode in Gears of War 4. Even those games however, along with PvP games, end up losing the battle for my time against singleplayer games. I guess the latter is just what I end up giving priority. Gears 4 is fun, but whenever I think about playing it I just realize I could spend that time playing Zelda or even some indie game. Whether or not I bother with Destiny 2 whenever it comes out on PC is going to depend a lot on whether I’m busy with Super Mario Odyssey or Wolfenstein II or something at the time. That’s how I realized I don’t care about multiplayer games as much.

I think there is some noticeable group of customers who are dissatisfied with the lack of singleplayer in a lot of recent popular games, because publishers are starting to react to them. They’re the reason Star Wars Battlefront II will have a story mode where the first one didn’t, the same goes for Titanfall 2 or even the story mode Capcom added to Street Fighter V. Actually, Sony seems to be capitalizing on the demand for singleplayer, story-focused games. It’s been hinging the PlayStation 4’s identity on the stories and characters of first party games like UnchartedHorizon: Zero Dawn, or Days Gone while also coasting on Japanese third party games like YakuzaNioh, or Gravity Rush.

Reactions from those developers and publishers though is almost the only indication I hear of the desire for or interest in singleplayer. I don’t think I’ve been seeing it in the stories people write about these games. I occasionally see arguments on forums surrounding people who won’t pay $60 for a multiplayer-only game, but not much discussion beyond that.

I get why developers do multiplayer-only though, it’s probably less expensive. Multiplayer is largely just maps and game systems. It doesn’t involve hours of expensive voice acting, cut scenes, and other things to script. Multipalyer is also of course played endlessly, making it a better value for both the developer and the consumer. This is why  I think developers need to start rethinking player-versus-enemy games. There need to be alternatives to the story mode that feel just as compelling as that or multiplayer.

The main reason multiplayer seems to be more talked-about in the gaming media is it’s easier to write human-interest stories about games humans are endlessly playing with other humans. When editors say they want writing about online and competitive games, they also say they mainly want human interest stories — stories not just about games, but about how people are playing them. If you search through this blog, there’s basically none of that here. It’s pretty much just my impressions and thoughts on games and things going on in the industry. Sometimes it’s a little bit about game design, and sometimes I have emergent gameplay experiences to write about. Mostly that’s because it’s just what I’m able to do with the resources I currently have.

I get the push towards human interest stories too though. Basically the only sports programming I watch with any enthusiasm are human interest stories, usually the kind on HBO. I don’t watch football games but I do enjoy watching that show Hard Knocks. The same thing is probably what makes stories about esports stars interesting, or makes stories about a game’s online community worthwhile.

I saw this coming around maybe 2008 or 2009. Another big reason for the focus on human interest is because it’s a getaway from the PR-controlled hype cycle. A decade ago video game publications were tired of feeling like and being seen as a mouthpiece for publisher PR, doing almost nothing but previews and reviews at their behest. A good escape from that is writing about games as living, breathing things. Writers didn’t want to just drop games after they launched, so they started writing about the games people keep playing. This also goes hand-in-hand with the move towards games-as-a-service which entails continually supporting games with new content.

If there are post-launch stories about singleplayer games they’re usually about the crazy things people are doing and finding in those games. I don’t see much about the way those games are designed after the review drops. There is some of that, but not a whole lot. My gaming life for the past few weeks has been The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and I wrote the posts I wrote about it because I saw almost no one else touching on those subjects.

Maybe I’m wrong about all this and there’s data somewhere showing the proportion of articles written about online games versus ones written about singleplayer games. Maybe I’m just hyper-focusing on how much of the current conversation over games isn’t pertinent to me, and am ignoring a lot that’s in plain sight. Maybe I’m just too focused on my own particular way of consuming and enjoying games. I see a lot of human interest stories and stories about multiplayer that deserve to be told. All this writing I’m pointing out is probably great writing. I’m just starting to think maybe the remaining demand for product, art, or design-focused singleplayer gaming suggests there is some unmet demand for writing about it.

BULLETS:

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