God of War: Ascension was officially unveiled last month and one of the surprising additions to the franchise is a new multiplayer mode. It's a pattern we've seen before: single-player games that seemingly have no real need for a multiplayer mode are getting multiplayer modes in what appears to be an effort to boost sales, mitigate the used effect and generally give a title a longer tail.
As industry veteran Richard Browne noted in a recent editorial on used games, "How do I stop churn? I implement multiplayer and attempt to keep my disc with my consumer playing online against their friends. It works wonderfully for Call of Duty - no doubt it can work wonderfully for me. The problem is, at what cost? Countless millions of dollars would be the answer. Let's take a great example, one of my favorite game series released on this generation - Uncharted. What on Earth was the point of taking the completely single player experience of Uncharted 1 and bolting on an entirely new game to Nathan Drake's second adventure?"
The strategy does seem to be working, even if it appears somewhat out of place for a story driven single-player game like BioShock or Uncharted. But what about an action oriented game like God of War?
"It's an interesting move, and something I think gamers will like, but it's odd to see it in a third-person game, and especially odd because it's not a shooter. I think GoW fans will love it, but am not sure it will move the needle on sales," commented Wedbush Securities' Michael Pachter to GamesIndustry International.
Even God of War Game Director Todd Pappy has admitted, according to Destructoid, that Sony Santa Monica is "still figuring out" the multiplayer component. That makes it sound all the more like someone at a high level simply told the development team, "You have to include multiplayer. Figure it out."
That said, there's definitely some precedent for multiplayer having a positive effect.
"EEDAR has run numerous studies on the impact on multiplayer on game sales. We have found that when executed properly, multiplayer does have a positive impact on initial and long-term sales," EEDAR analyst Jesse Divnich noted to GamesIndustry International. "The pitfall that is common, however, is for developers to simply tack on a multiplayer component thinking it will be the silver bullet solution to long-term sales and a reduction in used sales."
Ultimately, what matters most is quality, and just like Naughty Dog's efforts to introduce multiplayer to Uncharted, it's likely that the God of War team will produce some highly polished results. "In the case of God of War, we are confident that the Santa Monica Studio recognizes the common pitfalls. As a studio with a great pedigree, I am sure any multiplayer component will be additive to the God of War experience and not simply a tacked on feature," stressed Divnich.
Some would argue that the addition of multiplayer might damage the quality of the single-player main game, due to resources being divided up, but Divnich doesn't see that as a concern any longer.
"If this was two years ago, I would be concerned that the allocation of resources towards a multiplayer component often comes at the cost of the single player experience; however, the industry has matured enough--maybe through its own trial and error--that no feature should ever be tacked on simply because the 'data' suggests it. How that feature is implemented into the core project impacts sales much more than simply having it or not," he said.
What do you think? Will God of War benefit from including multiplayer?