The Fatal Flaw in Some Multiplayer Games
Being the fan of multiplayer games that I am, I am frequently let down by some games. Not because they aren’t fun, or have something wrong with them mechanics-wise. It’s because the game population is so small or nonexistent. One example was Of Kings and Men, a third-person melee battlefield. Great game concept, the models and animations were nice, gameplay seemed solid – but nobody was playing. This isn’t just an indie game problem either. Big companies suffer from this problem as well. Not 4 months after For Honor launched, and it took forever to get into a queue. Also I was way outclassed by everyone in the game (I scored 5 points…compared to 200-400). Matchmaking is a huge problem for games with big populations, and exponentially more difficult for smaller game populations.
Narrowing Down The Problem
So what’s a company/developer to do? Getting your game in front of players nowadays is complex. Do you use Twitter or Facebook to advertise? Do devs give out keys to YouTubers, Twitch broadcasters, or just do giveaways directly to the players? What about Google or Facebook ads? Keep in mind this all costs money, and is very time consuming. Not to mention you have to get through a sea of spam to actually catch someone’s eye. Some Twitter users I see are following hundreds or thousands of other Twitter users. The term ‘following’ should be used loosely here, nobody keeps up with all of that unless it’s their full time job. So yes, standing out is difficult among the throngs of every other game trying to do the same.
Lately I’ve found a few games that are hugely impacted by playing with friends. I don’t mean random PuGs through the matchmaking system, I mean people that you know and interact with regularly. Helldivers and Rocket League are two that come to mind off top. I won’t play either without ‘friends’, and I’ve seen several people insist on the same. Finding more and more of these types of games lately, the question I start to ask the most is “Why don’t the sell these games in four packs?” A few games on steam are sold in four packs, and I’m not sure why more aren’t. For games so heavily dependent on their multiplayer community (IE both games above), having more players is paramount. Offering a nice discount for purchasing more than one copy seems like a no brainer. We get discounts for bulk purchases in everyday life. I get that it’s not cheap to make a game, but I’m willing to bet it’s even more expensive to make a failed game.
Another solution is to change the standard press key giveaway strategy. As I see it happen now, a game launches and press keys go flying out to all the biggest content creators. Occasionally the smaller guys manage to snag a few trickle-down keys as well. The big creators play it for a day, and then they’re done. Maybe a few days if the devs are lucky. After that, it’s just a forgotten memory. The creators showcasing it longer are actually the smaller creators. It’s all a game of numbers, large crowds for a few days or much smaller crowds over a longer period of time. If developers spaced out their timeline for giving out keys, probably to the smaller creators, it could keep their game ‘fresh’. Holding regular giveaways directly to players to coincide with handing out creator keys would probably be helpful as well.
Just before writing this article I went to try and find a particular game being streamed called Fortified! from Clapfoot games. It came out just last year, and has mostly positive reviews. Nobody’s streaming the game though! Not many are playing the game either according to Steam charts. If I want to check out the game, it’s all year-old footage from YouTube, which may or may not be representative of the game in its current state. So I risk spending $14.99 in hopes that I like the game, and that people I game with like it enough to risk $14.99 themselves. The safer route is to spend that money on something I can watch more recent gameplay of. Which option do you think players are going choose?
Risk versus Reward
Game developers, especially indie developers, take risks themselves bringing a game public, but players take risks on buying games with little to no information on. While some player risk is mitigated by Steam’s 2-hour refund window, getting a full groups-worth of friends to buy in to a game together is almost impossible. I have 290+ Steam friends, 500+ Twitch followers, 390+ Twitter followers, 100+ on Facebook, plus hundreds of readers per day on this website, and I still can’t make it happen unless the game is free. F2P is great, but for the most part they still manage to have their fatal flaws (terrible community, pay to win, etc). The bottom line is, game developers need to come up with a way to make multiplayer games more accessible to paying customers. That might mean offering better pricing on multi packs, keeping fresh content out there for prospective customers, or something else entirely.