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Local multiplayer for tablets: DOs & DON'Ts.
by Baptiste Villain on 05/15/14 05:01:00 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.

 

After months of reading the few articles I could find about creating local multiplayer games for tablets, I finally released one of those games a few weeks ago. So now I can share my experience and illustrate it with data for a more business, less emotional, oriented post. And it fits perfectly with the recent call for blogs!
 

Maybe it’s because I’m an only child, but I have always been in love with local multiplayer games. It started with NES and SNES, continued with arcade and even went to board games… but I have failed to find the local multiplayer excitement I once had, on tablets and phones.

Of course, some games of this category are really great, like Badland, or unique experiences like Spaceteam. But there are so few examples that reach that level of quality!

So why aren’t there many local multiplayer games on tablet, whereas there are tons on consoles? I think it’s because local multiplayer on mobiles is not a profitable market. Too few players are willing to play them, even less are willing to pay for them.
 

Well, that might sound like a disappointing introduction for this post, but if you are still trying to build the next local multiplayer mobile game, let’s list the DO’s and DON’Ts. I will start with the latter, with back up data from my latest game release called Swoc: of Swords and Blocks (a match-3 game with solo + local multiplayer), with figures from Appannie for market analysis and examples from games I enjoyed.

DON’T:
 

  • DON’T expect to make money out of your multiplayer mode.

I think you got my point in the intro, so here are some facts:

  • according to my own data, in Swoc, less than 5% people play local multiplayer compared to solo mode. It’s already hard to have a profitable game, but if you try to make money by only selling 5% of your potential sales, you’re in a dead end.

  • according to app annie, Spaceteam (in my opinion, one of the most successful examples) makes only little money. It’s been 3 days in the top 1500 grossing game in the US, now it’s out. It’s a very rough estimate, but I think the game is - at its very best - doing 3K$ per month on iOS. Maybe 1K or 2K on Android. It’s OK for a solo developer, but remember he is the exception amongst us. Grossing charts

  • “What about Badland? It’s successful” you might ask. Well, Badland does not sell on its multiplayer mode. Have you seen it mentioned anywhere on the official trailer or screenshots? Yes, once! On the very last screenshot of Googleplay store only. Badland relies on graphics and solo play. I even had to show a friend that local multiplayer was available days after he purchased the game, because he didn’t realize it was.
     

Badland Multiplayer

I found one! A marketing screenshot about Badland multiplayer (sorry, in french :-) )
 

  • DON’T mess with your monetization.

It may sound similar to point 1, but it also applies to games that blend solo and local multiplayer modes. And making only a bit of money out of a game doesn’t mean you want to make an absolute 0.

Monetization on local multiplayer games is very simple :

  • if it only requires 1 device : make it pay to play.

  • if it requires several devices, like Neon Defender... then you’re in a worst spot, you have to go free to play, so that every player can participate. But then you have to offer in app purchases. Customization is good, but your best call is extra-content. Look at Spaceteam best iAPs on Appannie again: challenge packs see higher sales than ships, outfits and symbols, because they introduce a few new mechanics.

    • The alternative to free to play in this case might be to introduce “client-server” hierarchy, with server/host having to pay, but being able to invite any amount of friends for free.

Spaceteam iAP

Most popular In App Purchases in SpaceTeam shows content dominating customization
 

  • DON’T mess with your solo metagame, because of local multiplayer.

What I’m calling metagame here is the largest loop of gameplay of your solo mode.

I did this error with my game. In Swoc, you can play up to 4 people at once on the device. So I needed to have 4 unlocked characters from start, in order to have multiplayer available. That only left me with 2 characters (I had 6 designed overall) to unlock in solo mode, which is not enough by far to give a good replay value to the game. I’m working on a content update with 3 new characters to play, so in the end it should be alright for Swoc, but remember to be cautious about the interactions between your solo content and your multiplayer content.
 

  • DON’T offer long multiplayer sessions.

That one is obvious. You are working on a mobile game, don’t expect a solo guy to play more than 20 minutes in a row. And don’t expect 4 guys drinking beers and talking to focus more than 5 minutes! That’s why Fingle or Bam Fu are well designed.

Of course, I made this exact mistake with Swoc as well, as the game sessions turned out to be longer and longer with every iteration while developing the game, but I haven’t found a solution yet. So be aware of this problem from the start, or your design basis could be totally flawed for multiplayer.

DO:
 

  • DO allow flexible number of players.

I told you that less than 5% people played multiplayer game in Swoc. Well, at least it can be played with 2, 3 or 4 players, both in a cooperative or competitive fashion. Imagine if I designed the game to be played with only 4 people cooperating? That would have led to even less multiplayer action.

You must allow a 2 player mode. And anything between 2 and your max players should be tried as well. If your core design supports it, offer different game modes too, like what is offered in King of Opera.

It’s already rare to gather local multiplayers, so don’t add anymore walls to their experience!
 

Swoc Multiplayer

Multiplayer mode selection in Swoc: make it simple!
 

Still, be aware that many devices do not support more than 5 simultaneous touches, and most recent devices support 10 touches. When you see a game like O, you can realize how much these limitations can hurt a crazy design involving 8 people at once.
 

  • DO offer an obvious & easy to learn gameplay.

If you are working on Free to play, you already know how hard it is to create a tutorial. You might even come to the conclusion that your game should have no tutorial. And you’re 100% right for local multiplayer.

First reason is that it’s very unlikely that all people would agree in watching game rules quietly before playing.

