Replayability – Does Lack of Multiplayer Hurt Bioshock Infinite?

Bioshock Infinite has received some flak from the gaming community for not including multiplayer. This isn’t new, however. Ever since it was announced that the game would be a solely singleplayer affair, there has been a section of the gaming public who has been complaining. This is a rather new phenomenon, not the lack of replayability arguments, but the assumption that every first-person shooter should have multiplayer modes attached in order for the game to be worth the price tag. Of course, as first-person shooters continue to become the biggest genre of gaming, and the biggest first-person shooters are almost entirely online affairs, a presumption arises that multiplayer and first-person shooters are intricately linked, and the absence of multiplayer makes the game somewhat less than whole. Of course, this isn’t true. That would be like saying a platformer without powerups in the 90s was missing something inherent in the genre. However, there is the question of whether it was the right idea for Irrational to focus entirely on singleplayer instead of providing the service that people have become accustomed to. Today I want to focus on that question, while briefly looking at the bigger issue of replayability in the singleplayer environment.

Would tea-bagging really help this one?
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The original Bioshock was released to almost universal acclaim, and, as many have pointed out, it did not include multiplayer. The followup, Bioshock 2 did, however. Bioshock 2’s multiplayer allowed you to play as a random character before the fall of Rapture, and basically go to town with familiar, but Bioshock-skinned multiplayer modes. Now Bioshock 2 was very derivative of the original and was not made by the same team, so a direct comparison between the two is unfair. However, it is fair to ask how much that multiplayer added to the experience. I have extensive experience with Bioshock 2’s multiplayer, as I stuck that game out for a platinum trophy, and I can attest that multiplayer modes do in fact have the potential to add value to a game vis a vis replayability. However, it did not add to the experience. Actually, it was terrible, and sparsely populated as the bulk of gamers didn’t really bother with it. While, theoretically, any multiplayer is better than no multiplayer, the fact of the matter is that bad or even mediocre multiplayer isn’t worth anyone’s time, especially considering the fact that there are games out there that cater directly to fans of multiplayer. Why bother with Bioshock 2’s multiplayer when you can pop in a Call of Duty game, or countless other multiplayer-centric games if Call of Duty isn’t your cup of tea? The potential to add replayability doesn’t mean much when most people ignore the feature, or only play it once or twice.

Despite the Little Sister, this mode was nothing new.
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There is a cost that comes with every feature big or small. Nothing is free. People often whine how easy it is to implement multiplayer and how it wouldn’t affect the singleplayer campaign, but this is simply not true. Everything costs money, especially the crafting of a multiplayer mode. Now the question is whether including multiplayer would attract enough people who would otherwise not have played the game in order to balance the cost. In my opinion, it would not. Developers have shoehorned multiplayer into games for many years, and it rarely makes any difference. Nobody picked up Dead Space 2 simply because of the inclusion of multiplayer, or Bionic Commando. At very most, an argument can be made that multiplayer can be used to keep gamers playing and paying for new DLC such as what EA has accomplished with Mass Effect 3’s tacked on multiplayer, but as an inducement, multiplayer rarely if ever factors into people’s purchases of singleplayer-focuesed games. The only way to justify the cost of multiplayer nowadays in games that don’t focus entirely on it, requires constant updates, and thus more work than simply setting up the system and letting people shoot each other. Does this take away from the singleplayer experience? Possibly not, but only if the team working on the game has the finances to hire more staff or another team to work entirely on the multiplayer. Otherwise, multiplayer will absolutely take away from the singleplayer as more time and money will go into it.

No one on Earth bothered with this mess.
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Even assuming multiplayer wouldn’t cost much to implement, there is the very real question as to whether it needs to be part of a predominantly singleplayer game. Bioshock Infinite may be a first-person shooter but it does not lend itself to multiplayer. The game is very story-centric and that story revolves around the two protagonists pretty heavily. Throwing in multiplayer, let’s say Vox vs. Founders, would not only undermine Irrational’s choice to focus on the protagonists instead of the backdrop, but it would actively sabotage many of the themes that they had worked hard to build. It would be nothing more than a vestigial limb, existing for the sole reason of catering to a subset of gamers. For a game like Bioshock Infinite, which tries so hard to bring you into its world, this would completely ruin the illusion, and would make sure that you know every second that you are playing a video game. In short, even if it would be financially worth putting multiplayer into the game, it would go a long way into undermining the themes and world that Irrational Games has created. The argument that multiplayer has the potential to be done very effectively doesn’t hold any weight, as highly effective multiplayer requires considerably more focus on multiplayer than people are suggesting, meaning a much longer development cycle,  much more money or both.

Yes, let’s take the propaganda poster literally and have another Bioshock 2 multiplayer debacle.
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The much larger question that is raised by this multiplayer debate is the need for more replayability in singleplayer games. This is a significant concern that developers deal with in varying ways. Bioshock Infinite is a short game, which has led many people to complain that the game lacks replayability. Many have countered this statement with the argument that classic games which had no multiplayer were perfectly replayable, and there’s no reason you can’t just play through this game again. Of course, this particular argument only succeeds if the game is worth playing again, and, to detractors, the answer to that question is a resounding no. Infinite’s replayability comes from collectables, trophies/achievements, and the promise of future DLC. This is on top of the general “trying out new approaches to gameplay” which is a constant feature in games with any real depth. While this may seem like a decent list, it is fairly lacking. Other Singleplayer games like Batman Arkham City include incentives such as challenge modes, and RPGs, which are mostly singleplayer experiences, are usually very long affairs. With this in mind, it is true that Bioshock Infinite is a game that doesn’t offer too much incentive to replay more than once in order to catch a lot of the early story segments you may have not paid attention to.

Then again, few games would be hurt by the inclusion of Batman.
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That all being said, does Bioshock Infinite or similar singleplayer games need to be intensely replayable? I don’t think so. At $60 you get a large, big budget adventure and story that has people all over the internet talking. Does a game like this really need a couple of challenge modes simply to justify the price? Keep in mind that a lower price point would also reduce the quality of the game; this isn’t some low budget game with a high price tag slapped on by a greedy publisher. This game may not be long, but would you rather Irrational pad the game’s length just so you get a better cost to gameplay ratio? Irrational Games had a story they wanted to tell and they did. Padding doesn’t help anyone. Nor does every single game have to come with a plethora of arcade modes in order to satiate a frantic audience. If this was the case, then we’d end up with every game being identical. Does a game need to be worth the price? Yes, absolutely, but there is no objective way to determine that. What may seem like tacked on side missions to some may seem like invaluable to others. Multiplayer may be a feather in your cap for some audiences, but useless for the rest.

This may have disappointed some. I, personally, was overjoyed.
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For the question as to whether Bioshock Infinite needs multiplayer, I would say no with a fair amount of gusto. Whether it would be improved in any way by multiplayer is less certain, but I would also answer in the negative. Bioshock Infinite does lack replayability incentives, but it never feels like the game is lacking because of their absence. Irrational delivered a game of the highest calibre and, truthfully, that should be enough. Not every game needs to be constantly replayable in order to justify the price tag. If that were true then the only games that would be worth the price would be games with an intense focus on multiplayer, and 100 hour RPGs. Some games work really well with replayability incentives like Arkham City, but this doesn’t mean that every game should be full of challenge modes. All that does is undermine what some developers do to make their games special, things that may only work in the specific context of those games. Trust me, the amount of content doesn’t make the game. There are some really bad games that have an insane amount of content in them. Bioshock Infinite is an excellent game and lack of multiplayer doesn’t change that.

– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer

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