Me, Myself, and I: The Single Player’s Lament

Now look what you did!

It’s not that I don’t like Multiplayer. Multiplayer fans, its not that I don’t like you… well some of you. The constant encroachment of multiplayer into my gaming life is getting to the point where it’s putting me off buying some games. Almost any game I look to grab will have to pass the ‘offline achievements’ test before I’ll even consider it. I’m not even much of a completionist, well I can’t be, thanks to multiplayer achievements.  “Woah, hang on there buddy!” I hear you cry, “I love replaying the same five maps for months on end at less than five minutes a match. It means I know them so well I can instantly destroy any fun a n00b player will have by killing them repeatedly”.  Well, rather than try and fight the Modern Warfare & Halo crowd about their warped sense of ‘fun’, I will explain why online modes are making me an incredibly sad panda.

Let’s start with achievements, shall we. You have the totally insane achievements as seen on Burnout Revenge and GRAW, which are internet leaderboard/ranking based which some people will just never achieve. There are the group scores, the Bejewelled Blitz million points for example… not great when not one single person on your friends list actually has the game. If these aren’t bad enough then there are also the milestone achievements: get rank X, play for X hours/games. Sure it’s mostly a grind and many singleplayer achievements are complete grindathons, but having to do it whilst other players deliberately try to interfere or seem to be afflicted with both verbal diarrhoea and tourettes makes it a miserable thing to do.

Sure, if you want the achievements enough you can put up with the shit and power on through. If you want them enough, of course. All of the above falls into insignificance compared to the ugliest of all online achievements: the never-getters. The never-getters are those achievements you couldn’t possibly hope to get because either the server has been unplugged or the online community has long since moved on to pastures new. Two recent examples are Lord of the Rings: Conquest (EA pulled the server, leaving several hundred points of achievements unobtainable) and Red Faction: Armageddon whose online horde mode attracted zero players last weekend when I was online hoping to get some online revives and a four player match running.

"I'm Isaac"... "No, I'm Isaac"... "No, I'M Isaac!"

So that’s the achievement moan out of the way, and if you work in the industry then please, please, please take this away with you: Don’t ruin my games with awful multiplayer achievements. Dead Space 2 did it right by at least not adding achievements for the blatantly ill-fitting and shoe-horned multiplayer and instead allowed kill tallies to count from both towards certain achievements.

This leads me nicely to gripe number two: leave single player universes alone. FPS games, yes, for the most part they lend themselves to multiplayer. Apart from the odd curveball, most are based around you being a soldier in an army, maybe an elite soldier, but often you are one of a zillion others just like you. Warfare is fine; it suits multiplayer. Dead Space, on the other hand, didn’t need four ‘Isaacs’ wandering around. There is only one Isaac; leave it at that.

When I read that Mass Effect was going to be getting a multiplayer mode, I literally sat and burned with rage. A thousand commander Shepards all roaming a map shooting at each other, oh brilliant. Could anyone shit on such an amazing single player experience any more than by taking what makes Commander Shepard unique, the saviour of mankind no less, and then handing it out to 63 other players who have the exact same dumbed-down skillsets and are intent on duelling it out with unlimited respawns until a timer clicks down to zero. Whoever came up with multiplayer Mass Effect needs to get covered in tar, feathered, burnt, fired out of a cannon into the atmosphere so they disintegrate on re-entry and then their ashen remains collected to be put into cat food so they can get eaten and shat out the other end as a replica of what I thought of their idea.  My point is, if you go to the trouble of building this amazing universe then keep it that way, please; some of us can’t take it seriously knowing ‘hAwT5h3ParD’ is out there somewhere tea-bagging a fellow Spectre in a capture the flag match.

Gripe three – playing with randoms. Taking the delightful hAwT5h3ParD as an example, sometimes (read: all of the time) I just want to play with friends or, at most, friends of friends. It always makes me chuckle how games come with that ‘game experience may vary during online play’ warning. They should just say ‘game experience will be ruined unless you like swearing, shouting, random background noise, people constantly jumping around on screen and complete failure of basic social manners’ – then again, maybe that’s a bit too long for the box art. Thankfully most games now have the ability to mute unwanted audio, or you can jump into a solo Xbox Live party and mass-block them all but they still force you to have to play with them; an option for not rendering their character or a better solution than just ‘not preferring’ a player which ensures they’ll never grace an online game with you ever again would be much more to my taste.  Internet anonymity, or the misguided perception that you are anonymous behind your clever gamertag, always results in at least a few people ruining what may otherwise have been a fun game. The painful and lacklustre reporting/blocking system in most games/online services doesn’t help in this regard.

