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What in us hates local multiplayer games while we know we love them
by Ashkan Saeedi Mazdeh on 05/19/14 03:41:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


We all love multiplayer games. We all love playing with others and it's much more fun when you play with others which you know. It's damn lot funnier when you play with someone in the same physical place!!! So why we have to have blogging weeks about local multiplayer? Why we see it fading out from the lists of features which games want to have?

Do we really love local multiplayer?

Games are historically about people gathering together and doing a fun activity together. Most of the games we know before the video games came up and even first video games at least require two players in the same place. People, at least those in my age (I'm about 25 years old) and older love human contact and can understand the difference between the virtual connectivity and the real one. Some people are introverts and some are extroverts. Ok! But we all know it's different to see a friend, give him/her a hug and a hand shake and commenting on someone's post on facebook so as a result we prefer to do things with people and with real people in real physical proximity for some reasons.

  1. You can communicate with them while playing, before and after the game by voice, facial expression and touch which obviously all of them are not possible virtually and those possible doesn't have the same quality and responsiveness all of the times.
  2. You can do trash talk, claims and ... a lot which is not the same with the virtual ones.
  3. We can do other activities after we gather for the game.
  4. We can do play in parties while having communication with others (just like watching TV and doing other activities) which are not playing with us.
  5. You actually know who you are playing with and are ACTUALLY WITH HIM/HER WHILE PLAYING.

So why online play and why preferring online play to local multiplayer?

Online play is a helpful and nice tool for doing games with a much bigger number of people which makes entire new games possible and for the times which you cannot find people around to play with. Our main business is about making it easy to make multiplayer online games but they don't have to kill local multiplayer! Why we prefer it? I'm not sure, some of the people of the current generation which are before their twenties might no longer see much difference between virtual and real presence in some situations and playing online is a natural thing for them. For us it was a revolution but for them it's a natural part of life and it means a lot if you think about it.

At first online multiplayer was a feature for playing games on LANs and modems for the times which you are not together or for games which you could not play together at the same computer but over time people thought it's more than enough and we don't want local multiplayer anymore. I count LAN multiplayer as local multiplayer as well in the social sense because it allows you to play with people in the same place however you can argue the physical proximity has a higher distance but even that is not thought about much in many games. Making a game takes time and adding a feature like split screen or other kinds of multiplayer takes time as well, even if it's 2 weeks the publisher might think players will not use it so why they should do it?

So why we don't use local multiplayer?

We want to do it but our lives don't allow us to do so. There are multiple reasons for my idea which are partly right hopefully.

  1. Our generation is older now and has jobs and duties so we have less time.
  2. The younger generation got used to online play enough which they don't understand the fun of it as much as we do.
  3. We ourselves got used to facebook and related stuff that we are getting into online play even when we can arrange something with our friends.
  4. Many of the games which have a potential at least for LAN play, don't provide it.

What I said is not a surprise to anyone hopefully but we should think about all of these when we want to decide on local multiplayer. These problems exist but the fun exists as well. There is a real need and a real market for it.

What we can/should do?

Humans are social animals. While works and thoughts of an individual are required for anything to happen, the same individual can make it really happen inside a community so we need to remain social in its real sense if we want to get more civilized (if we are any at all at the moment).

We should try to add local multiplayer to our games or at least LAN play to make them human friendlier. It will add value and replayability to the game while technically is not a huge task at least for games which are designed to be multiplayer in another way.

It's a lot of fun to do it. We at office are mostly busy with other stuff but we are making a small multi player tank fighting game, something like the classics like battle city and even now which we did not do a lot for it yet, playing it at the office with the guys is a lot of fun. The angry faces which laugh at your selfish name, the trash talk, everything!

I'm not sure if we finish it or not. I'm not sure if we release it or not but if we do, we'll support LAN play by a mean if it's not the only way of playing.

