Games should be true to their concept, says the Gearbox head, and not worry too much about feature lists.
Gearbox’s Randy Pitchford thinks that developers and publishers should think twice before adding multiplayer modes to games in an effort to get more people to buy them. He thinks that all too often, publishers tried to replicate the success of games like Call of Duty by shoving death matches and co-op modes in where they didn’t belong.
Pitchford thought that trying to tick boxes on a features list made it all but impossible to make good decisions for a game. He said that publishers noticed that the most successful games tended to offer something for everyone, and so tried to replicate that. The problem with that approach, he said, was that not every concept allowed for every feature. “You have people that want co-op and competitive, and players who want to immerse themselves in deep fiction. But the concept has to speak to that automatically; it can’t be forced. That’s the problem.”
He cited the Dead Space series as an example, which he felt had a upper sales ceiling of around 4-5 million units. In an effort to raise that ceiling, he said, a multiplayer mode had been added to Dead Space 2, despite the game not being very well suited for it. He could understand why the decisions were made – not to mention who made them – but said that they weren’t the right way to go. “[T]he publisher is thinking, ‘When I put my money in … I want the high number to be as high as possible,'” Pitchford said. “He’s a money guy, he has no creative investment. He’s putting money on the table and wants a return. For him, the worst-case scenario is that he just gets it back.”
He said that the best thing to do with a series like Dead Space – or indeed, other franchises that didn’t really lend themselves to being the next Call of Duty – was to acknowledge that the ceiling was there, and then try and get as close to it as possible by focusing on the game’s core concept.
It’s hard to see too many people disagreeing with Pitchford. Not every game needs multiplayer modes, but unfortunately, the tricky part is getting publishers to realize this. Exceptions do exist of course – Rocksteady recently announced that it wasn’t going to include any multiplayer modes in Batman: Arkham City because it would detract from the single player game – but the trend seems very much to be heading in that direction, whether it works or not.