I grew up as a pretty old school gamer. When all my friends were playing the SNES and Genesis, I had to stick with my brother's NES and the families Game Boy. These games revolved around the platforming/adventure genre, single player gameplay, co-op action titles, and insanely difficult levels which forced you to learn the enemies movements by muscle memory before even being able to get to a freakin' mini-boss.
With the N64 as my second console ever, I still mostly stuck to the single player experience I was accustomed to and it really wasn't until college that I ever got into first person shooters on any real level. Sure, I played some Goldeneye
with friends, and had tried my hand at Perfect Dark
once or twice, and had been involved in some pretty intense Super Smash Bros
tournaments, but other than that the only real simultaneous multiplayer games I'd taken part in were fighting, action, or platform titles. Because of that, I obviously sucked pretty hard when jumping into multiplayer FPS games without any practice time in the single player missions, and because I didn't own the systems we were playing them on (PS2, Xbox) I just never really got better and stopped playing them altogether. I even went as far as to dismiss the online gaming elements of most games as something cheap and tawdry, tacked on to help blind us as to how shallow the single player experience truly was.
The first FPS I really found myself playing online more than in the single player missions was Battlefield: Bad Company
, partly because of the destructible environments and partly because it was a fairly straightforward game without an unnecessary sci-fi twist of some sort. Because the environment and surroundings could be blown to all hell, it wasn't as easy for people to learn the maps and use stuff I didn't know about to their advantage. And when they tried, they could pretty easily be blown up along with the wall/tree/whatever they were using to hide.
But, as fun as the multiplayer elements were, something about my single-player, retro-gamer upbringing still keeps me from really enjoying a game if it doesn't have a good, or, at the very least, interesting, single-player story at its core. My theory is: if I throw down $60 on a game, I should expect it to not just be a multiplayer experience where I run around with a bunch of other idiots killing each other the whole time. I want real substance, story, an actual experience...
Because of this, I've never tried my hand at Warhawk
, have never been interested in WoW
, and when I got SOCOM: Confrontation
for $30 as Circuit City was dying, I sold the game within a few days without opening it and just kept the headset (I ended up making money on that transaction, which was awesome). And when it comes to most of the FPS games I own, I haven't logged more than a few hours on the multiplayer side of things unless I know a buddy that really wants to co-op or throw down in multiplayer stuff.
But there is a slow but steady paradigm shift taking place in the PC gaming market: the completely free, ad and micro-purchase supported videogame! Although I wanted to wait until FreeRealms
or Battlefield Heroes
were out of their closed betas to test out the genre with some games I was genuinely excited about, I was pulled into QuakeLive
by some friends recently. And, although I've been playing it only a few days, I have been very impressed with the experience. It is quick, lagfree, and the ads aren't a hassle or distraction at all. I keep finding myself wanting to play it rather than draw, write, or do whatever I'm supposed to do at work. To me, that is a sign of a good game.
This experience has really started to give life to the hope that, as these "free" games make their way to consoles with time, that I will not only be able to get into the multiplayer experience without the worry of storylines or unfinished singleplayer missions distracting me, but that it will give the industry a renewed focus. That it will create a gaming environment where more and more consumers expect something great from their $60 game purchases, and not just something average. A gaming utopia where, a successful game promotes innovation and not just fancy graphics and a solid multiplayer component.
By giving us a free multiplayer experience for no cost, and just supporting itself with ads, DLC, and extra content, I won't feel so cheated when/if the game lags or isn't going well for me. It's just about fun, not about getting my moneys worth. And if a game is too plagued with issues or is just plain shitty, it will bomb and support for it will be pulled or re-focused. Their income will depend on our satisfaction, not upon our entry fee. The ability to invest time, but not money, into a game with friends and strangers is a great concept and is one that I hope can succeed on ads and DLC alone... because they would most definitely have my support and, if they don't suck, some of my money, too.
And with some big titles hitting the free-to-play online genre this year, during a time when the economy is hurting and people are looking to save cash at every corner, it looks like this new paradigm could be emerging at the perfect time.