OPINION: Sam Loveridge explores how playing games with your friends online is going to change for the good.
Games have been social for as long as they have existed. Whether it's playing hopscotch in the playground or gathering around the table for a game of Scrabble on a Sunday.
The same can be said for video games too. There have always been elements of multiplayer in the majority of video games right the way back to the arcade era.
So why is there suddenly a renewed push on the social elements of games with the launch of the PS4 and Xbox One?
We’re talking of course about Sony's GamesCom Share Play announcement.
Come autumn you’ll be sharing your game with PS4 owners that don’t even own it
What is Share Play and how does it work?Share Play is a brand new way to experience co-operative multiplayer on the PS4. Launching in the autumn courtesy of a PS4 system update, it will let you share your game with PS4 pals, without them having to own the game.
Sony is calling it a “virtual couch” experience, creating a local co-op experience in an online space. From there you can invite a friend to join your game, regardless of their own purchasing habits. It’s like your friend is playing with you in the same room, but obviously, they are in their own house.
Each session has a one hour limit, but there’s apparently no limit on the amount of Share Play experiences you can have with each friend. This means you could repeatedly invite them back into the game. It’s going to be compatible with all PS4 games too, without any additional work from developers.
“How it works is, for example, a friend has a game that I don’t. I ask them to let me play it and if they send me an invitation, I can access their PS4 and play while watching the video that is streamed,” explained President of Sony Worldwide Studios Shuhei Yoshida.
The idea is to give your friends a taste of what a new game will be like without them having to buy it. It also signals a new direction for multiplayer gaming.
Look at the time spent during Sony’s E3 press conference on the Far Cry 4 ‘Keys to Kyrat’ feature. PlayStation gamers will get 10 of these keys to pass to their friends upon purchase. Each one lets them add a friend to the game for a 2 hour period.
Although Far Cry 4 uses Share Play technology, Ubisoft’s approach to multiplayer is certainly refreshing. It’s indicative of the incoming wave of multiplayer experiences.
The journey of change shaped by last generation consolesAlthough this new breed of multiplayer has really come to light in the past year, it started with Journey, which launched on the PS3 back in 2012.
The PSN exclusive had a unique take on playing with friends. Other gamers could join your game silently, and anonymously. They took the same journey as you simultaneously without it being a competitive event.
Some players signed into PSN didn’t realise these other scarf-wearing beings were also online players like themselves. They believed it was just part of the single-player experience.
This new breed of multiplayer is about choice. It's about having the chance to experience multiplayer gaming in a way that is accessible to everyone and in a more organic way than traditional PvP (Player versus Player).
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Destiny is doing seamless multiplayer with style and grace
Now I admit, I’m a reluctant PvP multiplayer gamer, especially when it comes to elitist titles like Call of Duty or Battlefield. Being unable to launch myself up the steep learning curve, I’ve had to endure “noob” calling and sexism in online matches. I’d much rather play multiplayer in a way that is less competitive, more co-operative and generally expletive-free.
This seems to be the way games are going with new-gen. Developers are opting to use multiplayer as an option within single player campaigns. It allows people to experience the sociability of gaming without the backlash from the seasoned pros.
For the Xbox One and PS4, there are an increasing amount of titles where players are able to join in an online co-op experience with other random players without having to deviate from the story.
Destiny is just one of those games. It is successfully implementing this new wave of multiplayer. It is something we’re prone to calling ‘mingle player’ thanks to its non-aggressive, spontaneous structure. Bungie deliberately chose not to allow players to talk to one another unless they were part of the same Fire Squad. So, you can enjoy completing story missions with your new found friends as some kind of super intelligent AI.
David Dague, Community Manager for Bungie explains the move to 'mingle player':
“The social engagements in Destiny are completely elective. Participation in cooperative missions or public events won’t be required for a player to advance through the story. The most important moments of the story are things you can enjoy all by yourself, or with the company of your most trusted friends.”
“Destiny is built from the ground up to be social and cooperative so that other players can surprise you with their antics and their heroics. Gamers with a traditionally solitary approach to their pastime may become surprised by the fact that their favourite character in the game is someone from their friends list.”
Dead Island 2 will see you hacking at zombies with up to 7 other players
This ‘mingle player’ is also a strong theme in Dead Island 2, another cross platform title. Instead of the usual four player local co-op, you’ll be able to experience the zombie apocalypse with up to seven players at any one time.
Developer Yager is calling it opt-out multiplayer. You can play alone if you choose, but if you’re willing to play with other people, they can and will join your server and your world.
These games still have dedicated competitive PvP multiplayer arenas. Destiny has the Crucible and Dead Island 2 will have its own. The developers have littered the overall single player experience with opportunities to become part of a team. Even if you choose to play solo, the sheer presence of other players helps remind you that there is a gaming community experiencing the same thing as you.
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Unlock your Far Cry 4 multiplayer with Keys to Kyrat
How does Share Play fit in?How then does Share Play fit into this mingle player experience? On the face of it, Share Play seems like an easy way to offer gamers an extended demo of titles they haven't bought yet.
Gone are the days where developers give us proper game demos for major titles. If you take a quick look at the Xbox Live Marketplace or PlayStation Store, you’ll rarely find any for the major upcoming franchises (if you can look past P.T for Silent Hill of course).
More importantly though, Share Play will introduce the opt-in co-op multiplayer experience to games that wouldn’t necessarily have it otherwise. Sony Worldwide President Shuhei Yoshida has confirmed that the feature works with all PS4 games. Therefore there’s the potential to add co-op multiplayer to traditionally single-player only titles.
Take Far Cry 4 for instance. From what we’ve seen so far you’ll need to use the Keys to Kyrat feature to access the co-operative multiplayer in the game. We’ve not heard whether you’d be able to experience this co-op locally as yet.
Games such as The Order: 1886 could benefit from such an experience, without the game having to have a dedicated multiplayer component.
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Will Share Play weaken single-player storylines?There’s always a worry that this renewed focus on multiplayer will mean single-player campaigns are neglected. We sincerely doubt this opt-in multiplayer will do anything but enhance the experience of playing on your own. The single player campaign isn’t dependant on this co-operation, but adds another level of enjoyment.
The developers’ main aim is to get people communicating, encouraging them to tell the friends about their games. What better way to do this but ask your friend to come play with you for a while remotely. They can do it without any cost to them - apart from time and a little broadband bandwidth.
That’s the beauty of these shared experiences, whether it’s through Share Play or other means. There’s still room for games to have strong, gripping storylines with a large dose of cinematic gloss. Opt in co-op doesn’t need to be present all the time, but it can be introduced at appropriate moments for increased player interaction.
However, there is potential for this next generation multiplayer to eat into some of the competitive PvP market. There’s still huge appetite for it now, especially with game like Evolve on the horizon.
As interest for games like Call of Duty and Battlefield wanes, it will be games with seamless integrated multiplayer that slip quickly and easily into their place.
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