Ah yes, nothing like a good old game of Capture The Bag with some random mong

So that’s traditional multiplayer doused in paraffin and set alight… time for gripe four – Horde modes.  I actually like horde modes, for the most part. You and a few friends against the enemy until the end; at least that is the dream. No cocky randoms to spawn camp you, no uncomfortable banter and usually an increased enjoyment because its an experience you’re going through with friends. There are two major drawbacks to these modes that resurface time and again:
- reality
- poor design

In reality, I’m the only single, childless, working gamer out of my close friends; all others have random shifts, children, families or a mixture of other issues that means our time window for gaming as a group is severely limited. It’s a rarity that we could go 20 let alone 50 waves of Gears of War horde mode in one swoop. This is where poor design kicks in. Moxxi, Mad Moxxi, sexual temptress of Borderlands and hostess to the worst horde mode yet seen in a AAA game. Not only was the mode bland (limited maps, limited enemies) but there was no ability to select a level, no system to remember you made it to wave 19 of 20 but your best mate’s kid threw up over his Xbox so you had to stop for a bit. To have to play that mode end to end on several occasions to help friends out send me a little insane – particularly when they decided they’d had enough about halfway through and wasted a good couple of hours where I could have played something with a pulse of excitement. This isn’t the fault of my friends; this is bad game design.  Gears of War 2 and Red Faction: Armageddon had it right, let them pick back up where you had left off. Red Faction even counted broken-up progress towards the complete all 30 waves achievement and this was a great thing indeed. In fact that mode (Infestation) was actually good fun too, and probably a close second to the original Gears of War 2 Horde compared to other variants for fun and longevity. As a relatively new method of online play this, I hope, will only get better in time and the mistakes made thus far will be learned upon.

Moxxi... she may be a sexy bitch, but she's more twisted than Charlie Manson on a helter skelter!

Finally the last bastion of multiplayer and the least offensive to me… the realm of the co-op. You and a buddy teaming up to take on the campaign, or a sub-story, or something. While this also suffers from reality and availability, it is generally a lot easier to find just one friend with the same game and a valid time window in which to play.  Unfortunately, a lot of issues still harass co-op games. Borderlands ended up a single-player experience for me (and an awesome one at that) purely because I wanted to play more, my friend only wanted one character and the co-op couldn’t nicely handle differences in level or quest completion. One of you would always end up chasing the other trying to keep up unless you were meticulous about playing online together and only together at all times. Other games suffering achievement woes were ones where the guest gets nothing for their effort requiring a second playthrough to even out the gamerscore. As games offer more and more players the chance to co-op together, this process will get more confusing and increased save checkpoints or drop-in/drop-out play (without penalties for those with less time to play) will become vital in keeping it a fun and less infuriating experience.

So that is it, my gripes against the multiplayer machine all laid out on the table. Oh, in typical Columbo style… just one more thing. Why does any matchmaking process waste so much of my life? A more efficient way of getting online and alerting friends is needed. You agree on a time and, being a good human being with manners, you turn up on time. Twenty minutes later another logs on with a half-baked excuse about a cat getting in the microwave and partially cooking itself, with so much time wasted just hanging around not being able to get into another game in case they logged on mid-level and you couldn’t save. Then there are the pauses, the bio-breaks, the inefficiency of other players, the loading times; each little thing adding up to a brain tumour inducing stress level that does the complete opposite of why I game (which is to relax and escape this world of idiots in which I walk every day).

I don’t want multiplayer to die; in fact I adore co-op when it is done right (Splinter Cell: Conviction and Gears of War I’m looking at you) but I just hate that because some idiot said multiplayer is the way to add longevity to a game, every developer is throwing in a mode – mostly unwanted or unneeded. The proof is in the gaming with Red Faction: Armageddon being a desolate online wasteland yet only being released a couple of months ago. So many games take valuable development time away from an extra chapter of a campaign, extra polish, extra bug-fixing all in the name of adding a mode that’ll be dead within a short space of time, doesn’t fit the main game, and frustrates those who have thoroughly enjoyed a series based on single player campaigns.

