Steve’s stance: NO, they should not
Some games are simply not meant to be single player experiences. Games like this are divided into two groups. In group A we have multiplayer only games that require you to play with others (mainly these end up being MMOs) and group B is made up of games that are best suited to be played with others but have some type of poorly implemented single-player mode added on. To me, there lies somewhere between little and no merit in most of these single player modes, and I personally think that if a game isn’t going to do them right, that they should simply do away with them.
There are four games that I’ll be using as examples, and we’ll start with the one that has the most, but still very little, use; Dota 2. Dota 2 is undoubtedly one of the most complicated and difficult to understand games in existence. Each hero has several abilities, all of which have to be learned and understood to properly play the game. Furthermore, the game itself has tons of mechanics, and it’s in a player’s best interest not just to learn their hero but learn all the others as well. Overall the game can be overwhelming. In that respect, I can understand why it might be nice to dip your toes in the waters of Dota 2 without getting screamed at by other players. The problem here is that bot opponents often times play the exact same way. Unlike players, their strategies are incredibly easy to learn and undermine, and they’re largely incapable of the type of critical decision making that truly teaches a player about Dota 2.
Now let’s deal with two games that, to me, are the most egregious of single player offenders. First up we have Left 4 Dead; a game that can easily be classified as two completely separate experiences. On the one had there is the experience of living out Dawn of the Dead with some friends. Then there is the nap-fest that is single player Left 4 Dead. Left 4 Dead played with friends can be a hilarious, intense experience. Playing Left 4 Dead alone however makes the game simply feel like a boring horde mode FPS game.
The second offender in this category, and probably the worst one in existence, is the Payday series. If you’ve not played these games, it works like this… You and your friends try and pull off a bank heist. You case the joint, figure out how to deal with the guards, get to the vault, etc… It requires precision timing, perfect execution, and a lot of critical thinking. With other human beings it can make you feel like you’re living the movie Heat. Compared to other people though, your AI companions are woefully incompetent to the point that the game becomes nigh unplayable without real people to team with.
So why bother even having these single player modes when they add so little to a game? To me there is nothing wrong with simply saying that a game is multiplayer only. I hate to use this catch-all argument but if that’s not your thing then just don’t buy it. I bought Payday 2 one day when it was on sale because the game looks really cool. Little did I know that in order to truly enjoy it I’d have to get involved in the community. I simply don’t have time for that, so there sits Payday 2, a game that I know has potential but that I can’t enjoy because the single player mode that I bought the game for is completely broken. I wish that the game had just cut the single player mode out completely and not advertised that I could have played it alone. If that had been the case, I probably would have skipped it knowing that I would not have been able to pour the time into it that it deserved.
Not everything has to be created equal. MMO’s can’t be played offline. Why should that be a problem? Most of those games are only as good as the communities that surround them anyway, so why would you even want to play them alone? And as for the argument that some people simply don’t have the internet access to play online; I feel for those people, but that doesn’t mean that every game experience should be tailored to their needs. Some people haven’t been able to afford a new console since the SNES, does that mean all games should be able to run on the SNES? Of course not. It’s not like those without internet access have zero access to games anyway. If you have a PS4 and no internet access you can still go to the store and buy Far Cry 4 this week. You can play it and enjoy it. Again, not all games need to offer the same things. After all, single player games don’t seem to feel the need to always include a multiplayer mode. And when they do, a lot of times those modes are just as worthless as the single player modes tacked on to multiplayer-centric titles.
Chris’ stance: YES, they should
I’m going to begin my rebuttal to Steve’s argument with the passage that garnered the biggest reaction from me when I read it:
“I bought Payday 2 one day when it was on sale because the game looks really cool. Little did I know that in order to truly enjoy it I’d have to get involved in the community. I simply don’t have time for that, so there sits Payday 2, a game that I know has potential but that I can’t enjoy because the single player mode that I bought the game for is completely broken. I wish that the game had just cut the single player mode out completely and not advertised that I could have played it alone. If that had been the case, I probably would have skipped it knowing that I would not have been able to pour the time into it that it deserved.”
To me, this isn’t an argument for why Payday 2 just shouldn’t have had a single player mode to begin with. It’s an argument for Payday 2 not having a broken single player mode and him being rightfully upset by that. That’s what should be the issue there – that the developers didn’t create a functional single player mode for Steve to be able to play and actually get to enjoy the game. By his own admission, he wouldn’t have had the time to immerse himself in Payday 2‘s online community and find a good group of people to play the game with. So if the game had been multiplayer-only, he still wouldn’t have played it, he just would’ve saved the money he wasted on it. That just seems like a backwards way of looking at it, to wish the game had had a mode he wasn’t going to play anyway, rather than wishing the developers would’ve properly implemented the mode he wanted to play. To me, despite the way he viewed that experience and applied it to his argument, I see the whole thing as him actually wishing Payday 2 had a single player mode. Taking his exact words and experience and viewing them from a different angle basically proves my point: that Payday 2 – and all games – should have a working single-player mode.
I don’t need every game to have some deep, complex, story-driven single player mode. I’m fine with games like DOTA2 and Team Fortress 2 having single player modes that are literally just the multiplayer mode with bots instead of people. To me, those games do have a single player mode, as I’m able to actually play them by myself and not just be running around an empty map with nothing happening in it (and unlike, say, Payday 2, they are fully functional and actually “work” as games). Steve and I obviously have different opinions about single-player Left 4 Dead as I would hardly call it a “nap fest.” No, it’s nothing like playing it multiplayer and that’s clearly what it was built for, but I still find it a genuinely enjoyable FPS as a solo experience. Opinions aside, though, the point remains that Left 4 Dead can be played completely solo, and it’s still a full-on, not broken game with complete levels and enemies to kill whether you have human teammates or not.
I see no reason why any of those three games, or other games like them, would’ve benefited from their single-player modes being stripped out entirely. I had a lot of fun playing Left 4 Dead by myself, and as someone who plays almost no online multiplayer – and doesn’t have anybody to play those types of games with in local co-op – I resent the notion that I should’ve been robbed of that experience just for the sake of it being “better” with multiplayer. A lot of people play games almost exclusively multiplayer, but the fact of the matter is that as a default, every single one of us is a “single player.” The flip side to this whole discussion is whether every game should have multiplayer, and except for people who literally only play online first person shooters or MMOs or other multiplayer games, I think most of us can agree that not every single game should have a multiplayer mode. But that doesn’t mean make the reverse true by default, because as I said, we’re all single players. We may not all have the patience or the time or the means or the resources or the friends to play multiplayer games, but we can all play a single player game. A single player game without multiplayer doesn’t exclude anyone – a multiplayer game without single player does. And I will never side with exclusion when it comes to video games.