Heading towards the true multiplayer experience

Posted June 6th, 2007 at 11:07 am

Madden 08 gang tackle

With the recent news from EA that they are shooting for Fifa 2010 to have the ability online of 11 individuals vs 11 individuals, it brings up whether that is the directon they may be headed in other games such as Madden or NBA Live. Modes such as Superstar in Madden, Race for the Hesiman/Campus Legend in NCAA Football and the new Be a Pro in Fifa have started to get the fan of sports games conditioned to taking on the role of a single player. Can that be the start of the transition to seeing something similar done with online play?

While the idea of multiple different users playing co-op online is a popular one that has been in demand over the last couple years, due to various reasons it hasn’t come about. Trying to improve the general performance and not concentrating a lot of resources for the online side of things has kept it out of reach. However now we may be seeing the signs that we aren’t too far away from it.

It wasn’t until months after the release of Madden 07 that EA released the lag patch which fixed connection issues between players who experienced degrading performance based on how far they were located from their opponent. NCAA Football 07 was plagued by the same issue, and hopefully what was done with Madden will be applied to that game as well. When they couldn’t get 1 vs 1 to play smoothly, adding in more people to a single game could not have been considered.

The big question is whether the option to play this way would be utilized, and how good of an experience it would be. It is tough enough to find a single opponent who won’t quit or find some way to make the game less enjoyable. Gathering enough to field a football team at a particular time seems extraordinarly unlikely. At what point when a team is losing would players start to drop out like flies? Who would actually take on the role of lineman, kickers, punters, ect? How would people react if another player, say the QB for example, decided he was going to be Michael Vick and run around all game instead of playing the game the right way?

There are a lot of questions that need to be examined before deciding whether or not it would ultimately be worthwhile. Leagues are a good example of this. You see a great deal of demand on message boards for EA to add them. However there really is very little incentive to. Few people actually participate in them, and those leagues that are put together rarely even go through to completion. There are a handful of great leagues out there, but those are very much in the minority. 2K has had leagues the last several years in their games yet most of the time they’re broken in some way, and even when working you might find 10 or so quality leagues. Those small groups that can pull it off are just fine, and probably better off, using an independent setup for their league.

Personally I’d like to see a limited version of co-op. 2 vs 2, maybe even 3 vs 3. Once you get past that point though you start asking for frustrating situations. Lets say you throw 3v3 in Madden. On offense you’ll have a QB, RB, and WR. On defense you can have someone on the DL, LB, and S. Covering all aspects of the field without putting people into positions they may not want to play. At different forums it would be easy to organize squads of 3 and maybe even leagues could grow out of that. I always thought NBA Street would be a great first step for a 3v3 online setup but they missed the boat on it.

We will get to see a test here with The Bigs later this month. 2 vs 2 online co-op is a feature for the game. It seems like a natural place to start with an “arcade” style game. No one will be worried about cheesing, and its the type of game that you’ll never feel like a win is out of reach even if you trail by many runs heading into the bottom of the 5th (The Bigs games are 5 innings each) and even if losing the shortened time playing should help as well. That’ll be a jump in and play experience and could provide a new level of enjoyment.

Online play is getting more of the focus and the true mutliplayer experience is coming. How long that will be, and what exactly that will mean to gamers, is still far from being determined.