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Crazy idea: how about we give multiplayer back to humans
by Sergio Rosa on 04/22/13 12:45:00 am

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.


A few days ago a friend on my Facebook said he disliked single player games because the real replay value comes from multiplayer games, I respectfully disagreed, and that opened a brief but interesting discussion between single player and multiplayer proponents.

But mostly me not liking the idea that only multiplayer games should exist basically comes from two different ideas:

  1. You see many single-player games that become amazing experiences (Batman Arkham Whatever, Bioshock, Silent Hill, and so on).
  2. Many AAA games where multiplayer is pretty much slapped on top of the core game ends up being a lame experience where they only copy what other games do (how many variations of “capture the flag” can you have, anyway=?)

Believe it or not, I did use to play multiplayer shooters with my friends a few years ago. It was actually pretty fun.


But then I also played online multiplayer a couple of times, when I was an avid Freespace player. To tell the truth I didn’t like it simply because I was either being kicked in the butt by, or kicking the butt of someone I had never met. I lasted 10 minutes before saying “the hell with this.”

It was something like this:


This girl is surely playing some online multiplayer with like 100 other “friends.” Considering when we used to play (in the same living room) there were only 5 of us, she must be having 20 times more fun.

Right? RIGHT???

Anyway, enough of this multiplayer rant. This blog post actually has a point. The point is a couple of days ago I began wondering about multiplayer in games, and about “unconventional” multiplayer games. Please note I’m not talking about “multiplayer party games” or music games (so I’m not talking about Rockband, Fruit Ninja for the Xbox, B.U.T.T.O.N. or split-screen multiplayer in Halo).

When I say “unconventional” multiplayer I talk about bringing mechanics usually reserved to single player games into the multiplayer realm, but also bring the multiplayer back into the living room and away from the cold wired world that is the internet. Because, you know, as fun as it may be to shoot weird symbols to the other mayan-dressed faceless monk in Journey, at the end of the day I won’t really care about who the other player on the other side of that optic-fibber cable was.

Take the idea of that “multiplayer adventure game” for example. Enola, our game, is a horror adventure title, and it’s also single player. What if that game had multiplayer elements, where players need to work together to solve puzzles and advance in the story? The concept is a hell a lot easier to understand if you simplify puzzles in adventure games as a simple “push a button” procedure, so then a “coop puzzle” would require both players to push their respective button at the same time. Enola uses death traps, so failed puzzles often lead to death, so we could add the simple variant that causes both players to die if they don’t push the button at the exact same time. This simple mechanic requires both players to talk to each other and coordinate their actions, thus, bringing interaction between them.

This “unconventional” multiplayer is about finding interesting ways to add multiplayer elements to what are usually single player experiences (I just remembered the “multiplayer” aspect in Dark Souls, where the death of others can usually save your life), and bring players together. I am sure there are many players like me, who don’t like to play the regular multiplayer games because they just don’t like the idea of playing and possibly cooperating with people they don’t know (back to my Freespace example, why do I care if I gibbed this dude with the chick-magnet handle wompa-one like 300 times, if chances are I will never see him online again because I joined a random game?).

This “unconventional” multiplayer is about players talking to each other and helping each other. “Yeah, but you can use a headset when playing on the internet.” Yeah, and you can also hold up that iPad to take a photo and use the on-screen touch keyboard to write a 120 page screenplay.” That simple “ok, let’s do this at 1-2-3…” “wait, 1-2-3 or 1-2-3-go?” can really become interesting when the guy you’re talking to is sitting next to you.

Also, this “unconventional” multiplayer can be about showing the other player some stuff. Let’s go back to Enola for a second. Say the first player is trying to unlock a safe with 9 symbols while the other guy is 5 stories below trying to find a clue to open “the mystery box.” Suddenly player B finds something that player A can use to unlock the safe, so he simply points to his side of the screen and goes like “Hey, dude! I think this hint solves that safe!” Things like this could be extremely cool on the WiiU, where one of the players is holding the touchpad. Imagine the touchpad is like “the camera obscura” from Fatal Frame and he’s trying to uncover an “invisible clue” that can help his other friends solve their predicaments. He can simply show them the touchpad any time he finds a clue.


Ultimately this “unconventional” multiplayer would be about bringing people back together. I think you remember the times when you could count your friends with only one hand, but you would actually go out and have fun. Now people can have 800 friends on Facebook, but they have zero social interaction because they are too busy chatting and liking wall posts to go out and interact with people IRL.

Sadly todays’ technology is only trying to isolate players even more (I’m looking at you, Oculus Rift!!!)

Maybe some of this ideas sound totally stupid (hell I’m sure almost all of them sound pretty stupid), but I think there’s a lot that can be done on the multiplayer world. Not every multiplayer game needs to be COD, and certainly not every multiplayer game needs to be about shooting AI enemies, or shooting humans from the opposite team.

Still I don’t believe every game can have a multiplayer component (don’t add singing mayan-dressed ghosts to Dear Esther just to use it as part of your marketing campaign). However, I think nice things can happen if devs start to be a little more creative about their multiplayer (this is a crazy idea: how about adding multiplayer to Tomb Raider where you ACTUALLY RAID SOME TOMBS instead of shooting everything that moves like a maniac?). I also think we can have pretty interesting games if we figure out ways to add multiplayer to otherwise single player games if we use it as a way to actually make players interact with each other.

Simply put, how about we give multiplayer back to the humans so they actually interact with each other?

As for me, as soon as Enola is finished I will start thinking about making this multiplayer coop adventure game. In the meantime, you can always enjoy the game in its horrifying single player-ish glory.


Have a nice week!

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Alessandro Ricci
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You seem to have totally overlooked the entire MMORPG sceen.
Multiplayer puzzles? Check.
Finding the same people next time you play? Check.
Talk and find clues/solutions? Check.
Coordinate to obtain better results? Extremely common.

Multiplayer does not equal FPS; even PvP does not equal FPS (eve online comes to mind).

Sergio Rosa
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I don't play MMORPGs for the same reason I didn't like playing Freespace online, same reason why I rarely play multiplayer games anymore.

Half of my entire point is about bringing players together, not about bringing computers together. I know you can do many of the things in online players, but I don't don't want my unknown friend from Malasya to tell me "hey we did it, man!" over the voice I want the guy sitting next to me on the couch to tell me "hey, we did it, man!" It's about human interaction.

And just BYOD to play WoW or Starcraft2 in the same room does not cut it, because all you have is 10 or 20 dudes in the same room, all wearing their own headsets and not minding about the guy next to them because "hey, we have the voice chat"

Luis Guimaraes
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The two kinds of multiplayer I'm vey interested in seeing ahead are asymmetric multiplay (simple examples would be Spy Party and FEAR 3) and multitask coordinated coop (not enough time to get many things done and player have to split forces and manage risks to beat the challenge).

James Coote
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I'm making a local multiplayer game for console at the moment, but approaching it from a rather different angle. I'm taking inspiration from board games, the mechanics of which are usually designed around player to player interaction and putting inter-player relationships at the core of the game. I think this can have the same effect as the asymmetrical play you talk about.

(In fact, a turn based board game could be considered asymmetrical in that at any one time, only the person whose turn it is can do certain things)