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Charting the course of a multiplayer game's fall from grace

Charting the course of a multiplayer game's fall from grace

April 13, 2016 | By Alex Wawro

No multiplayer game lasts forever, but some last longer than most. 

Team Fortress 2World of WarcraftDefense of the Ancients -- somehow, some games seem to "stick" as so many others launch, succeed and fade away. So why do their communities fade, and what can game developers learn from the process?

One interesting case study is Guns of Icarus Online, a Kickstarted competitive multiplayer game released by Muse Games in 2012 and still actively played today. Muse chief Howard Tsao has blogged at length on Gamasutra about the challenges of developing the game and then spending over three years managing its community; now, some fans of the game are taking to a thread on Reddit to chat about why they've faded away from the game.

The mix of responses in intriguing -- some say they've left the game due to balance issues, others because of professed shifts in the playerbase which often pit new players against incredibly experienced opponents, and a few just fell off because they didn't like where the dev's priorities seem to be.

"Speaking as a 1000+ hour member of the vet community of this game, it is still alive. Our community is small but rabid," wrote one poster. "However, there is a general feeling that pvp is stagnating because all the efforts of the devs go to co-op mode. Some members of the community, including myself, are starting to drift away and take extended breaks due to the lack of updates."

At the same time that veteran community, described here as "small" and "rabid", is exactly what seems to be driving some newcomers away from the game.

"I really liked the game, but it was NOT friendly to newcomers at all. I was trying to get into it and nobody, and I do mean nobody, was at all forgiving for anything. If I made any mistakes they'd ream me out and leave," adds another commenter. "It's a shame too, because the game itself was really deep and really fun, but as it is with asymmetrical team games like this, it needs a good supportive community to back it up, and in my experience, that just wasn't there."

What's notable here is that Guns of Icarus Online is, by many standards, a standout success story (SteamSpy pegs it at over a million copies owned, and many devs have noted in the past that SteamSpy's estimates aren't far off their internal data) and thus these responses shed some light on the challenges that lie in store for a studio that manages to produce a hit multiplayer game.

As for Muse, it continues to update the game and support its dwindling community even as it works on a Kickstarted expansion, Guns of Icarus Online - Adventure Mode, which will see the game augmented with new mechanics and a persistent, open world.

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