At least make it possible for people to have matches exactly with who they choose. Imagine if LOL had a capability which you could play a match unrelated to any other thing in the game with the people who you choose, then you could gather with your friends in a place, have a friendly match and go home without worrying about anything else in the game. If you have guilds, systems, levels and ... forget all of them for friendly matches and just get out of the way of the friends who want to play together.

Local multiplayer has business problems, right?

I know that,  but as I said, you don't have to make a game which is local multiplayer only. You can do it, you can bundle it with other games as those guys you know did it but you don't have to. It can be a feature of an online multiplayer game. We ourselves have done a local multiplayer only game last summer and gave it to a friend to finish it and publish it and the results are awful enough which I'm shy to show. Giving the half done game to someone to finish was the big mistake but being local multiplayer only was a cause as well. If it was not multiplayer only then maybe we had more business reasoning and capability (we need money to remain alive) to continue and finish it. However adding single player mode or online play to something designed to be local multiplayer only takes time and we could not do it at that time as well.

A local multiplayer game should be something that your competition/co operation with your fellow is exciting enough and gameplay should be still hot, but if they do then local multiplayer can really move it to the next level with making the human communication a part of it as well.

I know you remember your experience with your console, friends and family and don't want it to become a part of history. It's possible to do it again, even with mobile phones but you are the only ones who can do it!

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Daniel Pang
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It's the divide between console and PC game development. This has always existed, ever since the West wrote video games off for dead. Until the underpowered NES came around and shocked the pants off Trip Hawkins, who proclaimed PCs the future of gaming.

Consoles, thanks to their ease-of-use and simplicity, were designed with sharing and the couch experience in mind. The purpose of them was to play games, and share with others.

PCs on the other hand were individual workstations that also happened to run games, designed around the single user. This is also why PC gaming has offered a generally more individual experience. PC gamers have also traditionally put up with things that befuddle console owners, like frequent patches, shipping incomplete or unfinished games, DRM and multiple account systems - all of which are not conducive to a shared experience that offers the ease of access of an arcade.

Now the barrier has blurred a little because console architecture, thanks to the efforts of the nice people at Microsoft, has become so similar to PC architecture over the last decade that there's essentially no difference anymore, and the same practices blight all platforms (except, ironically, smartphones, which has its own issues). If publishers can get away with selling you an extra copy of the game just to play multiplayer, they'll do it every chance they get.

Ashkan Saeedi Mazdeh
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I agree! In PC space, LAN play is the equivelant of playing on the couch with your console and it's multiple controllers.

I am happy that there are some people in the world who acknowledge Microsoft's good stuff as well :)

Dylan Schneider
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It feels like this article was written two years ago. There are tonnes of local multiplayer games now! Sportfriends, Divekick, Nidhogg, Samurai Gunn, Towerfall, Videoball (soon) etc. There are even bigger-budget games. Mario Kart 8 exists now, as well as NintendoLand, and plenty of people still play fighting games locally.

Ashkan Saeedi Mazdeh
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I did not claim that there is not.
When i said "You can do it, you can bundle it with other games as those guys you know did it " meant the games you mentioned like sportfriends.
Compare them to the number of online games which could have local multiplayer as well.

Nintendo is an awesome exception in our industry which i hope to remain alive. They do fun and good things which others don't do much. They never can be the example of what all big names are doing. They are Nintendo and they are the exception IMHO.

Dylan Schneider
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You're right that Nintnedo is the exception and not the rule, but I do think that the current local multiplayer movement in independent games will have some effect on mainstream gaming and that is something that is worthy of mentioning, I think.
Thanks for replying! :)

Alfa Etizado
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It's because there's exactly one person in the whole world who I invite over to play games, and we can't always arrange to play together. But with online play I can play with him and also all my other online friends, so it is infinitely easier to play online.

Local co-op only often means no co-op at all. It is then that people complain about it, when it's the only option. Nobody hates it, but it's not practical.