I game to have fun, and if hanging around waiting for people in lobbies, getting abused by randoms and a constant stop/start is fun then go ahead and have your World of Warcraft raids, your MW2 deathmatches and your Portal 2 playthroughs. Just please understand that just because social media/gaming is all the rage, it doesn’t mean all of us want to jump into bed with a game that whores itself out to the online masses. Some of us want to go home, sit in silence, pour a large drink to erase the memories of the day and get pulled into a fantasy world where we are the sole master of the universe for a few hours. I don’t always want to have the forced social interactions of a multiplayer game, sometimes there is nothing worse than to finish the day with that prospect.

Last five articles by Stu



  1. Mikey says:


    I wrote an article the other day about why I’m not buying Gears 3, and you would have thought I had set their (the trolls’) hair on fire. You can’t even have a different opinion these days.

    Some games just don’t need multiplayer. Thank you, Deus Ex and others.

  2. Kat says:

    *wonders if it’d make Stu cry if she mentioned she’d really love a multiplayer Fallout*…

  3. Richie richie says:

    1. Feeling your fucking pain.

    2. Ass Creed: Brotherhood can fuck itself in the bum.

    3. I have Bejeweled Blitz and a decent score on the game. Add me for great justice.

  4. Dorwrath says:

    Have to agree with you 100%

    I’m with you with Mass Effect 3. Spend the time you have on making the campaign better, longer and more polished instead of an MP. I hate the idea of a Mass Effect 3 MP, although if it was a campaign co-op feature where you and two of your friends could jump into the shoes of the characters as long as you can only have one shephard, one tali etc I could live with and might enjoy.

    Like you say excluding Halo, GOW and COD ad a couple of others most MP games are here today, gone tomorrow and I don’t see the point of them bothering to be honest.

  5. Tough. says:

    Heaven for-fend you have to compete against other human beings.

    Sorry that you have so much difficulty playing with others. Or that you are simply too slow and clumsy to be competitive, yeah, what’s that word -


    Did the big boys say mean things to you online? Were your feelings damaged? Want a nap?

    Hard to aim at someone because they would, you know, keep moving? Or shoot back at you, not like those safe, friendly AI?

    You don’t like multiplayer, fine. Cool story. Don’t go trashing developers, games, and players because they are enjoying something you don’t like and/or are bad at. It is popular for a reason.

    There wasn’t some suit crunching numbers who burst into a boardroom screaming that multiplayer meant money – they simply asked gamers what they enjoyed, and looked at how people were using their products. Once you compete and interact with living, thinking human beings – and all the good and bad things that come with it – playing with yourself becomes just that.

    Single player isn’t going away any time soon and is still the dominant game type across all platforms and genres. Pointless whine.

  6. datdude says:

    As a tremendous fan of series like Mass Effect, Uncharted, and Gears, I love my single player. I buy games like Uncharted and Gears for the single player first, and sometimes I don’t even touch the multiplayer of some games. I bought the first modern warfare and played the single player campaign only. It bothers me when I hear developers claim that the future of games is social and multiplayer, and that single player is dying. Some of the best games out today are single player only, and those that aren’t I buy primarily for the single player experience and dabble in multiplayer from time to time. You know why single player is best? Because I can complete and compete in my own time at my own pace. I’m not forced to suffer humiliation because I’m on a map I’m not familiar with and every other douche I’m playing with seems to have devoted 23 hours out of every day memorizing the maps and respawns and special weapon locations. It’s annoying. Not to mention the inane chatter that dominates the multiplayer experience. Oh, did I mention the cheaters, glitchers, etc. etc. Is that fun to you? To play online multiplayer that constantly needs to be patched to fix exploits? Wow… if that’s the future, count me out. I loved gaming on my nes, snes, genesis, hell my atari when I was a little kid and multiplayer did not exist. I want immersive, intelligent gameplay, not an arena where if you don’t devote every waking hour of your life to ranking up you will have no fun and be ridiculed for sucking hard. That is not gaming to me.

  7. wxJimG says:

    Good article! I completely agree. I was enraged when there were rumors floating around that they were going to make the next Elder Scrolls game have a MP component; luckily Todd Howard feels just like we do.

