Is “Multiplayer-Only” a Kiss of Death? (For Indie PC Games)

I’ve been working my butt off to get Dead Wake game in releasable shape (target: next Saturday if everything goes well). I took a small break now to write this blog post. I started browsing indiegamer forums and googled a bit about sales of multiplayer only games (out of curiosity, Dead Wake won’t have the multiplayer mode) where the message was that multiplayer is not a good route. Interestingly, there’s a growing number of board game makers that think that designing physical board games is not done for the money (since there ain’t money to get). These guys think that doing board games in the video game industry could be good (Reiner Knizia, one of the world’s most known board game designer, also pointed out this same in one interview – unfortunately I don’t have link at hand right now). And physical board games are multiplayer games…


To me this sounds like a mixed message: common answer at the indiegamer forums at it pretty much can’t be done. Tribal Trouble sold $60,000 in one year (several fulltime and part time developers), which doesn’t sound too much indeed (and they have single player option too).

My zombie-friend Nexic has been working on his free zombie MMO – which I think is a really cool concept (and even though the game is free, I recommend you buy stuff or donate to this guy, since any zombie game maker deserves the money, right?). In one Indiegamer thread, Nexic pointed out that it’s a load of work to make a zombie MMO, but that the money is decent. I don’t know how much Nexic makes money but I suppose the interesting concept and the fact that the game is free are helping him to build an audience. There aren’t any zombie MMOs in the world, so Nexic has a small monopoly right now (which is good in any business) – and it can help him.

With all these posts and comments, I’m pondering that making an online-multiplayer game only (PC by indie) is risky, but it could also potentially wield a big success if pulled right. Battlefield 1942 (non-indie game by still) was said that it will “never work”, but after the launch… it started like a new genre in the field of gaming. (And is continuing even more). Could same happen in the indie field?

I guess a multiplayer-only (indie) game could require:

  • Free (but selling stuff inside game, ranging from visual aids to perhaps some attributes or new expansion packs or similar)
  • Community building right from the start (how this is done is not the topic of this blog post…)

There’s not many competitors, but attaining the critical mass can be really tricky… but a free fun game. Made for the community. Maybe it could work?

Has it worked?

Your thoughts?

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. I think there are some pros and cons:

    1. Easier to cut down pirates
    2. More viral (“come play x with me”)
    3. Lower requirement on AI, story and possibly content

    1. Until critical mass is reached, no games will start
    2. Some people just don’t enjoy multiplayer

    Adding support for bot matches or having a game that only requires a small number of players (as close to 2 as possible) would reduce the issues.

    Fallen Empire: Legions is a great example of a multiplayer only game that has done really well and I class as “Indie”.

  2. Soldat 2D is quite popular indie multiplayer platformer. It can be played for free, the paid version mostly provides UI tweaking, mainly setting higher resolution. You can play alone with bots, but that’s hardly very entertaining.

    Dominions III is a niche hardcore TBS. It can be played alone, but it’s clearly oriented towards multiplayer.

    There were other multiplayer indie games, the most successful being Quake III, but they are too old to be relevant.

    There is probably some number of multiplayer indie web games.

    Until there are enough of other players, a multiplayer-only game is no fun. Mainstream multiplayer games are helped a lot by big marketing that allows to gather critical mass at launch.

    Having at least somewhat fun single player mode helps to hook players so they want to gather for a multiplayer match and form an initial community.

  3. Jake: you should try Left 4 Dead (online coop)… :) this makes you pretty much opposite to mine, after turning 20 (and continuing), I think I have bought zero single player games only games (and played only multiplayer modes of those). Well, GTA comes to close (although I liked to play the GTA multiplayer mode…).

    Gaurav: good point on Runescape (and others). These are MMOs. What about other games… do you know any non-mmo, indie multiplayer only game?

  4. Hey man, there’s a ton of these…Runescape makes $50m + a year. There’s also Puzzle Pirates ($230k / month), Habbo Hotel (albeit more social than a game).

    I think Free to play but purchase perks MMO is the way of the future. The key is probably to keep overhead low (very few employees, work from home/cheap office). These games can earn you money but if big companies try it they tend to have too much overhead which results in a negative cash flow and no profit.

  5. I’ve never bought a multi-player only game. The nearest I got was Quake3 and Unreal Tournament I guess. I love single player and especially coop gameplay.

  6. Personally, I like a multi-player game only when it’s done right. Take all the big free ones; full of hackers and cheats. And they offer “buy this gun” and stuff. I don’t know anyone who actually spends money for them. On the other hand, I know a few guys who donate money to games which don’t give anything in return.
    ….Well, my mate today was happy to see his game profile background had a large $ symbol on it, and when he went in-game, he had a $ icon beside his name. Through him donating, I now know about this particular game and plan to play it with him, all thanks to such a stupid little reason. (Give the audience something that surprises them enough to tell others?)

    Single player- Take a look at crimsonland (google it, it’s easy to find)- allowing players to play by themselves, but try and beat their buddies’ scores isn’t a bad idea.

    Either way, you have to get your game out there. You could make some simple banners or icons for people to post on their myspace or such… Keep an eye on the number of hits on your sites; it’s a direct result to what you’re doing to make your game popular.

    One example would be that I stumbled onto this page by signing up for a beta key for a game on some site, clicking a link to another game, then following a link to your game on their forum. Not easy to find, I might add. Though I have to say I wasn’t looking for it. Perhaps that’s the problem; make me want to find your game. Once again, get people talking about it. (I’m making this up as i go, I hope you can make more sense outta it than me, lol.)

    Thanks for reading. I hope this helped you in some way. (It sure didn’t help my fatigued insomnia… Is 06:49 a tad late for bed time? :P)

  7. I’m currently working on a free multiplayer-only game called Battle City (http://battlecity.looble.com). It’s open source, and I think that really helps with establishing a strong community.

    In terms of revenue however, it’s currently near zero despite a fully-functional product. Still, there is potential, since the game is far from reaching critical mass. The server is often empty and I am breaking-even in terms of expenses. I imagine if it filled to capacity, I’d see a small, but, nice return on time-invested.

    If not, it doesn’t matter to me. This is a fun hobby :)

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