Nathan Mates
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I'm going to take a somewhat contrarian comment to this "flood the site" series of rah-rah posts pushing local multiplayer as an unalloyed good. If you look at player archetypes as being instructive, would every explorer or completionist player prefer local MP? Especially if paired with players from more competitive archetypes?

I'd say that MP -- local or remote -- is suited most to competitive player archetypes, and any discussion that pushes MP as an unalloyed good needs to consider that there are types of players OTHER than the author.

Ashkan Saeedi Mazdeh
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I did not want to suggest local Multiplayer for all games and all types of games. I wanted to push those who are thinking about online multiplayer but not local multiplayer.
Unlike my other articles, i wrote it in one day and published it the other and did not give it a few weeks and multiple reviews. Sorry if i implied something else.

Bart Stewart
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I fully support the development of multiplayer games, both online and local. But the assertions being made here to support that development are not true. Using them to try to encourage the development of more local multiplayer games is both invalid and unnecessary.

"We all love multiplayer games. We all love playing with others and it's much more fun when you play with others which you know."

We don't all love multiplayer games. Other people can be fun to play with; they can also be disruptive, and that is not always fun.

"Games are historically about people gathering together and doing a fun activity together. Most of the games we know before the video games came up and even first video games at least require two players in the same place."

Games have not historically always been about people playing together, nor have all games required at least two players. Games are about _play_. There is more than one way to play. Some of those forms work best with a single player. There is absolutely nothing whatsoever negative about that.

One of the most popular of all card games (and computer-based card games) is Solitaire. The people who still play it today are not defective for preferring to play an individual game despite the easy availability of multiplayer games. And Solitaire, as a game design, is not incomplete or defective in any way for not having forced multiplayer features bolted onto it.

Again: I support the development of local and online multiplayer features for games where that makes sense. I want there to be more games like that.

What I don't agree with is trying to advance that argument by declaring that multiplayer makes every game better, and that individual-player games -- and the people who enjoy them -- are missing something. A perfectly good case for multiplayer can be made for games where that's appropriate without any need to try to broadly dismiss single-player games and their players as Doing It Wrong.

Ashkan Saeedi Mazdeh
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Dear Bart
I enjoy your comments on the site below most of the posts that you comment on.
My tone was wrong maybe. I did not mean all games and experiences can become better with multi player features and for everyone.

I was trying to mainly encourage those who make online multiplayer games to add local multiplayer to their games as well.
I think for many games it really adds to the replayability of the game (even many single player games).

Solitaire is an exception rather than the rule. Most of the games that people know and play are done with multiple people and most of them are improved with multi player features.

I've played a good amount of single player games and love them and many of them are not possible to be multi player. However we are used to watching when someone else is playing resident evli and commenting on what he/she is doing. I played alone with my console for hours when i was a kid but also remember the fun of having multiplayer stuff when i wanted them. I did not mean that you always want multiplayer and you always can have it, i meant it was a good part of our life which is being forgotten.

Titan fall has local multiplayer and it's a good thing (LAN play here) but not all games which come out with online play include the option, i was trying to convince them to do so.

Raph koster has a lot of nice ideas on the value of social play which i'm sure you are familiar with but it doesn't mean he denies the value of single player experiences.

Again , sorry for the wrong tone, i did not wanted to say anything against single player games and usage of the wrods all and always sometimes might have been inappropreate.

Bart Stewart
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Please don't worry about it; I actually enjoyed most of your piece. And I truly do fully support local multiplayer -- it really is a fun way to play games.

My only point -- which I probably made too strongly -- is only that I think you're undercutting your argument by basing it on comparing it to single-player gameplay interests. You make a perfectly good case (as do many of the other related pieces at Gamasutra this week) for how having friends right there sharing the experience is a great way to play. Relying on making that kind of game look better at the expense of games tailored for individual play isn't necessary.

Plenty of room for both kinds of game!

Ashkan Saeedi Mazdeh
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You are right!