Second reason is that the very few rules of your game are often taught better by a player than by your game: someone in the group bought your game, right? So he must know the basis, and he will teach the others how to play by answering their questions and demonstrating the game, something no tutorial can ever do.

Then, behind the tutorial, remember that you need a juicy game with tons of feedback so that everyone figures out what happens on the board. Heavy feedbacks will also help people being convinced on first sight!
 

This point seems obvious again, but I remember my first games on Badland, and it was painful to see people not figuring out what color they picked or what they are supposed to do to fly. Even Bam Fu requires a run or two to be understood by everyone!

I must admit it’s another failure on Swoc side: it’s just a match-3 game… but there are tons of details to understand, to a point that it’s too complicated for local multiplayer.
 

  • DO have epic randomness in your core gameplay.

You need tons of random, because random creates unfairness and unfair games are the best for local multiplayer. You absolutely don’t want to have a predictable game where it’s always the same guy that wins, because this is competition, and it’s better online than local. Asher Vollmer (the guy behind Threes, which was cloned as 2048) recently streamed his next project, called Close Castles. While it looks fun, I think the absence of any randomness will give him headache for balancing, and might result in a single strategy dominating the game.

Randomness will keep the players on the edge of their seats until the end of every game, and it will make them want to play again and again to have the tiniest chance of being in the lead this time. It will make them laugh, pray and make fun of the others, isn’t it what games are supposed to be?
 

  • DO remember that there are no rules.

I can tell you this because I play that way, and I’ve seen friends do the same. Players will cheat. They will abuse what they can. They will start gently, then someone will do something crazy and everything will go wrong. So you should not design games which fail once someone presses a button on the other side of the tablet, because it will happen a lot. Imagine a RTS on a tablet where you can control enemy units… that won’t make sense! Even in Tiny Wings or Badland, people will try to press others’ part of the screen, but it’s fair, as it often will end up being lethal for the trouble-maker as he might lose concentration on his own character.
 

But this is also the fun part of the local multiplayer design! Offer people a fair experience, but show them that it can go crazy easily. I think the UI design of Spin Wars or Wepad might have hurt their sales (but I still like these games!), because their controls were too far on the edge of the screen to make people interact with each other.
 

Wepad Controls

Wepad controls are on the edge of the screen for a more "console", less "party" approach
 

But the fun part is that there are no rules in solo games too. I remember playing Flight Control with friends, each of us having to handle planes of 1 color. It was incredible to see the multiplayer power of a solo game! I played Hopeless in duo too, each of us having to take care of half of the screen. Of course this lead to situations where we didn’t know if an enemy was in the left or right part of the screen, and it leads to more fun and more deaths.

Too long, didn’t read?

If you’re creating a local multiplayer game for tablets, my advice is :

  • don’t expect to make money from the multiplayer part,

  • design the gameplay, UI, and monetization from the start taking into account multiplayer mode,

  • offer simple, unpredictable and fast game sessions.

Resources
 

  • “Swoc: of Swords and Blocks”: my most recent game, melting match-3 with a few RPG elements and characters skills that break the classical rules of match-3.

  • “Appannie”: for all your business data on mobile games.

  • “Badland”: Tiny Wings/Flappy Bird with content, graphics and multiplayer.

  • “Spaceteam”: a unique experience in bluetooth/wifi multiplayer.

  • “Neon Defender”: another take on the genre with physical mobile multiplayer.

  • “Fingle”: like twister with fingers on your pad.

  • “Bam Fu”: like Whac-a-mole against other players.

  • “King of Opera”: opera singers behaving like bumper cars.

  • “O”: almost like shufflepuck, but with tons of pucks and some colors.

  • “Close Castles”: build roads, houses, towers and markets to invade enemies’ castles (not realeased yet).

  • “Tiny Wings”: the ancestor to one touch games on the appstore.

  • “Spin Wars”: one touch local multiplayer dogfights.

  • “Wepad”: a collection of local multiplayer minigames.

  • “Flight Control”: draw paths for several planes trying to land on your airport.

  • “Hopeless”: shoot monsters and rescue mates in a cavern that definitively lacks torches.

  • http://localmultiplayer.com/ for those who need more examples.
     

Reach me on twitter: https://twitter.com/BaptisteVillain

Thanks to Alice for proofreading.


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Comments


Thomas Bedenk
profile image
Hey great article! I agree with a lot of your points while some of your points are hard to generalize for all local multiplayer games.

Cool that you like our game SPiN WARS http://spinwars.brightside-games.com :-)
I agree that our controls don't allow for physical interaction, however SPiN WARS was never designed to encourage physical interaction between the player. I love it when games do that like Greedy Bankers, but it depends on your game design!

I absolutly agree that it is VERY hard to market a multiplayer only game!
SPiN WARS was always an experiment for us rather than a fully fleshed product. After all I created it as a 3 day prototype and we were just playing it here at Brightside Games! We polished that a little and released it 3 years after I origially made it mostly to give it away to the players and experiement with different platforms. We have SPiN WARS ported to 7 different platforms now with 5 different business models :-)
We just released it for Windows 8 http://bsgam.es/sw-winstore

Maybe I should actually write an article about it an show some of our sales numbers!

Baptiste Villain
profile image
Right, Spin Wars is multi-platform, and as such, it inherits more limitations with its control scheme.

You should do a blog post, it's now or never with the call for blogs :-)

Christian Nutt
profile image
Yeah, do it :D

Thomas Bedenk
profile image
I did :-) http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/ThomasBedenk/20140520/218089/Local
_Multiplayer_on_7_Platforms_with_5_Revenue_Models_with_SPiN_WARS.
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