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The ups and downs of doing online multiplayer as an indie
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The ups and downs of doing online multiplayer as an indie

May 12, 2014 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 5 Next

So when it came to making the decision about whether or not to add online multiplayer to their game, Woodrow and his partner in crime Sarah Woodrow asked themselves whether doubling the game's development time to add online multiplayer was worth it.

"With the Xbox version we felt that it was important that we at least offered it," he says. "There were only two of us and it was only a six month development overall. We felt it was worth it, but whatever time you think it will take, add lots more to make sure that you have enough time to polish and test the online experience."

Notably, Chompy Chomp Chomp was designed to be a local multiplayer game, with online added later on -- and as such, it turned out that playing the game locally was more fun than online.

"If you want to deliver a solid online multiplayer game, I think it would be best to focus on that context and experience," Woodrow muses. "You need to make design decisions around delivering the best online experience that you can, and take that into account throughout the whole design process. If you add it as an after thought it will be a lot harder to implement and deliver a good experience to your players."

"We had a hypothesis that people would get their friends to buy the game so they could play it online together. We haven't found any evidence that this happened."

So was adding online multiplayer to Chompy Chomp Chomp worth the three months of development time? Says Woodrow, he's glad he added online multiplayer to the game, but that doesn't mean it's had a great effect on sales.

"We had a hypothesis that people would get their friends to buy the game so they could play it online together," he explains. "We haven't found any evidence that this happened. From what we can see it was more people evangelizing the local multiplayer experience that got their friends to buy it."

Going into the Wii U version, the team has taken these lessons learned about the popular local multiplayer aspects, and are applying them to an enhanced version for the Nintendo console.

But on the flipside: "We also wanted to deliver a game that showed what we could do, as it was our very first game," Woodrow notes. "It was a good achievement, and we've had some amazing feedback based on it. Some of our players are incredibly happy that we added online and we made it for them."

As for Utopian's future games, the team plans to always focus more on local multiplayer than online play.

Chompy Chomp Chomp

"Online play will never be perfect for everyone," he concludes, "so make the decision based on whether or not it matters to your players. We decided to give our players a choice. It may not always be a good thing to offer that choice."

Dan Marshall of Sive Five Games dabbled in online multiplayer for the first time last year, when he released Gun Monkeys, a one-on-one monkey-based shooter where players grab big, silly weapons and attempt to blast each other to pieces in compact arenas.

For Marshall, adding online multiplayer to a game is not an experience he plans to have again any time soon, and while he feels like it was a great lesson in video game design, he kinda wishes he hadn't bothered in the first place.

"Multiplayer's a constant pain," he tells me. "Even something simple, like testing a new chunk of code to see if it's working, means setting up a couple of instances of the game. It might not sound like much, but it just slows everything right down. Building the game, getting it set up, and then recreating a bug across two instances by yourself can take forever."

"There are just so many balls to juggle at the same time, and if it crashes and burns it's instantly more problematic."

As with my other interviewees, the main problem was the twitch-based action in Gun Monkeys. Marshall ended up having to essentially predict where objects were going to be and funneling that data through to each player, rather than using information on exactly where objects were.

"If you're got a huge amount of money it's possibly something you can circumnavigate," Marshall reasons, "but by-and-large I think the best way to get around all these issues is to just focus on single player."

But it's not just the twitch-based issues that make online implement difficult, says the dev, as he notes that even the best-selling online multiplayer games are going to struggle to have loads of players online, looking for online games, all at the same time.

"Gun Monkeys was designed with the intention of avoiding the playerbase problem," he says. "It wasn't supposed to be a game where you logged on looking for a stranger to play."

"The trouble is, that's not the mindset people have," he continues. "People ignored the messages, and just got angry when they couldn't instantly find a game with someone at 3 a.m. That's the issue indie devs need to take away and think about - the mindset of gamers seems to be largely one of expecting everything to come to you, not to go to any effort organizing things yourself. I designed Gun Monkeys around that principle, and sadly it still didn't really work."

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 5 Next

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