Bulletstorm and the Economics of the Single Player First-Person Shooter
A few days ago, I picked up Bulletstorm. It’s clear that the developers behind it really wanted to push the bounds of what a first-person shooter could be. Everything from the weapons, to the level designs, and the enemies themselves, have been tuned for you to pull off fancy juggle combos, and kills that would make Devil May Cry jealous. However, it’s also clear that their single player innovations don’t work within the context of traditional multiplayer deathmatch. Instead, the game offers its own version of horde mode that feels like a throwaway mode meant to to meet check multiplayer off as a feature on the back of the box.
As a consumer, I was pretty interested in Bulletstorm when it came out. I love Epic Games’ work on Gears of War – particularly the single player campaign – and thought this was going to be right up my alley. However, the game’s perceived lack of ‘real’ multiplayer did impact my purchasing decision, even though I don’t play much multiplayer in shooters. To me, I had a hard time rationalizing a $60 purchase for an approximately 8-hour first-person shooter, even though I’d probably pay that much for a game of roughly the same length in a different genre. Instead, I waited till I was able to buy it brand new for $15.
On one hand, I’m glad I saved my money for something that I may perceive as being less valuable than say, Call of Duty, which offers a richer multiplayer experience at the same price. On the other hand, it’s not fair to compare the two because they set out to do two different things.
Out of fear of being left on the shelf for not packing multiplayer, some of this generation’s best single player experiences have shoehorned in multiplayer to varying degrees of success, such as Uncharted, Assassin’s Creed, and Bioshock. In all of those cases, I almost wish that they’d forgo the multiplayer and focus on the artistic integrity of the original vision, but the economics probably don’t make sense to leave it out.
While there are a number of reasons for Bulletstorm performing the way it did, I hate to think that it failed primarily because it refused to include traditional deathmatch.