How multiplayer altered our perception of fun
This generation is extremely focused on the multiplayer experience. Previous generations had multiplayer modes as well but it never became as much important as nowadays.
When Ubisoft announced Prince of Persia on PS3 and Xbox 360, people were wondering if it could be a coop game, and when Ubi declined any sense of multiplayer aspect, they faced a massive uproar. Bioshock was a major single player experience success, and still Take Two had to do a multiplayer mode for Bioshock 2 to sustain those online freaks. And when Naruto : Ultimate Ninja Storm released on PS3, people were not saying "Too bad the Story Mode sucks" but "Too bad there's no online mode".
Yet, some games can be extremely popular or extremely unpopular following their online multiplayer modes. Left 4 Dead, Call of Duty Modern Warfare, Resident Evil 5 or Gears of War prove there's no need for a decent story to be successful as long as you give people a good multiplayer. So why do people love so much multiplayer games and forget about solo experiences?
Let's play Left 4 Dead. The game is ugly, running on the 6-years-old Source Engine, there's no scenario, enemies have almost no AI, no memorable soundtrack and the whole campaign lasts 5 hours at best, where the only thing to do is to go from A to B shooting zombies. So why do people love it so much? Because of the multiplayer.
And when you say "I didn't enjoy [insert multiplayer game name], it's pretty boring actually. What's so interesting about [insert description of the poor concept] ?", people will reply "It's better to play with friends, you should give it a chance !". Friends. Google defines friend as "a person you know well and regard with affection and trust". So games are fun when you can play with friends.
That's the problem. We glorify multiplayer as the only way to add replay value to a game, and a game is great or lame depending of its multiplayer modes. The problem is that such perception is biased. Not toward a console, a manufacturer, a brand or a politic party, but toward those friends. Let me explain.
I have only one friend. Yes, one. I know him since 10 years, he is the only one I trust and him and I share similar tastes. A great buddy. And he comes sometimes in my home to talk and play with me. What do we play? Not Gears of War, not Killzone 2, not Resistance 2, not Halo 3, not Uncharted 2, not Left 4 Dead, but War Of The Monsters on PS2. I may have many consoles and many games, we still play War Of The Monsters.
WOTM is a game developed by Incognito (developers of Twisted metal series and Warhawk) and published by Sony, released on PS2 in 2003. A game where you control a giant creature which must fight another giant creature in cities. Typically King Kong vs Godzilla, a similar game was already released on Sega Megadrive / Genesis, King Of The Monsters. And let's admit it, War Of The Monsters is a poor game. Very repetitive, pretty rigid gameplay, graphics weren't great, not much characters and zero scenario. It had a great soundtrack and used many cinematographic clichés, but it wasn't enough to be a good game.
But we play it. We play it because we find it fun. It's not fun to play, it's fun to play... with a friend. And that's the point of this article. Play Left 4 Dead in solo, you'll find it boring. Play Left 4 Dead with a friend, you'll find it fun. The content of the game hasn't changed, the gameplay is still the same and the campaign is not any longer. The only difference is that you play it with a friend.
And this is the problem with gaming critics. We tend to overestimate the fun factor in multiplayer modes, but what is fun in a multiplayer game is not the multiplayer game itself, it's the friend with you. If you play with an antipathetic or non-talkative person, will you find the multiplayer fun? No, and that proves what matters is not the quality of the multiplayer but the quality of the friend.
In this point on view, multiplayer games are once again overestimated because all the quality of games like New Super Mario Bros, Left 4 Dead, Gears of War or Team Buddies belongs to the friends you're playing with. You potentially will have less fun in a game with someone you don't know or hate than playing with your best friend. For this, the fun factor of a multiplayer game is quite hypocritical as we consider a game is fun because we can play with friends. Do not thank a game to be great in coop, thank the buddy playing with you for providing the real multiplayer experience.