Best before end – do today’s games have expiry dates?

If you were to break down what I’d been doing with my time in The Legend of Zelda: Triforce Heroes, which I started to play recently, you’d end up with some interesting results. You’d see the time I’ve spent storming through levels with some players, and desperately struggling on with others. Yet most tellingly, you’d notice the massive amount of time spent doing one thing – bouncing a ball around while waiting to actually find someone to play with. That period of time is far that has been far too long for my liking, and it got me to thinking about something – at the rate things are going, will anyone be left playing Triforce Heroes in a couple of months? If not, does this mean any new players will be left bouncing a ball around for all eternity? In short – will this game basically cease to be?

The thing is, without any player base to sustain it the sheer core of Triforce Heroes is ripped away from itself. It’s clearly meant to be a team-based experience, something that you share with others, and if you can’t physically do that the purpose of the whole thing just seems to fall flat on its face. It’s not an exclusive thing either; The Division is another potential example of this phenomenon occurring in the future. Everyone is obviously playing it now, especially with incursions landing today for you and your friends to challenge yourself against, but if you were to take those friends away… What’s left?

The game can be played alone, obviously – I myself fly solo most of the time. However, now that I’ve reached the peril that is the endgame, I feel like I’ve reached a point where it’s nigh-on impossible to make any form of distinctive progress unless there are others there to help me. Even I’ve been walking Manhattan’s streets alone it’s been clear to me that a lot of what I’ve played has been tailor made with group play primarily in mind. I’ll be happy to eat my words on this front, but The Division’s community is not likely to last forever; therefore, I can’t help but feel that players in years to come will essentially be left with a purchase that is a mere shell of a game.

The issue is not just directly related to just the gameplay experience, either. Just take a look at some of the current or future titles that are coming out, and you’ll see how many are pushing talking about sharing your experiences, with pop-ups and hints all telling you to get the ‘full experience’ by joining in with the community. Heck, with the introduction of Miiverse, it’s hard to find a Wii U or 3DS title that can actually shake the idea of community off its shoulders.

But, once again, when the community a game might gather eventually moves on, what happens to the appeal? There’s no one left to show off to, no real benefits from sharing your experience, but still the pop-ups will remain, beckoning us in with prospects of hope that simply no longer exists. You’ll be left shouting into a void, if the void remains in existence in the first place – there’s always a chance the servers have shut down to prevent you from trying in the first place. It’s another example that shows these games aren’t forever – sooner or later, there’s going to be large portions of what made them great in the first place that have ceased to be, the flashy advertising for them being the only thing that remains.

Now, I know what you’re thinking; this whole concern isn’t exactly a new thing. Every multiplayer game has experienced the boom and bust of a community coming and going; Call of Duty games could perhaps be the prime example of this. And to an extent, I agree with you – I can’t argue that multiplayer wasn’t a big thing in these games, after all – and with only hackers and die-hard players left nowadays, they’ve certainly lost something. Yet here’s the thing – these games at least had something to back them up. Say what you will about Call of Duty’s crazy single player story, but at least it was there. In many cases, they even contained highlights that remain praised to this day – the fourth instalment is a prime example of this. The fact multiplayer is a craze that has long since passed can do nothing to change that.

To go back to Triforce Heroes, it too has a single player mode that can theoretically stand the test of time, but to be honest… Well, it feels a bit tacked on. The fact the single player mode is accessed through a tiny door next to the grand entrance that is multiplayer certainly doesn’t help alleviate that feeling; It feels cumbersome having to switch between each character, so much so that making any progress feels painfully slow. It’s like I noted above with The Division – you can play alone, sure, but it’s not the true experience, not something that remain memorable… And certainly something that doesn’t match the fleshed out single player modes of games like Call of Duty.

Now, there’s part of me that considered the fact that if these games held any true merit, they’d be able to hold on to their community, and therefore there wouldn’t be an issue in the first place. But honestly, that feels like a brutally harsh bar to measure things upon; the reality is very few games manage to hold on to their community for years. For every Counter-Strike, there are a hundred other multiplayer shooters that have long since been left to remain derelict and forgotten. Yet that doesn’t mean these games don’t hold any merit – they could still have been fun, still had their own charm which we should be praising and embracing. Yet without that community to keep them alive, it becomes almost impossible to find out what those charms may have been.

Honestly, writing this, part of me feels like a grumpy old Granddad – telling the new gaming kids with all their friends to get off my lawn, while I enjoy playing Sonic 2 again in peace. There’s a tiny shard of that that rings true, I’m not going to lie – but look at the way games are moving, and the evidence is there to show it can’t be just be all me. There’s more social interaction than ever, more games dedicating themselves to gathering a community to wring out their full experience than ever before. It’s the new fad, like bullet time and XP totals before it. Yet this new fad has more potential for long term harm than any of those that have come before it – and that’s a worrying thing indeed.

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