Monday, 24 October 2011

Greater Goods? - Naughty Dog Credits PSN Pass Making Uncharted 3 Multiplayer Possible

Uncharted 3 developer Naughty Dog has recently gone on the record saying that without the implementation of the PSN Pass that Uncharted 3 might not have an online multiplayer mode, or that the single and multiplayer components would have been released as two separate games. Playing devil's advocate I ask "is that really such a bad thing, depending?"

I recently noted -- as have many others -- that Sony is implementing an online pass known as the PSN Pass for the online portions of their games. Basically what this means is that if you buy the game new you get a code that you have to enter in order to access the online components of the title. If you're buying the game used and the original owner enabled the multiplayer though, then you've got to shell out $10 or so in order to get a pass to enable the multiplayer on your machine.

It's an idea that not very many people have taken a shine to, but recently in an interview with thesixthaxis, Justin Richmond who helped developed the game stated in no uncertain terms that the Uncharted 3 multiplayer option was something that was only really feasible to them because of the advent of the PSN Pass. To quote:

"It’s not just some throw away death-match mode, we spent a ton of time developing this stuff. I think we’re offering something that’s completely different from anything else that’s in the industry; our gameplay is really different and really deep and it takes a long time to master.

"We give literally thousands of hours of content in our online stuff and on top of that we give you not just competitive, but an entire co-op experience as well. There’s basically a whole alternate history, alternate version story in our co-op, and in this game they’re actually all tied together. All the co-op missions, of which there are even more, are all actually one continuous story, if you play them in the right order.

It’s all that stuff, and so in general, we’re giving out a huge amount of content, and part of the reason for the online pass is that when that stuff goes online, it isn’t free. We have to pay for servers and all this different stuff to maintain it, and so at some point, you know, games have to make money. It is a business, and we just wanna be able to continue to provide that kind of content. If Sony ever comes to us and says “You’re not making enough money on this, you need to cut it” or whatever, that’s not something that we want. We want to be able to maintain the level of quality of the product that we’re giving out."

Now, I will grant you that this seems like a compelling enough argument in this case. Certainly there's more than a bit of hyperbole when the statement "thousands of hours of content" gets thrown out there, but a good multiplayer can indefinitely extend the life of a game that would otherwise be a 20 to 40 hour experience that is remembered fondly but revisited infrequently.

Ignoring the fact that gets constantly bandied around that a used game IS NOT a pirated one, and even though the company doesn't under normal circumstances see profit from the resale at least they saw one from the initial purchase, I have to ask: from the way they're talking, would there be a problem with releasing an "Uncharted 3: Single Player" and "Uncharted 3: Multiplayer" as different games.

Now, before I'm drawn and quartered for going to the dark side I'd like to explain my reasoning here. By Naughty Dog's own admission, this is apparently one hell of a multiplayer campaign, and I can appreciate that. However, to some people no matter how good the online component is, it's not what they're after: they want the single player experience. Uncharted 3 is assumed to offer the single player experience in spades as players have come to expect, but if the multiplayer is pretty much a game in it's own right, then why not sell both separately at a lower price point or sell a bundle together for the people that want both, rather than charge for a pass that punishes used gamers?

Consider this, separating the games seems like an idiotic move on the surface of it, because people will be getting a smaller amount of playtime out of each individual aspect of the title, rather than the cohesive whole. I would argue though, that by dropping the price point on both titles and offering them separately, you appeal to the very demographic that the online pass excludes: gamers on a budget. Plenty of people will gladly pay $20 or $30 dollars for one component where they would not pay $60 for both, and doing this also allows players to choose without automatically excluding future options. Under the current system if you buy Uncharted 3 used and don't even give a shit about the multiplayer modes, then you've still got all that crap on the disc and on your harddrive install of the game (at least I'd assume they aren't going to separate, I could be wrong). If you have two games though, then someone can buy the single player experience, and if they like it enough or don't have the cash for the multiplayer, it's not a big deal: they aren't getting stuff they haven't paid for, and aren't forced to deal with black boxes on the disc that they can't access.

If they do end up enjoying whichever version of the game they bought though, then odds are they'll eventually go out and buy the other version of it, which again is cheaper than a regular game and thus more accessible to everyone including those that are thrifty spenders. If someone wants access to both, then they pay $60 which is the regular price and just get both games. It's not a hard concept to wrap one's head around. And frankly, from where I stand there are other benefits as well.

As of late there has been a growing concern that the single player game, or at least a good, compelling single player game, is taking more and more of a backseat to online play. There are some gamers out there that see the campaign mode as nothing but a short training session before the "real game" begins online. Certainly if they had the option to only get the online component and save some cash, they would. However, look at the flip side, if people want only the single player experience, then the developer is going to have to make sure that that experience is damn well worth the price of admission. No coasting on the back of the multiplayer that they know will be successful, they have to flesh out and make sure that the story of the game will be just as good at drawing people in, and then if they've done a good job then people will likely reward them by purchasing the multiplayer aspect of the title. Likewise you might even get a role reversal, and when the multiplayer diehards hear how good the single player is maybe some of them will drop the cash to investigate.

Sure, it's not a perfect system by any means, but it's also one that ensures that people aren't punished for how they buy their games, while still providing the revenue to the companies and allowing the interest in each portion of the title to be gauged to see what's working and what isn't. At the very least it's be a worthwhile experiment to run in order to see if such a concept would work.

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