Star Wars: The Old Republic. World of Warcraft. Even the controversial Star Wars Battlefront II. Games that are either entirely based around online multiplayer, or that feature a multiplayer mode, are pretty common.
But there’s a reason why there are far more single-player games out there: making online multiplayer work is more or less rocket science. There are so many factors at work that you have to take into account that it could end up taking as much time to get working multiplayer as it did to code the actual game!
Let’s take a look at each factor to get a better sense for everything.
Understanding The Players
Here’s the thing about players who love online competitive multiplayer: they’re, well, competitive. They like challenge and they appreciate being rewarded for hard work.
Think about the World of Warcraft players who have been around since Vanilla. They are a dying breed: people who absolutely love PvP. No, not the modern-day PvP, we’re talking the brutal, world PvP where you got killed by a mob of overleveled jerks while questing, got corpse camped, and had to call your guild to come have a full-on battle in a field.
But every game is different. Star Wars Battlefront II has 6 game modes, but it’s riddled with some pretty heavy controversy. On one hand, there are microtransactions that allow players to essentially pay for heroes and, therefore, high scores. On the other hand, people who want to earn their way by playing are facing hours of grinding, and essentially gambling thanks to the loot crate digital rewards system. Items are random in every crate, so players have no clue what they’re getting.
This reveals two types of players who are currently playing the game: people who are fine paying to get ahead, and those who want to make the best of a bad situation in the name of Star Wars.
And that’s just one game! WoW players, different. Overwatch players or League of Legends players? Different. Each game attracts different types of players, but all of these people are competitive.
To successfully make online multiplayer work, you absolutely need to understand and nurture healthy competition. And more importantly, you need to think about the kind of game you’re designing. A game like Overwatch will be competitive but will draw in a crowd that favors team arena combat. World of Warcraft is ideal for players who love guilds and open world.
It’s Not Cheap, People
Riot Games raised $8 million to create League of Legends. When Destiny was released, the first of the series, Bungie dedicated $500 million to the project. And that was just the low end of their budget. They went over that as time went on.
What we’re trying to say is that it takes money to create a proper online multiplayer game. You have to spend money to make money, you know this!
As such, if you don’t have that kind of budget, you might be in for a major reality check. Even if Kickstarter went well and you raised over a million to just get the bare bones setup, you’re still only launching a mediocre online multiplayer experience.
And that’s a gamble. The entire future of your project will depend on whether or not the players are willing to play it and support it for years to come, enough to help it grow into a very good game.
Dealing with Controversy
This is something EA can tell you all about. In their ongoing battle against Redditors and general players, they’ve gotten some major backlash. Canceled orders, returns, criticism, blatantly being asked to leave the industry, etc.
Blizzard has been the subject of controversy too, despite their success. There are people who hate World of Warcraft‘s changes over the years. There was the time when the Auction House in Diablo 3 was so hated, it actually had to be removed. And there’s been countless of forum rants about Overwatch matchmaking.
How do these studios handle the stress? Well, for one thing, they have several people on their teams. Everyone has their specific role, which means they don’t have the typical indie problem of having a million tasks per person. It’s the higher-ups that get a say on controversial topics, and they have people to help them with that too. PR assistants, community managers, etc.
But perhaps more importantly, these studios always find a way to compromise. When Blizzard got backlash over the Auction House in Diablo 3, they canned it. They could afford to do that, because, well, they’re Blizzard. In a small indie setting, that would be daunting, because it would mean a giant loss in potential profits.
All in all, it’s no easy feat to create a successful online multiplayer game. It involves truly understanding your target players, raising a bunch of money in upfront investment for development, and thick skin in order to handle the inevitable backlash.
There will always be a better online multiplayer game out there. And you will always have to change and improve on your game to keep players happy. Expect community management to become a major aspect.
If this sounds like something you can absolutely stand up to, then you may want to start with the funding. That will be the deciding factor on whether or not you will even be able to develop a game like this.
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