I will deal now with one of the major differences between the maps designed for single player games and those for multiplayer games. In a single player game, the player goes through a level with a single objective in mind, finishes it and passes to the next. He only spends little time in each level. But in multiplayer games, the players will spend hundreds of hours on each map. All map weaknesses will then be found.
Thus, design errors or bugs that allow cheating are revealed and exchanged among players. A second consequence of this hyper-use of the maps is the risk of player boredom if the map is not tactically rich enough. Multiplayer maps must support thousands of hours of play without letting the player feel bored. One year after the marketing of Splinter Cell – Pandora Tomorrow, thousands of multiplayer sessions were still being played every day, this is the same for other tactically rich maps such as some Halo 2 maps.
The third typical constraint of the multiplayer level design is the consequence of the highly competitive game style that is specific to this type of game (except for cooperative modes). Since the essence of the multiplayer game is to crush the opponents, the players search for the most efficient tactics, whereas in a single player game, the players tend to play at their own pace and explore all the possibilities provided by the game.
What are the consequences? First, players completely ignore many game features (weapons, animations, specific map functions etc.), even if they show a real potential. They will only use the most efficient features.
The second consequence is the strong incentive to cheat or to take advantage of the map’s weaknesses or bugs. This problem is so important that it renders the classification in many multiplayer games null and void.
The fourth constraint is the difficulty in getting average or casual gamers to engage in multiplayer games. The reason for this is simple: nobody likes being humiliated by losing repeatedly to gamers that give you no chance. Playing against a human opponent generates a lot of tension and makes the game more exciting, but also increases the stress level of an inexperienced gamer.
It will then be really difficult for him to put up with the three challenges he must handle simultaneously: control of the interface, knowledge of the maps and tactical vision of the game. There are many classification systems that regroup the gamers by level, but the majority only provides an incomplete solution to the problem of integrating the beginners.
At the moment, multiplayer games are reserved for the hardcore gamers. If we want multiplayer games to get out of their niche, it is vital that we design them with this in mind and not simply adapt them.
Finally, the last major constraint is the weight of the gamer community.
A multiplayer game exists thanks to its players, who are hungry for new content (new levels), improvements, competitions and possibilities to adapt the game to their own style of play. The creation of a community of gamers around a game may be a blessing for a developer and its publisher, but the development of the game must be prepared in view of this.
In subsequent installments of this series of articles devoted to the multiplayer design, I will tackle my suggestions regarding: