To Multiplay Or Not, That Is The Question

Online multiplayer is a tricky beast. There’s couple of things that make it bit difficult to decide from an indie dev perspective:

1) Online multiplayer is cool. Like the coolest way to play games. NHL ’10 gets boring playing against CPU… but put there 12 human players on the ice and you are looking at a totally different experience. Left 4 Dead – I tried it like once solo (boooooring), but go for online multiplayer and it rocks. (Versus mode makes it even rockier).

2) Player base.

That point number two is the tricky part, the part that makes online multiplayer slightly painful for indies. In order to get players, there needs to be players. But in case there’s no players, new players won’t appear.

(The AAA game publishers have sort of figured out a solution to this puzzle: pour millions and zillions of money into advertising and building hype. Then the game might have a chance.)

With indies, it’s slightly trickier.

Even AAA studios were vary of online multiplayer only games. Battlefield 1942 was an “online multiplayer” only game and publishers were staring the devs like a rotten fish or something (a true event based story I just made up) when they heard that it was going to be online only. I recall that it was said to the devs that they should get single player campaign or that game would never succeed.

Well, they didn’t. And the rest is history.

In case you don’t remember the game’s history, I’ll tell you: they made BF1942, they got an publisher, I bought the game, it was the most excellent game I had played for long time and I spent tons of time playing it several years ago, other people also bought tons of games and now the devs pretty much have a solid brand and tons of money in their pockets. Not sure about that last point, but the bottom line is: that game was a success.

The point is. I wonder if it’s monetary wise to even consider doing an online multiplayer only game as an indie. Businesswise my brain is telling me “stop thinking that, do a hidden object game”. The other side of the brain is saying “well, what kind of games do you play? Online multiplayer? Would it – like you know – make sense to focus on doing a game that you know you will truly like?”

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. It depends on the game scope. For example, I believe I could not create an ice hockey game that would be fun to play multiplay. Well, at least I think there’s already better sports games available so would be perhaps difficult to think improvements or try beat EA in this area.

    But, regarding shooter: I think this very well could be possible.

    Or “card/board game”: I believe I could design a good card game (multiplayer) experience, but would it translate well to video game – it depends?

    Bottom line is: I’m confident that I can create a fun online multiplayer game experience.

  2. Can you do it, and do it well? If not, trying may be a bad idea. The team I’ve been working with for several months looked into this and decided that synchronous multiplayer was out of the question for us, but asynchronous could be done. That then informed our design decisions for gameplay and user experience. Just remember, there are more than one kind of multiplayer experiences to consider for your game.

  3. @bob: I’d certainly try make it so that multiplayer would be fun with minimal number of people. Like so that even with 2 it would be cool, and perhaps 3-4 be the target number (for real-time games). Anything more would be “extra”, if even possible.

  4. I think piracy alone might be worth pursuing online though (unless you plan to release your new game as freeware too).
    Just today finished reporting 10 (TEN!) links for my latest game, The Flower Shop.

  5. Offline multiplayer ability should always be there, in case you can’t get enough people to play online. I bought a game, finished the singleplayer, and there is never anyone online to play the multiplayer with. So I’ve basically got a dead game. Except that it has offline multiplayer, so I just need to convince a few friends to play with me!

  6. i would say it depends on the game. if you are going to make a multiplayer game where you need like 20 people in one round to have some fun i guess i wouldnt do it. but if you are going to make a game which you can play with like i don’t know maybe 4 – max. 10 people it might be worse it.
    With less people needed for one round your community don’t need to be as big as in AAA Titles.

  7. Whoa, nice how you mention that “I compare online vs offline games. I think online is the future, but is also MUCH harder!”

    That was exactly what I was thinking while sitting on sofa today. :)

  8. I think it’s worth it. After it depends on what are you targeting, with Facebook and “social” gaming (god i hate that word), it’s easier to get attention on your game.
    With the online community, if your game is good you gonna get attention.
    I’ve seen simple game (http://forums.jeuxonline.info/showthread.php?t=881810 | http://www.extinction.fr/minijeux/) called Aaaah ! , 2D black and grey, stickman, get huge attention from the French community because it was fun to play.

    I think multiplayer is always a good thing to have if you think your design for it from the beginning ;) (kinda make sense :p )

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