Rainbow Six: Siege won't have a campaign mode, nor will Call Of Duty: Black Ops 3 on the PS3 and Xbox 360 or Star Wars: Battlefront. From a greedy, consumer perspective I'm not bothered by this. I don't feel like I'll be robbed somehow if this year's £40 disc doesn't have the same amount of "content" as last year's.
I'm also not worried about missing out on anything wild or creative. Ubisoft, Rainbow Six's developer, hasn't turned out a good story since Far Cry 2, and CoD has been rubbish since the first Black Ops, if not before. The world hasn't lost anything. It's just a sad indicator of video games moving – even if it's only slightly – away from narrative and closer to mechanics-led design and pretensions of sport.
At a single studio there's room for everything – narrative games, multiplayer games, mechanics-heavy games – and I don't think Rainbow Six is an apocalyptic sign that video games are done trying to entertain with writing. Multiplayer, though, has always smacked to me of games as a service. It's designed using feedback from fans and players – either directly or through things like heat maps – and prides itself on fairness, functionality and accessibility.
It's certainly a craft, but it represents what are to me the most boring aspects of video games, the things that, as the definition of "video game" broadens, feel increasingly redundant. I don't care about skill ladders, weapon balancing and fair matchmaking.
If I had to choose it would be multiplayer not single-player that was excised from Rainbow Six, largely because, since they're each based on the same immovable, cold rules of game design, multiplayer modes feel to me all inherently the same.
'Reductive notions about game design are still being given preferential treatment'
Maybe it's just a gut preference. Debating which is the harder or more valid thing to create between single and multiplayer video games seems unfair and ludicrous – I think personally I just feel slightly grubby with multiplayer, like I'm not getting much out of it aside from base, gameplay thrills. I like a story. I like some structure. And I don't like to think of games as rigorously tested, tweaked and re-tested products. That seems to me a dispassionate illustration of gaming.
However flawed, I'd sooner play a game with writing, designed by as small a committee as possible, that's attempting to do something regardless of support or appreciation of would-be consumers. Those games seem noble and honest in a way that smoothed through, built-to-function multiplayer never can be. If the news about Rainbow Six: Siege is emblematic of one thing, it's that reductive notions about video game design – games must be fun, fair and intellectually accessible – are still being given preferential treatment.
It's a shame the mainstream is still, evidently, struggling to absorb much inspiration from what you might call gaming's counter-culture, but who ever had high hopes for the mainstream anyway? Rainbow Six: Siege and Black Ops 3: this is the kind of thing big games do all the time.
It used to be that first-person shooters, even war shooters, had pretensions of story – you play the old Medal Of Honor games and they don't just attempt a narrative, they try to be educational. Part of me wants to lament those days and write about how Big Gaming has lost its way, and people aren't trying like they used to, but I passed that point years ago.
'Single player campaigns in shooters have been hanging by a thread for years'
The mainstream is just grotesque at the moment. I know that's cynical and jaded and unhelpful, but I'd like to think Rainbow Six et al provide the game-makers doing genuinely good work even more impetus, since it's something tangible and awful to push back against. There are good stories being told. There are great single-player games still being made. If big shooters want to lose themselves in boring multiplayer, I guess that was inevitable, but it doesn't mean video games are backsliding generally.
The grand tradition of single-player campaigns in first-person shooters has been hanging by a thread for years anyway – I bely anyone to play Advanced Warfare's single-player, and then say it's anything except a reluctant add-on, built chiefly out of a sense of obligation. Rainbow Six is a big game doing what big games have been doing for a long time, except nakedly.
Games as products have always existed, and now they exist even more out in the open. I doubt this'll create a groundswell of gaming enthusiasts, who demand that stories go back into shooting games, but at least the choice now is that little bit clearer: if you want products, support the mainstream. If you want something else, support something else.