Offline multiplayer progression would solve more problems than it creates

Earlier this month, Activision and Sledgehammer Games launched the latest entry in the Call of Duty franchise, Call of Duty: WWII, and to put it plainly, it was a bit of a disaster. Crippling server issues caused by the massive influx of players all trying to play the game at once meant that many of those same players couldn’t even make it through a single online multiplayer match without getting disconnected or caught in a never-ending loading screen or, in some of the more unlucky cases, losing whatever progress they had made and/or having their rank reset.

Sledgehammer has naturally been working around the clock to resolve the online issues, but I can’t help but think that one minor change in how Call of Duty: WWII’s multiplayer, and indeed the multiplayer in many other games, functions could have prevented such a catastrophe in the first place: offline multiplayer progression.

A Sense of Accomplishment

Now, I know full well that this is an unpopular opinion, believing that players should be able to earn multiplayer rewards like experience points, accolades, and unlocks whether they’re playing a particular game’s multiplayer component online or offline, but it’s one which I adamantly believe would resolve more issues with how multiplayer currently operates than it would create. First, let me list some discussion points to provide a clearer picture of what exactly I’m talking about:

  • Within the scope of this argument, I am mainly referring to games that have both offline single-player and online competitive multiplayer components. Various entries in the Call of Duty franchise are prime examples but they’re not the only ones.
  • More specifically, I am talking about the fact that many competitive multiplayer game modes usually have an offline component where the player can play against AI bots, but the component doesn’t allow the player to earn rewards like XP, accolades, and unlocks.
  • The common understanding seems to be that it’s more rewarding to earn accolades and achievements when you do so by facing and (hopefully) defeating real players as opposed to AI ones.

As to that second point, it’s a matter of perspective. Most story-driven single-player games allow the player to unlock accolades and achievements regardless of what difficulty level they’re on, so why force an arbitrary restriction on multiplayer participants when that same restriction is very rarely found in single-player games? One could also argue that allowing players to earn online play rewards through offline play grants them an unfair advantage or cheapens the accomplishments of those who earned them online, but that’s just really arguing semantics since neither point is really true.

If anything, someone who earned the reward offline would be at a disadvantage if they then went online since they wouldn’t have as much experience fighting real players, and if it really bothers you that another player earned the same cosmetic reward for playing offline as you did for playing online, well, that’s more of a personal issue than anything since they still put in the effort to earn it, even if said effort wasn’t as difficult or as drawn out as your own. Plus, wouldn’t you rather they earned it via gameplay instead of just randomly finding it in a loot box they shelled out a couple bucks for?

A Worthy Alternative

Here’s another point to consider: offline multiplayer progression would help soften the blow of having to cope with online server issues since you could just play offline and still earn rewards while the developer got the online issues sorted out. Naturally this would require the presence of some sort of syncing mechanic which would allow the game to track any offline progress you made and then sync it to the live servers once they were up and running, but it would still be a better option than simply waiting around for the servers to be fixed, wouldn’t it?

This is also a good time for me to say that I don’t expect offline progression to serve as a full replacement to the online experience. As much as I may despise the concept of competitive multiplayer in general, even I have to admit that fighting against offline bots, no matter how skilled they are, can never fully replicate the experience of fighting other actual players. However, fighting other players can also become very frustrating very quickly (at least for me) and it would certainly be nice to have offline bot matches (with full progression) to turn to whenever I got sick of losing my tenth online competitive match in a row (which happens quite often in my case).

Making Both Sides Happy

Again, I understand that there are some of you out there who would never be for allowing offline players to earn the same rewards as those playing online, but I’m sure a compromise could be made in order to appease both camps of players. Maybe there could be a daily or per-match cap on the amount of progress that could be made offline (Infinity Ward did something like this with Call of Duty: Ghosts’ Squads system) or maybe games could use a system similar to Gears of War 3’s unlockable characters by implementing different versions of a particular item, one that could be earned offline and one that could only be earned online, allowing more competitive players to show they were willing to brave the online battlefield for their rewards.

No matter what specific parameters were introduced, I don’t think it can be denied that, at the end of the day, the presence of offline progression could also drastically extend a game’s lifespan, something which I think we can all be happy about, especially fans of franchises like Call of Duty since each new Call of Duty title tends to become obsolete a little over a year after it first launches. I know it’s something which developers have been and will continue to be slow to embrace, but I want to enjoy the games I play to the fullest just like everyone else, and the presence of a fully robust offline multiplayer experience would help me do just that.