  8. Bobby says:

    I totally agree with you! I thought I was the only one thinking like that.

    I think they add multiplayer content to get better reviews.

    It’s not uncommon to see a game reviewier saying that “It’s too bad this game didn’t gave a multiplayer mode”.

  9. Vagrant says:

    I’m in a constant debate with a friend who has a PASSION for multiplayer. I have been playing RPG’s and single player games since the Nintendo era. I agree with this article. Multiplayer while the only thing in the world for some, its been blown out of proportions. I love co-op games because I rather get along with friends rather than compete against them to satisfy their ever-growing egos, but when they ruin excellent single player campaigns for a chance for multiplayer (Halo 3 n Halor Reach were awsome campaigns but painfully short) to simply lean more on online. Assassins Creed which story facinates me when they included multiplayer I was like, you are over shadowing the true beauty of the game, the conspiracy, the history for wankers that just want to stab you day in and day out. I like co-op games because I feel I can tackle a huge adventure with a buddy and if not, I’m ok cause I can be that lone hero, instead of having to watch for what my score is.

  10. Stu Stu says:

    Thanks to everyone for the comments so far, I did honestly wonder if I’d be the odd one out on this particular viewpoint.

    @Kat – Yes, I’m welling up right now…why would you say such a thing?! ;p

    Incompetent? – At no point did I say I failed at them, just pointing out that some are unfair to new players unless they are willing to put in hours of constant death to get up to speed on maps, etc. Some people will always be better and fair play to them, but deliberately ostracizing the new players isn’t going to bring new fans.

    Did the big boys say mean things to you online? -No, just mostly pointless dribble littered with profanity.

    Were your feelings damaged? – No, some random won’t hurt my feelings, but even if I were caressing a bruised soul, it doesn’t mean that the aggressive attitudes are valid. Banter, acceptable trash talk, sure – but the all too common diatribe of nonsense can’t honestly add any enjoyment to anyone but the player that likes the sound of his own voice.

    Want a nap? – Yes please! =D

    Hard to aim at someone because they would, you know, keep moving? Or shoot back at you, not like those safe, friendly AI? – Not at all, I don’t think I mentioned this at all and if that is what you took away from this piece then I apologise.

    It is popular for a reason. – Yes. No way I could argue against that, my argument isn’t that multiplayer shouldn’t exist, it’s that there is a place for multiplayer and it encroaching a number of singe-player IP’s is not the right fit. The Red Faction example proves my point, hardly anyone is playing the online offering merely months after release, that could have been another chapter in the story. On the flip side removing multiplayer from Gears of War 3 would have been silly, it suits the multiplayer environment and has a lot of success there.

    As for the money thing, well the slew of online passes, map-packs, etc means money is always a factor, and by adding multiplayer they aim to extend the life/income of the product – it was pretty much alluded to by Cliff Bleszinski recently: “Because gamers have gotten savvy to the world of rentals and used games, so if you ship a game with a campaign that isn’t 300 hours, you’re going to be a rental. We want to make sure we have a deep multiplayer suite.”

    Thanks for the comment though, I expected a few people to throw some counter-points my way.

    @wxJimG Yes, I’m glad that bullet was dodged too! Very much looking forward to Skyrim!

  11. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    I loved this. I don’t do co-op or multiplayer as much as most of the other gamers I know and it’s mainly down to my preference of the single player element over multiplayer campaigns or modes. Borderlands is, to date, the only game where I’ve MAYBE played as a co-op partner more than I have a single player… but I say MAYBE because I’ve also played the game through several times on my own. In terms of actual gameplay hours, I reckon I’ve played it as co-op more than single player but I’ve completed it more times on my own, if you get me?

    My first experience of online multiplayer was with Lost Planet… it was the demo way back when it Adam was a boy, and I’d never actually used my XBL account online before. I had the account, but had never used it beyond downloadng demos etc. So I decide to play Lost Planet and end up with these two American kids, one of which sounded like he had the mic inside his mouth as it was overly loud and completely distorted, and the other sounded like Big Bird…. but neither of the two of them liked when I actually… you know… killed them. It was fine when they were killing me – we were all having fun and getting in to it, but when the tables were turned and I was the one killing THEM… different story. Both guys actually gave me bad reviews on XBL when all I was doing was what was supposed to be done, and being done by them too. Great introduction to online multiplayer.

