Mass Market Games - Crafting Multiplayer and Co-op Experiences
Looking at the evolution of games over the last few years with the advent and rising availability of smartphones, access to a steady online connection, and competitive gaming experiences, it is hard to deny that online games are becoming the forefront of gaming.
When discussing online games today, it is important to understand one key factor: Everyone is online.
According to Newzoo’s Global Games Market Report (2022): “Infrastructure advancements mean that billions of consumers now have access to reliable and secure internet connections”. More so, Newzoo’s 2022 Consumer Insights show that a remarkable 79% of the online population engages with games in one way or another—whether that be playing, viewing, or engaging with game communities.
Before we dive into a few core concepts of designing online games, let’s have a look at the leaders of mobile gaming by revenue:
Of the top 15 highest-grossing games of recent years, 11 have substantial online content in the form of impactful social features, PvP, or player Co-op.
Building the Fundamentals of Playing Together
Streamlining and enhancing online play is a perpetual pursuit for game developers, as creating a positive and immersive experience for players remains a sempiternal goal. Online interactions can be challenging due to language barriers, cultural disparities, toxicity, representation concerns, latency issues, divergent goals, and varying player types.
To navigate these complexities, developers must focus on a few key fundamentals that are unique to when players play together.
One such fundamental is communication.
As teamwork and coordination become paramount, games have embraced integrating user-friendly communication tools. A shining example of this is the widespread adoption of the ping system.
Ping systems can generally be classified into two categories: the classic system and the associative/contextual system, which introduced a new dimension to online communication. The classic system empowers players with a versatile ping wheel, activated by a designated key, to prompt attention on the minimap with a simple ping. By holding the key and making a specific selection from the wheel, players can choose a specific ping.
EA's innovative ping system, initially patented but later made freely available, revolutionized communication in gaming. With a simple press of the ping button, players can mark any object, triggering the game to assign a unique ping to it.
For instance, aiming at a dropped weapon and pinging it will notify all teammates. This versatile system extends beyond item marking; players can use it to indicate directions, coordinate engagements, and even make character-specific remarks, all using the same button. For example, a tracker character can inform the team of enemy sightings at a specific location, enhancing strategic gameplay. When players want to indicate something specific outside the contextual ping, there’s a classic selection wheel available.
A second fundamental of online play is Fairness.
Regardless of the game being competitive (PvP) in nature or cooperative (PvE), if the game doesn’t feel fair to play, it will likely not be fun to play.
Matchmaking and skill-based systems play a pivotal role in the realm of online play, allowing players to engage in balanced and competitive experiences. By implementing robust matchmaking algorithms, game developers ensure that players are matched with others of similar skill levels, creating a level playing field and promoting fair competition. Skill-based systems take into account various factors, such as player performance, ranking, or skill ratings, to pair individuals or teams with suitable opponents.
This not only enhances the overall enjoyment of the gameplay but also fosters a sense of progression and personal growth as players face challenging yet attainable matches.
Effective matchmaking and skill-based systems serve as the foundation for creating engaging and satisfying online experiences, where players can test their abilities, strive for improvement, and forge memorable gaming moments.
Among the most common of such systems is the Elo system developed by Physics professor Arpad Elo, this system has players accumulate or lose scoring points based on their performance, creating a natural-self sorting leaderboard of players.
There are other systems as well that work on a similar basis of numerical ranking based on different metrics and players of different brackets are matched together like the MMR system.
Another approach like Lobby based matching allows players to gather around certain criteria, goals, or game modes to be able to play together. Nowadays many game developers combine different aspects of different matchmaking systems to create the solution most fitting to their specific audience.
The last fundamental we’ll discuss in this article is Progression.
Progression is an inherent aspect of gaming, and in the realm of online games, it assumes unique characteristics due to their inherent design for potentially infinite playability.
Online games often feature progression systems that offer a sense of advancement, achievement, and growth to players over extended periods. Whether through leveling up, unlocking new abilities or items, or earning virtual currencies, progression provides a sense of purpose and rewards players for their dedication and skill.
Moreover, online games frequently introduce regular updates, expansions, and seasonal content to sustain player engagement and provide new avenues for progression. This ongoing progression serves as a driving force, encouraging players to continue their journey and explore new challenges.
A good example of a progression system that is ever-expandable is a Character Collection system.
These systems often revolve around players acquiring different characters, incorporating RPG-inspired systems of nurturing, growing, and sometimes interacting with said characters. This commonly allows these games to keep on introducing new characters to the game regularly serving both a precise progression estimation based on collection power and completion as well as plenty of room for self-expression, variation in play, and empathetic connection to the game.
There are many forms of character collection systems such as Gacha games, Collection games, and Character focus games. Overwatch, as well as its sequel for example, have been introducing new characters and updating pre-existing ones as a way of both bringing new content, shaking up the most commonly used tactics, and giving players more options. This keeps the game fresh and welcomes old players to come back and try something new.
Building a strong and vibrant community is paramount for the success of any online game, particularly in the evolving landscape of mass-market games. The interaction and connection between developers and the player community have taken on increasing significance, shaping the industry's direction and player experiences.
With platforms like Reddit, Discord, and various social media channels, online communities now have numerous avenues to gather, share insights, and support their favorite games. This thriving community engagement can be a formidable strength, contributing not only to the game's reputation but also to valuable player input and feedback.
By actively participating in community discussions, developers gain direct insights into player preferences, concerns, and desires. This valuable feedback loop enables developers to address player needs, identify areas for improvement, and implement changes that resonate with the community. In turn, players feel heard, valued, and invested in the game's ongoing development.
Furthermore, fostering a strong community fosters a sense of belonging and camaraderie among players. Online communities provide spaces for players to connect, share strategies, form alliances, and even cultivate long-lasting friendships. These interactions amplify the social dimension of online gaming, enriching the experience and encouraging players to return for shared adventures.
To effectively nurture communities, developers must prioritize clear and open communication, regularly engaging with players through official forums, social media platforms, and in-game events. By fostering an inclusive, positive, and supportive community culture, developers can create an environment where players feel comfortable expressing their opinions, collaborating with others, and contributing to the growth and success of the game.
In conclusion, designing and cultivating successful co-op and multiplayer experiences in gaming requires a holistic approach that prioritizes communication, community-building, and player-driven content. By streamlining online play through innovative communication tools like ping systems, game developers empower players to effectively collaborate and strategize, enhancing the overall gaming experience. Furthermore, nurturing vibrant online communities fosters a sense of belonging, promotes player engagement, and provides invaluable feedback for ongoing development.
However, the journey does not end there. As the gaming industry continues to evolve, developers need to stay attuned to the ever-changing needs and expectations of players. This necessitates constant innovation, adaptation, and improvement of matchmaking and skill-based systems to ensure balanced and competitive gameplay. Moreover, fostering inclusive communities, open communication, and meaningful player interactions remain paramount for creating online gaming experiences that captivate and unite players from diverse backgrounds.