A point I’ve made before is to be wary of any paid multiplayer-focused game, especially if they have features such as loot boxes or additional paid currency or anything that really belongs more in a free-to-play game, because it’s either going to be a ripoff from the start, or it’ll just go free-to-play later and focus even more on paid things. But what specifically is a multiplayer game, when there’s asynchronous features or game modes that might not be quite there?
The type I’m referring to when I say to steer clear of a paid multiplayer game is the type that has its most prominent modes primarily focused on multiplayer, particularly online, but local may also come up. I feel that a game that can be played locally may fare a bit better, but still fall into a lot of the money traps that can throw games totally off-balance. This becomes pretty complex in consideration with how much multiplayer modes are integrated into games now.
A game such as Team Fortress 2 or Rocket League is the exact framework that anyone should have concerns about. The game starts paid, and is fine that way, and maybe things are unlocked through playing, but then paid skins and loot boxes start creeping in to get more money from players who already paid. Eventually, it just ends up going free-to-play and that may just make matchmaking even more of a hassle, or lose the appeal or ability for dedicated servers at times, or at least their visibility. Regardless of how good the actual core gameplay is, if it’s surrounded by cash shops and hacked accounts that can be manufactured easily, it becomes a lot less appealing.
There are some games that have significant multiplayer focus, but aren’t fully into this money pit, though they may still have DLC. Smash Bros. is a party fighting-style game with a major focus on being accessible in multiplayer, and yet the games tend to feature a few significant modes designed to be played in singleplayer, which means there’s extra value for those not frequently in multiplayer. It does have paid DLC, but it’s either single fighters who tend to come with a stage and songs or Mii costumes, and is designed in a way to allow people without that DLC to play with those who have it. That in itself can be questioned as to having the DLC effectively be a key to be able to play with those items instead of the data itself, but it’s up for debate in another topic focus. There are other games which have multiplayer mostly as an added feature, such as with Animal Crossing, where being able to visit towns and have others visit just adds to the experience which is largely found in singleplayer.
There are also games that are mostly singleplayer, but have random events such as “invasions” or asynchronous involvement. Games such as Dark Souls or Watch Dogs can have people show up out of nowhere to ruin your fun, or you can just screw with them back. These are the types of games that are generally fine to play, but any hint of being able to buy something in-game for real money to “accelerate” things is a red flag, especially if it might provide an advantage in these events.
Given how much the two sides can integrate, it’s important to define a multiplayer-focused game in specific terms. The game as defined will have minimal singleplayer content, most likely limited to bot matches in parallel to most multiplayer modes and possibly a tutorial or training mode. The game will also be sold primarily on the multiplayer angle, to the point where it recommends 2+ players minimum, online or offline. Regarding offline modes, if the game is online-focused with local multiplayer as a secondary consideration, it will be significantly reduced in experience without a server connection, to where it could be considered “half or less” of the game it is. This applies even more so to any game with no offline multiplayer modes. Games that do have an offline focus with additional online support, however, are unlikely to be reduced in experience without a connection, that is anything that can be done online can be done offline, and vice versa, but this is no guarantee.
Generally, a game that defies this definition, primarily by having significant singleplayer content and can reasonably be recommended for a minimum of one player, doesn’t fall into this multiplayer-focused definition that I mention. Some games tread the line, such as Call of Duty, but those games typically do have a significant enough, if short, campaign, regardless if it can be played in co-op. Lacking a campaign is more of an exception despite the significant push for multiplayer in those games, where all of the additional content is purely multiplayer. Modern Rockstar games like GTA V and Red Dead Redemption 2 are largely singleplayer but are aggressively marketed in multiplayer as well, involving cash shops and focusing all future content there. They generally use the same map, just with allowing other players to show up and hack everyone, probably. In games such as those, someone could find reasonable amounts of enjoyment without even touching multiplayer, but may also prefer to get them at a discount or use dedicated custom servers instead if they do decide to play with others.