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The Game Of Losing

by Kacper Szymczak on 01/13/10 05:19:00 pm   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.


With multiplayer games reaching bigger and bigger audiences, I yet again began to wonder: why is multiplayer less popular than single player? I presume that is a fact; taking for example Modern Warfare 2, it's a safe bet to say barely a fringe of all owners does play the online part. Or tried it, for that matter. Please keep in mind that MP in MW2 is widely considered a superb experience.

A popular approach in ludology states that a crucial part of the game is the result. While surely key for competitive games like sports, it seems to be diminishing nowadays. For example, the Game Over screen, while definitive in past, now shifts towards a pause - if it's even there! Actually, you seldom see the old phrase. It's rather - Try Again!

And surely - why give player the negative feedback? Presuming games are bought to be fun, negative feedback is clearly something you would want out of your game at once. Especially when considering that repetitive negative feedback leads to frustration. You can change the negative feedback into positive feedback, encourage than discourage - as pointed out by Bruce Phillips in his Gamasutra feature of Staying Power: Rethinking Feedback to Keep Players in the Game.

Going down and up again is something you do in most games, Braid or Prince of Persia: Sands of Time depicting it perfectly - if you "die", just rewind the game a bit until the desired moment in the past. This, altogether, creates a stream of experience you can not fail.

Multiplayer, on the other hand, is all about failing, battling, prevailing. A comparison  seems fit - if Single is of working and retrying a task in a laboratory, then Multi is an enterprise of shooting yourself in a prototype rocket towards the sun. In some of the games, that is. It isn't safe, most probably will hurt, it will put you in front of other people looking with your pants down, and doesn't promise much progress (although there is some change with loser-oriented MW2 accolades like Low-Profile, Terminal or Accident Prone). It is a normal human behavior to avoid exposure to shame, laughter and pwn4ge. And it is a normal animal behavior to be territorially hostile to newcomers. Tea bagging comes to mind.


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Thus, it is a Threshold of Losing one must first pass. And the smaller the threshold, the more popular the game. Or at least - can't hurt your chances.

Having the premise set, I'd like to rant for a second on some ways around it.

1. Friends
Luckily, multiplayer is a social party, and access can be done through a proxy of a friend well-in already, minimizing the shame against player's shyness. If the game relies on friends, invites, gifts, through a slick reward it pushes players who are in to find players from outside. I guess sects work this way.

2. Random factor
From my experience, it was much easier to enter Unreal Tournament than Counter Strike. And I first played UT for 4 years straight, to mark my fingertips agility. It wasn't a case of wrong habits, as it may seem - at least, not mainly. UT is clearly much more about luck - of course, among players not controlling the battlefield well mentally. Simply put - load up 6 rockets, flush them down a corridor, a fish or two will always catch in, skilled or not. One can't do that in CS - it's much harder to catch the pro off-guard. Obviously, randomization shrinks the hardcore part of the community, too. Your call.

3. Cooperation
If the newcomer is of help to old-timers, he will be welcome. If you, for example, play Battlefield 2, join a squad, are given orders and fulfill them - you will be respected. Cooperation well implemented is the golden vein of social interactions. That's where friendships can start.

Clearly there's much more to that. Any ideas?

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