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With franchises like Call of Duty annually raking in billions in profit each year, thanks in the large part to their thriving online communities, it was only a matter of time before more and more developers turned their dollar-signed eyes to the online-only stage. In the past two years in particular, dovetailing nicely with the rise of the current generation, players have seen more and more online-only titles like Battlefront and Evolve rising to the surface, eager to snap up a piece of their wallet for a communal, shared experience. The thing is: the road to profit for most of these games hasn’t exactly been plain sailing, in fact in most cases it’s been more perilous than one of Nathan Drake’s holidays, prompting the question of whether or not these games actually work after all.

Depth Perception

Undoubtedly, the biggest issue plaguing these types of games is this recurring question of depth. If they’re going to spend upwards of £40 on a AAA title, players have come to expect a certain level of experience for their money; they want character development and open worlds, or – failing that – unbeatably high production values and convincing writing. This traits have come to be so heavily ingrained in our idea of what a game should be, that we struggle to classify or categorise titles that don’t seem to match up.

The multiplayer experience is, by its very nature, a repetitive one.

Much-hyped titles that have long since faded into obscurity like Titanfall or Evolve are often criticised heavily in this respect, with both gamers and critics alike calling out the ‘shallow nature’ of the experience they offer. It’s fair to say these complaints aren’t without their grounding – though unpredictable, the multiplayer experience is, by its very nature, a repetitive one. The issue, I’d be keen to argue however, isn’t with the games, but rather our perception of them. Games such as Titanfall, or even the recently released Rainbow Six: Siege, aren’t judged against one another, but rather against competitors like Call of Duty or Battlefield.

Ultimately then, the common factors against which we’re used to judging games don’t all necessarily fit the bill when it comes to purely online experiences, but this doesn’t mean games like Evolve are, strictly speaking, bad. I’d suggest that trying to compare something like Battlefront with a game like Black Ops 3 is a bit like trying to compare apples with… well, other apples; they might look the same, but you’re hardly going to snack on a cooking apple now, are you?

Shelf Life

See where I was going with that metaphor? Me neither! Anyway, terrible metaphors and failed future as an English graduate aside, the point I’m trying to make is that these titles deliberately offer a very particular kind of experience, and if gamers are aware of that going in, are they right to criticise the game on those grounds? This issue of depth is inevitably tied into the concept of shelf life; games like Metal Gear Solid 5 or Assassin’s Creed Unity are undoubtedly deep, both in their scope and ambition, leading to campaigns that can last upwards of 50 hours alone. With your average game now clocking in at around 25-40 hours, and your most hardcore of titles stretching well beyond the 200 hour mark, it’s difficult to see how games that forgo campaigns in favour of multiplayer components can be expected to match up.

"You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off"!

“You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!”

Again, however, can we honestly claim this to be a just reason to criticise multiplayer-only titles? Let’s say, for example, that you jump into a multiplayer match of Battlefront, eager for that authentic Empire Strikes Back experience. The blasters are blasting, the speeders are speeding and the AT-ATs are falling over; the match is so exhilarating that you play through that exact scenario a good 10-15 times. Is it repetitive? Possibly. Have you enjoyed it? Definitely. Could you do with some much-needed sunlight? Hmm, probably. The point here is that these games, and the experiences they offer, are good, players are just too bogged down in their lack of content – and the question of value for money – to really notice.

Split Screen Opinions

Is there a definitive answer, then, to the question of whether or not these types of games actually work? Looking at the sales figures, you’d suggest not; though Battlefront turned a humongous profit (arguably attributable to its subject matter), similar titles like Evolve and Titanfall quickly faded into obscurity mere months after release. Does this whole-heartedly prove, however, that they don’t work? I’d be keen to argue not. These games do work, they offer fun experiences, and they clearly cater to a particular market. The question should be, rather, is this market ready for them? In order for this style of games to succeed, players need to accept the online only title as its own genre, and be prepared to make more informed decisions about the depth and shelf-life of the game they’re purchasing.