    So yeah, sometimes the asshole gamers can ruin it but mostly I just laugh at their ignorance and keep playing. I just don’t like when multiplayer is shoe-horned in to what would otherwise be a great game. As far as the achievements are concerned though, I’m not bothered but probably would be if I went after cheevs.

    I hate to make you cry mate, but I’d also love co-op in Fallout 3!! I want to show off my collection of crap in my Megaton house and take people to little corners of the map where you get to see some incredible vistas. You can’t share that sort of stuff in single player, not without a crappy screen cap.

  12. Apotts says:

    Excellent article, I also prefer to game alone, and I was very unhappy when Mass Effect 3 announced a multiplayer mode, because it simply doesn’t need one. I would rather they spent the development time improving the single player experience that has made the game so popular.

    I also want to say that I was impressed by the way you responded to the ‘Tough’ commenter. You were polite and respectful to someone who left an insulting comment, very classy!

  13. Rook says:

    I’m not a big player of multiplayer or co-op, and when I do play those modes it;s mostly done for the achievements; I like my single player experience because I prefer a story to accompany my progress. So for my lack of multiplayer gaming time, it means that some achievements are not going to be unlocked by me.

    Moden Warfare, for me, has been the best example of achievements/multiplayer balance. The full initial 1000 gamerscore were all available for the single player and the multiplayer aspect rewarded you with weapons, attachments, perks that you could use to customise your multiplayer sessions.

    Usually as you progress in single player games you would get access to more stuff so here was the same happening in mulyiplayer and still leaving 1000 points available to the single player.

    I didn’t like the thought of multiplayer in Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood but after playing it a little it wasn’t as bad as I had feared. Still didn’t keep me coming back however as that just isn’t how I like to spend alot of my gaming time.

    People are different and have their own preferences for gamng, but I am more like you and like to game at my own pace.

  14. Derpy says:

    Good article. In your mention about Mass Effect, I felt much the same way when I heard that Dragon Quest X was going to be a MMO. Though I enjoy online gaming as an occasional causal diversion, much like you mentioned, I’d rather at the end of the day be relaxing in my living room with a single player game, not dealing with other people and forgetting the cares of the day. I really hate how many game designers are ruining the single player experience in order to tack on multiplayer. If fact, I buy a whole lot less games these days as a result of this.

  15. Furie says:

    Mass Effect is getting a multiplayer mode? I loved the first game so much that it’s the only series I try to stay away from news about in case spoilers manage to find their way in, but this… There are no words for the acts I’ll be willing to carry out on top EA officials should this detract from what was promising to be a great end to a trilogy. If I find out that they’ve made it so that you have to fight the Reapers across the galaxy in multiplayer battles and unlock the ending cutscene by cutscene as you level up I’m pretty sure I’ll actually explode with rage.

    Your point about achievements is something that has always pissed me off. Before I got my console online I couldn’t get online only achievements (obviously) and many games I played were left incomplete due to their omission. After I got it online (and this is partly due to the 30,000 gamerscore I lost out on because the system picked up that five years worth of achievements were gained on the release date of the original Xbox which the offline clock defaulted to) there was no way I was going hunting for sessions of games they haven’t sold for years. Having those achievements as online only robbed me of the chance to get them, not because I wasn’t good enough to achieve them (although most were simply grinds anyway) but because my street didn’t have web access until recently. I’d often said that if multiplayer was going to be a component then they should have it downloadable (leaving a little more space on the disc for single player stuff) and should have achievements that are only for the multiplayer that are in the multiplayer download and not a part of the offline game. The same pet peeve is currently annoying me when games get DLC and the achievements for that show up in their lists before I’ve completed their current achievements. One might think it were being used as a marketing tool if one were slightly paranoid.

    I’ve fallen off track here so I’m going to my bed with a bag of tortilla chips. And yes, my bed is multiplayer. Well, co-op anyway. No achievements though. I’m the sad panda now…

  16. Chris Toffer says:

    This was a fantastic read on the way home from Eurogamer. Good work dude. Loving the single player… love. I’m certainly a supporter of it :D

  17. Edward Edward says:

    Stu, you encapsulated every single point I could ever hope to have made on the subject, and there’s no way this isn’t my favourite article of yours.
    Brilliant job, it was worth every moment of the wait I endured before I could read it. :D

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